Scott Pruitt, Trump's EPA Head, Will Be Very Bad for Miami

Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr

No cherry-picked scientific studies can refute this fact: If the world doesn't reduce the carbon it's dumping into the atmosphere, Miami will drown. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects the seas could rise more than five feet by the year 2100. The flood would force millions of South Floridians to flee their homes.

This past Friday, however, the U.S. Senate effectively announced it's cool with Miami becoming a modern-day Atlantis. Senators — including Florida's own "not a scientist" Marco Rubio — confirmed President Trump's climate-change-bashing choice for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head, Scott Pruitt. Let's revisit just how bad a disaster this could be for South Florida.

At the moment, China and the United States emit the two greatest amounts of carbon into the air. Though China has increasingly warmed (no pun intended) to the idea of fighting climate change, Pruitt represents a step back into the climate-science Stone Age.

The media tends to understate how quickly humans might lock themselves into catastrophic levels of warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the United Nations body devoted to fighting global warming — has laid out exactly how much carbon dioxide humans could pump into the air before the world would permanently warm to nightmarish levels.

Analysts estimated last year that the globe can continue pumping out CO2 at its current rate for only five more years before the IPCC's "carbon budget" is used up and the globe is locked into two or three degrees of global warming. According to Naomi Klein's 2014 book, This Changes Everything, U.S. energy companies already possess enough stores of fossil fuels to overrun the carbon budget five times.

In September 2016, the amount of carbon in the air crossed a nightmare-scenario threshold of 400 parts per million. That benchmark guarantees that the amount of carbon in the air will not drop back to safer levels within our lifetime.

Though a two-degree rise in global temperatures sounds harmless, it isn't: A two-degree rise could destroy food crops, wreck many animal and human habitats, and, most important for Miami, subject millions of people to increased coastal flooding and water shortages.

Now Pruitt — who says climate change is not real — will be running the EPA for four of the next five years. (Provided the department remains in existence in 2020, Pruitt could run the EPA for eight years.) Trump is already reportedly threatening to roll back Barack Obama-era regulations on power-plant emissions, which themselves did not go far enough to stop global warming on a mass scale.

With Pruitt at the helm, Obama's "Climate Action Plan" is almost certainly toast. That plan directed the EPA to set industry standards for power-plant emissions — the main drivers of carbon pollution worldwide. The plan also made billions of dollars in loans available for fuel-efficiency projects, as well as a host of other new rules among multiple agencies.

On a larger scale, the EPA works to set emissions and pollution standards for myriad industries, including setting national limits for cars. (The agency also conducts vital research and studies on things such as groundwater supply and air pollution, things we also can't live without.) The EPA also works on reducing emissions of methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Fracking, the oil-and-gas-drilling process responsible for the current U.S. energy boom, is known to release methane into the air.

Pruitt has long said he wants to get rid of the EPA.

It's worth noting that Pruitt comes from Oklahoma, a landlocked state that sees few immediate risks when it comes to sea-level rise. We're already living the effects in places such as Miami Beach, where streets now flood so regularly the city sends out public alerts when the moon gets too big.

Over the past decade, carbon emissions have continued to increase — and with Pruitt at the helm, every day of the Trump administration means the seas will inch closer and closer to Miamians' homes.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.