Trump nominees say climate change is no hoax, but still invite skepticism

Story highlights

  • Trump once called climate change a "hoax" invented by the Chinese
  • Trump's picks to lead the EPA, Interior and State department say climate change is real

Washington (CNN)President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency told the Senate he doesn't believe climate change is a "hoax." The nominees for secretary of state, energy and interior said the same thing.

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But what they also all added, using very similar language, is that they aren't certain about the level of impact humans are having on global warming and remain skeptical about the need for urgent action on climate change. This despite the strong consensus among scientists that greenhouse gas emissions are a prime driver of global warming and associated impacts such as rising sea levels.
The questions from Democrats in the hearings are based off Trump once calling climate change a "hoax" invented by the Chinese. His nominees all disagreed with that notion.
    "I do not ... I do not believe climate change is a hoax," Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt told the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Wednesday.
    Then, he disagreed with the scientific consensus around climate change.
    "I believe the ability to measure with precision the degree that human activity is impacting the climate is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it," Pruitt said when pressed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
    As Trump comes into office with a call for increased production of oil, gas and coal -- and prepares to attempt to roll back some of President Barack Obama's environmental regulations, the issue is of prime concern to Democrats.
    When Interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke hedged during his hearing Tuesday, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, pounced
    "I want to be honest with you," Zinke said. "We both agree that the climate's changing. We both agree that man is an influence."
    "A major influence," Franken responded.
    "I'm not an expert in this field," Zinke said.
    "To me that's a cop-out," Franken said. "I'm not a doctor but I have to make health care decisions."
    Trump, too, has also more recently acknowledged "some connectivity" between human activity and climate change.
    And just like his Cabinet picks, Trump has argued that there is an ongoing debate about "how much" man-made emission of greenhouse gases have contributed to the changing climate. And he has made clear that he is more concerned about the economic effects of restricting the fossil fuel industry than the environmental and human cost of climate change and its effects.
    "It also depends on how much it's going to cost companies," Trump said during a November meeting with New York Times reporters and editors after his election.
    Energy secretary nominee Rick Perry said Thursday that he believes the "climate is changing" and that "some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man made activity" -- and also brought up the economic issue.
    "The question is, how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn't compromise economic growth?" Perry said, adding later that he is "committed to making decisions based on sound science and that also take into account the economic impact."
    Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chief nominated for secretary of state for his part, said during his confirmation hearing he believes "the risk of climate change does exist," "the increase in greenhouse gas in the atmosphere are having an effect" and vaguely offered that "action should be taken."
    But Tillerson gave no indication of what that "action" would look like or whether it would be a priority -- and also questioned the science.
    "The increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited," he said, a statement at odds with scientists' assessments of most climate change effects.
    Tillerson, for his part, took steps in his leadership of the world's largest oil company to acknowledge the reality of climate change and supported global action on the issue.