Trump Administration Wants Press To Stop Focusing Too Much On Climate Change

A report released Monday by a former fossil fuel executive and supported by the former head of the Australian military said there is a "high likelihood" human civilization would come "to an end by 2050" because of climate catastrophe. But on the same day, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler, seemed to admonish the media for focusing too much on climate change.

"We need to fix this perception, and we need the help of the press," said Wheeler at the National Press Club. "The public needs to know how far we've come, as a nation, protecting the environment."

Wheeler then explained that since the agency's establishment in the 1970s, pollution and carbon emissions have fallen significantly. He read off statistics about there being less carbon emissions, a remediation of waterways and less air pollution than before.

"The media does a disservice to the American public, and sound policymaking, by not informing the public of the progress this nation has made," he said.

EPA Head Wheeler Speaks
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks during a discussion on implementing the U.S. global water strategy, at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Getty/Mark Wilson

Wheeler, who was previously a lobbyist for large energy companies, has used this overall decrease in pollution to justify his recent rollbacks of environmental policy.

Since he took office, EPA inspections that regulate polluters are at a 10-year low, and criminal enforcement is at a 30-year low. Wheeler has worked to undo Obama-era regulations on coal plant emissions, car emissions and ended a scientific panel meant to advise him on air pollution.

During President Donald Trump's first term, there have been 49 completed rollbacks of environmental regulation with another 35 in progress.

A recent study by the New York University Law School's State Energy and Environmental Impact Center found that these rollbacks could lead to thousands of extra deaths each year due to increased air pollution and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Trump administration has also proposed changing guidelines used to predict the number of deaths due to air pollution, which could decrease the reported casualties by thousands.

Still, Wheeler told the press that the problem was perception.

"Every year since 2001 Gallup has conducted polling on the same question: Do you think the quality of the environment in the country as a whole is getting better or getting worse? Every year since 2001 more people have said, 'Getting worse than getting better'" Wheeler said. "We need to fix this perception and we need the help of the press. The public needs to know how far we've come as a nation protecting the environment."

The EPA head also told the press that he didn't "trust" the findings of a recent National Climate Assessment funded by the Trump administration which found that climate change had already had an expensive impact on the United States. Wheeler explained that the assessment described many scenarios and that the most drastic one was due to "political interference" in the science of the report by the Obama administration.

The Monday report, however, predicted scenarios where climate change would "devastate societies" by 2050, was conducted by Australian think tank Breakthrough National Center for Climate Restoration.

"Even for 2°C of warming, more than a billion people may need to be relocated and in high-end scenarios, the scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model with a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end," the report, written by Ian Dunlop, former senior executive of Royal Dutch Shell and chair of the Australian Coal Association, noted.

In the introduction to the report, Chris Barrie, a retired admiral and former head of the Australian Defense Force, wrote that, "after nuclear war, human-induced global warming is the greatest threat to human life on the planet."

Update (06/05/19, 4:01 p.m. ET): The introduction and original headline of this article, 'Trump Administration to Press: Stop Talking About Climate Change' have been updated to more accurately reflect the implications of Andrew Wheeler's comments.