Is the new head of the EPA a “climate change denialist”?

I know that climate change policy is highly controversial with ideological interests driving both sides of the debate. It is extremely frustrating, therefore, when news reports depart from “straight” reporting and delve into advocacy for one side or the other. I think we’ve already seen some of that in some of the reporting on Scott Pruitt’s recent nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).*

Earlier today, I heard the personalities on “Morning Joe” discussing Pruitt’s nomination and expressing fears that Pruitt denies the reality of global climate change—the implication being that conservatives are “science deniers,” etc. Their discussion seemed to be based on The New York Times’s coverage, which has this headline: “Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.

My issue here is not so much with the policy substance but with the reporting. The New York Times‘s headline says Pruitt is a climate change “denialist,” which I take to mean that Pruitt denies that there is such a thing as climate change. But is that headline accurate? When you actually read the reporting, the authors base this claim on a National Review article that Pruitt co-authored earlier this year. The New York Times quoted from this portion of Pruitt’s article:

Healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.

I have looked high and low both in this excerpt and the rest of the article for evidence that Pruitt denies the existence of climate change/global warming, but I can’t find it. I cannot see an outright denial of anything in it. Pruitt simply says that “global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time.” Doesn’t that sentence seem to be premised on the reality of climate change? As far as I can tell, that statement is completely uncontroversial.

The next sentence reads, “That debate is far from settled.” The New York Times presents this statement as evidence that Pruitt is denying the scientific consensus about climate change. But in context, the sentence refers to the policy debates related to global warming, not to the existence of global warming itself. Again, that is a statement that really isn’t very controversial.

In the very next sentence Pruitt elaborates exactly what is still up for debate: “the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” Once again, Pruitt’s remarks seem premised on the existence of global warming. The only “debate” he refers to is about how much and to what extent humans are the cause of it.

If The New York Times wants to report that Pruitt is a climate change “denialist,” then it seems like they should produce evidence to support the claim. Perhaps that evidence is out there somewhere, but it is not in The New York Times‘s article.


* Postscript: Yesterday, Albert Mohler tweeted congratulations to Scott Pruitt, who happens to be a Southern Seminary board member. I wish to extend my congratulations as well and to say that I am thrilled with this appointment.

UPDATE (12/16/16): Earlier today,  I joined some others in signing a letter of support for Attorney General Pruitt’s appointment. The letter and signatories are below.

December 16, 2016

Dear President-Elect Trump:

We write in support of your nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. We are evangelical Christians who are committed to a proper stewardship of all creation, driven by our knowledge that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” [Psalm 24:1]

We believe that every human being is called to this stewardship, and we believe that our Christian responsibility is to bear witness to the truth that God created the cosmos for His own glory and that He created human beings in His own image, bearing responsibility to advance human flourishing through many forms of human activity, from agriculture and enterprise to technology and innovation.

Every realm of human activity comes with the responsibility to be good stewards of all that is entrusted to us — and so much has been entrusted. We are thankful for the progress made in respecting creation, advancing a proper environmentalism, and affirming this stewardship. We pray for every nation to enjoy clean air, clean water, and all things that lead to the flourishing of creation.

At the same time, we reject any ideology that sees human beings as a blight upon the planet and would harm human flourishing by restricting or preventing the rightful use and enjoyment of creation.

A very great stewardship is invested in the Environmental Protection Agency, and thus in its Administrator. We support the nomination of Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

We do not deny the existence of climate change nor the urgency of this concern. We affirm an ongoing debate on the proper balance between the unleashing of human enterprise and the protection of creation. We call for justice, righteousness, and compassion in every dimension of our national life, including our government. We believe that Attorney General Pruitt has been misrepresented as denying “settled science,” when he has actually called for a continuing debate. This is in the very best tradition of science.

We believe that the Hon. Scott Pruitt is well qualified to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and that he deserves the full support of the United States Senate in his confirmation. May God bless you as our new President, even as the day of your inauguration fast approaches. We pledge to pray faithfully for you and your Administration, and our cherished nation.


Danny Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Jason K. Allen, President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Brian Autry, Executive Director, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia

Denny Burk, President, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Morris Chapman, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Former President & CEO, Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention

Paul Chitwood, Executive Director-Treasurer, Kentucky Baptist Convention

Randy Davis, Executive Director, Tennessee Baptist Convention

Jimmy Draper, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Tom Elliff, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Leo Endel, Executive Director, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention

Ronnie Floyd, Senior Pastor, Cross Church, Northwest Arkansas, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Jim Futral, Executive Director-Treasurer, Mississippi Baptist Convention

Steve Gaines, President, Southern Baptist Convention, Pastor, Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, TN

Jack Graham, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, TX, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Tommy Green, Executive Director-Treasurer, Florida Baptist Convention

David Hankins, Executive Director, Louisiana Baptist Convention

O.S. Hawkins, President & CEO, Guidestone Financial Resources

William D. Henard, Executive Director-Treasurer, West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists

Jim Henry, Senior Pastor, Downtown Baptist Church, Orlando, FL, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Milton Hollifield, Executive Director-Treasurer, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

Gary Hollingsworth, Executive Director-Treasurer, South Carolina Baptist Convention

Johnny Hunt, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church Woodstock, GA, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Jeff Iorg, President, Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary

Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO, National Religious Broadcasters

Anthony Jordan, Executive Director-Treasurer, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma

Chuck Kelley, President, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Jack Kwok, Executive Director-Treasurer, The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio

Rick Lance, Executive Director, Alabama Baptist Convention

Richard Land, President, Southern Theological Seminary

Greg Laurie, Senior Pastor, Harvest Christian Fellowship, Riverside, CA

Joe Ligon, President, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Marlow, OK

James MacDonald, Founder and Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel, Chicago, IL

James Merritt, Lead Pastor, Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, GA, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Russell Moore, President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver, President, Union University

Frank Page, President & CEO, Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Paige Patterson, President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Thom Rainer, President & CEO, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention

Jim Richards, Executive Director, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention

J.D. “Sonny” Tucker, Executive Director, Arkansas Baptist State Convention

Jerry Vines, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Robert White, Executive Director/CEO, Georgia Baptist Convention

Thomas White, President, Cedarville University

David Whitlock, President, Oklahoma Baptist University

Bryant Wright, Senior Pastor, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, GA, Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention

John Yeats, Executive Director, Missouri Baptist Convention

Michael Youssef, Founder and President of Leading The Way, Founding Rector, Church of the Apostles, Atlanta, GA