Environmental rallies push back on Trump nominees

A day before Senate hearings began for President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet appointments, environmental activists held rallies urging the upper house to deny approval of nominees with track records of denying or discounting the scientific consensus on climate change.

The #DayAgainstDenial actions on Monday targeted four of Trump's nominees, all named to posts with hands on environmental issues: at Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson; at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Gov. Scott Pruitt; at the Interior Department, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (Mont.); and at the Department of Energy, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Rallies took place in nearly 40 states, with large gatherings in New York City, Boston and Philadelphia. Participants also visited the state offices of several senators, including those of Republicans Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania).

Groups sponsoring the actions, more than 70 in all, included the Sierra Club, 350.org, GreenPeace USA, and the Franciscan Action Network.

More: "Choice of Pruitt as EPA head alarms scientists, environmentalists" (Dec. 9, 2016); "Georgetown students join protest of potential Trump EPA pick" (Nov. 28, 2016)

The nominees for the four Cabinet posts have been scrutinized by environmentalists for their views and lack of action on climate change and their ties to the fossil fuel industry. Supporters of the picks have seen them collectively as an extension of the incoming president's promises to recommit to expansion in mining and drilling and to cut back regulations viewed as hindering business growth.

The Trump transition team itself was criticized for a survey it sent to the Energy Department asking for names of officials who worked on climate science and attended United Nations climate meetings. The department refused to provide the information and Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told Reuters "The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol."

The episode was the signal that the debate on climate change would reignite during a Trump presidency, with Trump himself at different times casting doubt on the reality of climate change and threatening to pull the U.S. out of international pacts, like the Paris Agreement, to address it.

More: "Catholics petition Trump to uphold climate actions" (Dec. 16, 2016)

The vast majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and is largely the result of human activity. The effects of a warming planet, scientists say, include longer and more severe droughts, more intense heat waves and coastal flooding as a result of rising seas — all likely to harm the poor most intensely.

"People of faith cannot ignore, nor let their political leadership ignore, what science has confirmed: that human-kind needs to transform our thinking and act on behalf of those people who are most negatively impacted by climate change," Patrick Carolan, Franciscan Action Network executive director, said in a statement.

Carolan pointed to remarks by Pope Francis in November to a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: "Never before has there been such a clear need for science to be at the service of a new global ecological equilibrium," the pope said.

Francis continued:

"Very briefly, I would say that it falls to scientists, who work free of political, economic or ideological interests, to develop a cultural model which can face the crisis of climatic change and its social consequences, so that the vast potential of productivity will not be reserved only for the few. Just as the scientific community, through interdisciplinary dialogue, has been able to research and demonstrate our planet's crisis, so too today that same community is called to offer a leadership that provides general and specific solutions for issues which your plenary meeting will confront: water, renewable forms of energy and food security. It has now become essential to create, with your cooperation, a normative system that includes inviolable limits and ensures the protection of ecosystems, before the new forms of power deriving from the techno-economic model causes irreversible harm not only to the environment, but also to our societies, to democracy, to justice and freedom."

Cabinet appointments require a simple majority for approval. Following the November elections, Republicans maintained their Senate majority, holding 52 seats.

Senate committee hearings are scheduled for Tillerson on Wednesday and Thursday. Hearings could come next week for Pruitt, Zinke and Perry, according to Politico. In the same report, Senate Democrats said they were prepping to spend a significant portion of Tillerson's hearing questioning him about climate science, as well as the Paris Agreement and Exxon's own climate-related activities.

Additional events to pressure the incoming Trump administration on environmental issues are scheduled. Religious groups, led by GreenFaith, will hold prayer vigils during Trump's first 100 hours in office for climate action in his presidency.

On April 29, the president's 100th day in office, environmental advocates are expected to march in Washington to call the White House and Congress to act on climate change. Both the Global Catholic Climate Movement and Catholic Climate Covenant have encouraged their memberships to join the march, "to ensure that a robust Catholic voice is heard at the gathering and by our elected officials," a recent Catholic Climate Covenant newsletter stated.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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