The Ebell Effect

Since the historic election of Donald Trump, there has been much speculation regarding his transition team. Of the many controversial figures on the list, one name has been the cause for panic from the environmental community. Myron Ebell has been appointed by President-Elect Trump as the head of his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team.

Myron Ebell is the Director of the Center for Energy and the Environment and chairs the Cooler Heads Coalition for the libertarian think-tank Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). He is one of the most well-known climate change contrarians, often bashing scientists for ‘climate alarmism.’ Rather ironically, Ebell has no scientific background, holding a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Colorado College and a master’s degree in political theory from LSE. Ebell also has a long history of calling out scientists and public figures for pushing environmental regulations, even calling the Pope’s 2015 Laudato Si on climate change, ‘scientifically ill informed, economically illiterate, intellectually incoherent and morally obtuse’. The Competitive Enterprise Institute describes itself as ‘a non-profit public policy organisation dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty’. They have over the years grown to not only research and comment on current policy initiatives, but also market their opinions to try to push their own policy agendas. This is a fact they are very proud of, often pointing out on their website how much impact their work has had on shaping policy. The CEI has been involved with many political debates over the years, even being on the side of tobacco companies during their investigations with the US government in the 1990s (of course taking funding from companies like Philip-Morris as well). It comes as no surprise that, while CEI does not disclose their funders, the list of companies that sponsors their annual dinner includes many major energy companies and ‘dark money’ organisations. The CEI commends their controversial ‘big-hitter’ Myron Ebell— praising the fact that many groups view Ebell as one of the top threats to climate action.

Myron Ebell is not your average climate change denier. Not only does he believe that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it, but he welcomes it. He often comments that it is within historical climate variation and that it might improve life for people rather than make it worse. Both of these claims have been proved time and time again to be unhinged from real science. With this grand delusion and strong institutional backing, Myron Ebell is a dangerous addition to Trump’s team.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, © 2016, some rights reserved.

The pairing of Trump and Ebell is worrisome, especially with a Republican House and Senate. Trump’s claims from the campaign trail regarding climate change and the EPA have been anti-progress in general, with him hinting that he may try to get rid of the EPA all together. While Trump’s claims fluctuate depending on his mood, the overall tone has been a reversal of the Obama administration. Among Obama’s initiatives are the Climate Action Plan and Clean Power Plan. Whether or not Trump will flip on his previous statements as he does with so many others is yet to be seen, but it does not seem likely with the involvement of Ebell. To see how Ebell might address these legislations in the future, we have to look at what he has said in the past.

The Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan takes a three-pronged approach at tackling Climate Change. It tries to cut emissions, help prepare for the effects of climate change, and take a leading position globally in the fight against climate change. It was proposed in its first iteration in 2008 and has been updated every two years since. First off, it is made up of many executive actions, which President-elect Trump could work against once in office. Ebell is against government picking what energy should be supported, and is likely to take a stance against that part of the plan. He also has said that while climate change is happening and is likely human caused, it is not a major concern and actually will have positive benefits by making colder areas warmer. Because of this he is likely to not support the EPA’s involvement in helping areas deal with changing climate. This position will also likely cause him (and Trump) to oppose the US’s continual involvement with the Paris Climate Agreement (which the US was critical in helping create). This could have far reaching effects for the global environment and the US’s reputation abroad.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan deals primarily with the limiting of emissions from power plants through the use of goal setting. It sets new goals for limits of emissions coming from existing power plants. It aims to gives states flexibility in setting interim goals for fossil fuel powered plants in order to meet an ultimate goal by 2030. This comes down to the EPA helping states target their biggest emitters and through this curbing fossil fuel use and promoting the emergence of sustainable alternatives. Ebell has come out against the government favouring one kind of energy over another regardless of its effects on the climate or people’s health. In February 2016 he spoke out against a Carbon Tax citing this position, calling the favouring of one type of energy damaging to poor and middle class families. If given a position of power in America’s energy strategy, he would most likely oppose or try to roll back the Clean Power Plan.

To give Myron Ebell power over the EPA is a dangerous step backwards for environmental policy in the United States. With his leadership under Trump, America is poised to become the biggest hindrance to a sustainable future worldwide. The environmentalists greatest prayer for the next four years is that Donald Trump flips on his views and sees sustainability as the opportunity for our economy that it is according to science, not according to an ‘informed layman.