Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s phones have been ringing off the hook — literally — since he questioned the link between human activity and climate change.
The calls to Pruitt’s main line, 202-564-4700, reached such a high volume by Friday that agency officials created an impromptu call center, according to three agency employees. The officials asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
By Saturday morning calls went straight to voice mail, which was full and did not accept messages. At least two calls received the message that the line was disconnected, but that appeared to be in error.
Before the number was disabled, interns were dispatched to answer some of the incoming calls, according to one employee. At times, calls to that number ended up going to voice mail.
EPA did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
While constituents sometimes call lawmakers in large numbers to express outrage over contentious policy issues, it is unusual for Americans to target a Cabinet official.
Pruitt’s comments on the CNBC program “Squawk Box” — that “we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis” over climate change — prompted an immediate pushback from many scientists and environment groups.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” — a position reiterated on EPA’s own website.
On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose at a record pace for the second straight year, reaching 401.5 parts per million. The two-year surge in carbon concentrations that took place in 2015 and 2016 has no precedent in the 59 years in which the agency has been tracking the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. There is no immediate evidence that any environmental organizations organized the deluge of calls to the new EPA administrator, but a single comment on Reddit may have helped spur the outpouring of criticism. The post outlined how Pruitt’s opponents could contact his office, writing:
“Here’s the number to call his office (EPA Office of the Administrator) to offer your feelings about Pruitt’s comments: (202) 564-4700. Script: Hi, my name is _________. I’m calling because I’m seriously concerned about Scott Pruitt’s claim that CO2 is not a major driver of climate change. The role of CO2 and humans as drivers of climate change is widely accepted among the scientific community, and I’m deeply concerned that Mr. Pruitt, as the head of the EPA, rejects scientific evidence.” In December, the League of Conservation Voters launched a petition drive on climate change aimed at President Trump and his children. The organization launched an appeal Thursday focused on threats to EPA funding and had its second-biggest online fundraising day ever, Willett said, but he declined to disclose how much money was raised.
“It’s not surprising to hear people are calling after Pruitt contradicted his own agency’s science,” Willett said. “We’re seeing record-setting response rates to mobile alerts, petitions and funding appeals.”