Even though President Donald Trump has been slow to name his 1,100 appointments at federal agencies, he’s still appointed deputies for the Department of Energy, the State Department, and the Department of Interior. But the No. 2 spot at the Environmental Protection Agency is still open. Who Scott Pruitt’s deputy will be, and why the appointment has taken so long, remains a mystery.
Although the White House hasn’t announced its pick yet, Axios recently reported that the “last man standing” for the job is lawyer Jeff Holmstead. Unlike most other Trump EPA appointees, he actually once served there in the George W. Bush administration. But he’s no environmentalist: He’s been hard at work at the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani, where he’s part of a case against Obama-era climate regulations and represents utilities, refineries, coal, oil, and gas companies.
When Holmstead was at the EPA from 2001 to 2005, as assistant administrator for air and radiation, he was part of Bush’s proposal to create a cap-and-trade system for mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, an approach that was thrown out in court for being far too lenient. At Bracewell, Holmstead participated in a 2011 debate where he argued, “It is pretty hard to say that [mercury from coal plants] is a significant public health issue,” adding he didn’t “believe that there are thousands of people who are dying because of exposure” to small particulate matter — meaning air pollution.
More recently, in 2017, Holmstead testified in favor of House Science Chair Lamar Smith’s bills that would restrict how the EPA uses science to support its policies. For example, the euphemistically labeled “HONEST” bill Holmstead supports would forbid the EPA from using studies that draw on confidential health data and medical records.
Yet these conservative bona fides are still not enough for some far-right climate change deniers, especially since they’ve gotten comfortable calling the shots in Trump’s EPA.
The Daily Caller wrote a critical story in June claiming that an unnamed “conservative movement source” said some on the right were “trying to work behind the scenes to block him.” And at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Koch- and oil-funded libertarian think tank, Myron Ebell, who was the climate denier in charge of Trump’s EPA transition, emailed me to say that this group has “taken no public position…