President Donald Trump has tapped Kathleen Hartnett White, the former head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to be the chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, an entity charged with forming the Trump administration's environment and energy policies.
If you aren't alarmed by this news, it's likely because you haven't been paying attention.
White, a cheerleader for the fossil fuel industry and one of the most ardent climate change deniers out there, was initially a contender to become head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency last fall, a possibility that had Texas environmentalists livid because of how White led the TCEQ during her time at the top of the state regulatory agency.
Back in 2001, White was appointed by then-Governor Rick Perry to become chairwoman of the TCEQ, a move that essentially saw energy companies declaring open season on state environmental regulations, with White's blessing.
Her time as head of the state's regulatory agency for the environment saw her promoting her own views. She claimed that renewable energy was a "false hope," that carbon dioxide has none of the attributes of a pollutant, that trying to curb carbon emissions was "futile" and that the rise of fossil fuels helped to end slavery. (She claims that there is a moral imperative to burn coal and fossil fuels and contends that the abolitionist movement in Great Britain started in tandem with the rise of the coal-powered factories which led to and “indeed increased and institutionalized compassion," a nice way of saying this is how the idea to end slavery really got off the ground.)
Basically, she was the Borg.
White's unabashedly pro-oil industry approach to policy, which included increasingly lax smog regulations and a habit of allowing polluting companies to increase their allotted emissions levels whenever they wanted, infuriated state environmentalists. By 2007, environmental groups chipped in and plastered a billboard near the TCEQ office in Austin entreating Perry to "Get White Out!" They also campaigned hard to make sure she would not serve another term as head of the state agency.
White moved on, becoming a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative research center focused on promoting "liberty, personal responsibility and free enterprise in Texas" and backed by the oil industry and the Koch brothers, among others.
From her perch at the TPPF, White has continued to argue that climate change doesn't exist, and that the "imperial EPA" is weakening the economy. To White, the Paris climate agreement is a deal where "everybody loses", and the United Nations findings on climate change are "not validated and politically corrupt." President Barack Obama's attempts to slow the effects of global warming were "deluded and illegitimate" and carbon emissions probably aren't bad for us at all, according to White's thinking.
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In other words, when White was ultimately passed over in favor of Scott Pruitt to head up the EPA last fall, environmentalists had reason to be relieved even though this gave fellow climate science denier Pruitt the gig. Now that she is going to be chairing the White House Council on Environmental Quality there's good cause for those same groups to be alarmed while those in the energy industry are probably doing backflips.
The way the council, established in 1970, is set up, its members can have tremendous reach. (During President George W. Bush's administration one council member, a former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist, was found to be editing climate reports to downplay connections between emissions and global warming, a revelation that caused him to resign from his post shortly after the story broke.)
However, while White will be coordinating policy across the government, that's not where she stands to make the most impact. The council is in charge of implementing the National Environmental Policy Act which requires the council to review the environmental impact of every federal action while it is still in the planning stages.
Proponents say that someone like White will be able to speed up the review process and get things through the innards of government more quickly. But others contend the environment is going to suffer in the end. Of course, both can be true, and it won't be a shock if this proves to be the case.