Politics & Government

Texan who could lead Trump’s EPA wants to end renewable energy subsidies

The Total Port Arthur in Port Arthur, Texas. Potential EPA head Kathleen Hartnett White wants to end subsidies for renewable energy if picked to lead the agency.
The Total Port Arthur in Port Arthur, Texas. Potential EPA head Kathleen Hartnett White wants to end subsidies for renewable energy if picked to lead the agency. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Texan under consideration to lead the Environmental Protection Agency wants to end subsidies for renewable energy and said it’s not clear how much human activity contributes to global warming.

Kathleen Hartnett White, the head of a conservative Texas think tank, confirmed to McClatchy that she is being considered to lead the EPA after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump on Monday.

The EPA is one of Trump’s biggest targets, and White, whose record shows an interest in cutting regulations, said she is under official consideration for the agency’s top job.

“Trump asked me all kinds of different questions on energy, environmental regulations and the EPA,” White said in an interview. “It was a very pleasant, very easy meeting.”

White described her meeting with Trump as a “conversation” and that they went back-and-forth after she stated her positions and ideas on how the EPA should be run.

(Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt is also under consideration to lead the EPA and met with Trump earlier this week.)

When asked by McClatchy whether humans contribute to global warming and if there are any steps humans can take to reduce it, White initially said, “I don’t have enough time to explain that.”

White, an energy adviser for the Trump campaign and the director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, then said it is possible human involvement can reduce global warming.

“As a matter of physics it is possible but to what extent it is not clear,” White said. “Before really pursuing the elimination of fossil fuels we need to very carefully look at the risk involved. As a matter of rule of law, our Congress needs to speak on that and not just a federal agency.”

White also wants to cut federal subsidies for renewable energy, which totaled $7.3 billion according to a 2013 report by the Congressional Budget Office.

“All energy sources would be welcome, but they need to have a level playing field in which to compete,” White said. “The extent of the subsidy in terms of wind and solar is so high. The economic operation of renewables are totally welcome, but I doubt as a matter of physics if they’ll be able to power mega cities. They’ve been subsidized since the early 1990s and should compete on their own terms.”

Trump mentions the EPA as the source of “our most intrusive regulations” on his campaign website.

“We will also scrap the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan which the government estimates will cost $7.2 billion a year,” the website said.

White said the methods the EPA uses to determine the harmful effects of pollutants on humans are “weakened and manipulated” and that she wants to change the agency’s rules on mercury and the ozone.

During the campaign, Trump said that the EPA would be gutted if he’s elected, and that environmental protection duties should be turned over to states, something White agrees with.

“An easy way to address major problems with the EPA is to actually reinstitute an amount of authority,” White said. “The EPA sets federal standards that were mandatory across the country but states figured out how to ... execute and get the job done.”

But White, who described the EPA as “arrogant” under President Barack Obama, stopped short of saying the EPA should be eliminated.

“I have an open mind about that,” White said. “The job of the administration is to execute the president’s policies. I have an opinion about it, but the decision should be made by the president and Congress.”

White has experience in environmental policy. She led the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – the second-largest environmental regulatory agency in the world after the EPA – for six years under Gov. Rick Perry.

But her record as a regulator has drawn the ire of environmental groups in Texas.

“We can’t really stomach her,” said Environment Texas director Luke Metzger. “Just compare her to President (George W.) Bush’s first EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman; she accepted basic science. Unfortunately what we’ve seen with Ms. White is that she bends over backwards to deny the science. We can’t even have a reasonable discussion with her.”

Metzger said White “routinely sided with big polluters” while leading the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, known as TCEQ, and failed to levy reasonable fines for companies that damaged the environment.

Current TCEQ commissioner Bryan Shaw declined to comment on White’s tenure as an environmental regulator.

White defends her environmental record.

“There are plenty of things that I got done that were extraordinarily effective,” White said. “The Houston-Galveston area was once most polluted, and under the last state plan I signed, Houston in fact obtained ozone standards in 2010. I was one of the few folks who thought that could happen.”

Environmental groups opposed Houston’s ozone plan, which was approved by the EPA in 2001 and upheld in federal court two years later.

Metzger said states like Texas rely on the EPA to set the floor for environmental regulations, and that White’s likely scaled-down version of the federal agency would be a “step back entirely and lets the states do whatever they want.”

Instead of federal regulations, White said, private sector technology should be the driving force behind improving the environment, with an emphasis on air and water quality.

She also praised Trump’s emphasis on energy. “That President-elect Trump puts energy at the core of his economic policy is very, very exciting,” she said.

White voted as a member of the state commission in favor of a coal plant 150 miles south of Dallas in 2007 despite questions over air quality, and the plant’s parent company is now trying to shed its tax obligations in the wake of decreasing profits.

Her approval of the coal plant led to environmental groups putting up billboards titled “Get White Out.”

“I think she’s worked for an industry-funded think tank attacking clean energy, trying to put a moral sheen on fossil fuels and ignoring the public health problems she had in Texas,” Metzger said.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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