President Donald Trump tapped a former Texas regulator who has argued the moral case for fossil fuels to be the top White House environment official and the chief executive of AccuWeather Inc. to lead the federal government’s weather and climate science office, picks that drew immediate criticism.
Kathleen Hartnett White, a fellow at a think tank that advocates for coal and oil interests, was chosen by Trump to head the Council on Environmental Quality, an office that coordinates environmental reviews across the federal government.
Barry Myers, who leads AccuWeather, was named to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a Commerce Department office that oversees the National Weather Service. Myers had pushed to limit the services the federal weather forecaster could offer, saying it shouldn’t compete against his company.
Those choices drew criticisms from union officials, environmental advocates and lawmakers. They say both have views at odds with the core functions of the agencies they were tapped to head.
“We’ve seen a pattern in this administration of appointees who have significant conflicts — they come from the very industries they’d be overseeing, or have a record of opposition to the science-based implementation of the laws and rules they’d be implementing,” said Yogin Kothari, a Washington representative with the Center for Science and Democracy of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
A Department of Commerce spokesman said Myers has been a strong proponent of keeping weather data free and open to the public. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Myers, who was named CEO of the private weather forecaster in 2007, joins an administration packed with business leaders, as Trump has said successful business leaders can best bring the overhaul to government he seeks. Gary Cohn, who was president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., runs the White House economic council. Wall Street multi-billionaire Wilbur Ross heads the Commerce Department. And David Zatezalo, the former CEO of Kentucky coal company Rhino Resources Inc., was nominated to head the mine-safety office.
Myers’ background as an attorney is a departure from those of his immediate predecessors. President Barack Obama’s last NOAA administrator was Kathryn Sullivan, a geologist and astronaut who was the first American woman to walk in space.
“He is not even a meteorologist, he is a lawyer who happens to run a weather company,” Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employee Organization, said in a phone interview. The union opposes the choice.
NOAA’s mission ranges from predicting weather to managing fisheries to charting oceans. Under Obama the agency, expanded its work into research on the effects of climate change, tussling with congressional Republicans who questioned its research showing Earth’s temperatures have been rising unabated.
“Barry Myers views NOAA as a direct competitor that provides high-quality forecasts for free,” U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D, Hawaii) said in a statement. “He is in the vanguard of corporate business interests that seek to undermine the National Weather Service’s ability to do anything other than provide free data and weather models to private companies like his.”
Myers has praised the weather data that NOAA amasses, but told lawmakers last year that the federal agency shouldn’t expand into services that would offer weather forecasting services that would compete with AccuWeather or other private forecasting companies.
“We work hard every day competing with other companies and we also have to compete with the government,” Myers told ABC News in 2005.
In a statement, AccuWeather founder and president, Joel N. Myers said Myers — his brother — “is an exceptional nominee and uniquely qualified for this important leadership position as head of the world’s preeminent government agency in this field.”
A onetime aide to then-First Lady Nancy Reagan, White has argued that carbon-dioxide emissions aren’t a problem, as climate scientists warn, but instead are greening the Earth as plant food. She also served as a lobbyist for the Texas Public Policy Foundation until late last year, according to Texas Ethics Commission records. The Austin-based group has received funding from companies that include ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corp., Devon Energy Corp., and Koch Industries Inc., according to a document obtained by the Texas Observer.
There are “all kinds of examples of the really beneficial impacts of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, satellites already are showing a greening of the Earth in part from the very small amounts of carbon dioxide involved in using fossil fuels,” White said in a December 2015 video.
In a 2012 report, White argued that EPA rules to cut smog, tiny particles and other pollutants threatened the “loss of coal-fired electric generation” and hundreds of thousands of jobs. She said EPA had erred in its accounting of health benefits of cutting pollution, calling the estimated lives saved a “statistical fiction.”
“Her stated alliance with the fossil fuel industry makes her unfit to hold the highest environmental post in the government to advise the president on the real moral threat to our county: climate change,” said Christy Goldfuss, vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress and the former managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.