A former Texas environmental chief who has called EPA scientists “mandarins” and health regulations a ruse to undermine fossil fuels is President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kathleen Hartnett White would run the office that coordinates environmental policy among federal agencies. Although the CEQ’s core job is to set standards for environmental impact statements that assess federal actions, including infrastructure projects, presidents have assigned it various policy roles and raised or lowered its profile since Congress created it in 1969.
White was appointed in 2001 by then-Gov. Rick Perry, now the U.S. energy secretary, to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s regulatory agency for air, water, waste and other functions. She served for six years, the last five as chair. Since leaving the commission, White has been a senior staff member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Austin.
White was an informal Trump campaign adviser and was interviewed in 2016 by the then president-elect for the job of Environmental Protection Agency administrator. But Trump gave that post to former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has expressed views like White’s on reducing federal regulations and skepticism about human-caused climate change. She has spoken out against regulation of carbon dioxide and defended the use of fossil fuels.
“The industrialized nations that utterly depend on the consumption of fossil fuels have not amplified environmental degradation of the natural world,” she wrote in 2015 “In fact, the highly concentrated energy in carbon-rich fuels have decreased human encroachment on the natural world.”
White has frequently attacked science-backed health and environmental regulations as damaging intrusions into the economy. For instance, in a 2014 publication accusing EPA of regulating “phantom risks,” White wrote: “Elected officials trying to carry out their public duties—e.g. maximizing access to clean, affordable energy—meet stubborn opposition from federal mandarins brandishing their scientific credentials. The magnitude of the EPA’s current regulatory agenda has elevated the importance of these issues.”
In that 2014 publication, White challenged EPA regulation of fine particulate matter—inhalable, microscopic products of fossil-fuel combustion and atmospheric reactions that are 2.5 µm in diameter or smaller. A huge body of research has found no level of PM2.5 that can be considered safe, but White called that the result of “intricately manipulated statistical associations” serving what she called a goal of discrediting fossil fuels.
“If the current EPA’s policy objective is to supplant fossil fuels, PM2.5 is a useful tool,” she wrote.
EPA is in the early stages of a research review to support a decision on a new air quality limit for PM2.5 expected in 2020. As CEQ chair, White could be able to influence the outcome.