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Prominent climate denier tapped for key NOAA position

Given the circumstances, did the administration really need yet another climate science critic in an influential governmental post?
Image: Firefighters walk to the fire line at the Lilac fire in Bonsall, California.
Firefighters walk to the fire line at the Lilac fire in Bonsall, California.Sandy Huffaker / AFP - Getty Images file

Donald Trump's environmental record is a disaster. As the New York Times noted last week, the president has, among other things, "vowed to exit the Paris Agreement on climate change, loosened restrictions on toxic air pollution, rolled back clean water protections and removed climate change from a list of national security threats."

It was against this backdrop that the Republican made an announcement last week: Trump considers himself "a great environmentalist." In fact, the president told a Florida audience that he's "the number one environmental President since Teddy Roosevelt," adding, "[I]t's true: number one since Teddy Roosevelt. Who would have thought Trump is the great environmentalist?"

Well, no one would've thought that -- and no one should think it now. The whole idea is plainly ridiculous.

Indeed, as this NPR report reminded us over the weekend, the idea that Trump and his team have an environmental record to be proud of us literally unbelievable.

David Legates, a University of Delaware professor of climatology who has spent much of his career questioning basic tenets of climate science, has been hired for a top position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Legates confirmed to NPR that he was recently hired as NOAA's deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction.

Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University and head of NOAA under President Barack Obama, told NPR, in reference to Legates, "He's not just in left field -- he's not even near the ballpark." To help bolster the point:

In 2007, Legates was one of the authors of a paper that questioned previous findings about the role of climate change in destroying the habitat of polar bears. That research was partially funded by grants from Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute lobbying group and ExxonMobil, according to InsideClimate News.... Legates also appeared in a video pushing the discredited theory that the sun is the cause of global warming. In testimony before the U.S. Senate in 2014, Legates argued that a climate science report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change erroneously stated that humans are causing global warming.

To be sure, the Delaware professor won't be the first climate denier to join the administration in a prominent role, but the circumstances make the personnel move that much more jarring. As the climate crisis fuels fires in the West, the public confronts evidence of the White House applying political pressure on NOAA, and Trump pretends to be an "environmentalist," did the administration really need another climate science critic?