WaPo Issues Wildly Misleading ‘Fact Check’ On EPA Head

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A Washington Post fact checker went after Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt over a claim he made about China and India’s obligations under the Paris climate agreement, and it just might be the most wildly misleading fact check the paper has ever run.

Glenn Kessler awarded Pruitt four “Pinocchios” in the fact check Friday — the paper’s worst rating for truthfulness — for a claim he made that China and India had “no obligations” to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate agreement. But Kessler seriously undercuts his conclusion by acknowledging in his review that the agreement in question is not legally binding, so China and India are not bound to follow its terms.

The fact check centers on comments Pruitt made on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, when he said the Paris agreement the U.S. joined under former President Barack Obama did not put America first, because “China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030.”

“Pruitt appears to be stuck in a time warp,” Kessler wrote in the fact check. “His concerns might have made more sense if he had been referring to the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, which did not require developing nations such as China and India to face legally binding requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Pruitt earns Four Pinocchios,” Kessler concluded, adding: “Pruitt clearly needs to brush up on the Paris Accord, as it’s false to claim that China and India have ‘no obligations’ until 2030.”

But early in the fact check, Kessler notes the Paris agreement itself is “not legally binding” because countries submit their own plans to cut emissions, which they can either follow through with or not. Whoops.

No one is “obligated” to do anything in terms of emissions under the Paris agreement under any time period, even in 2030.

In fact, the Trump administration is in the process of undoing all the regulations Obama put in place to meet his Paris pledge of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2030.

Pruit isn’t 100 percent right either, but he’s wrong for reasons WaPo didn’t bother covering. Pruitt qualified his comments by indicating those countries have no obligations until 2030, when the reality is those countries have no obligations, period, because the agreement is not binding.

China has pledged to “peak” emissions by 2030, which means it can increase emissions in absolute terms during that time. India has made no promise to cut its total emissions levels. China’s emissions are expected to grow nearly 32 percent through 2040, according to projections from the Energy Information Administration, while India’s is expected to skyrocket nearly 110 percent. That growth would wipe out any emissions cuts from the U.S. and other developed countries, so any pledge by China and India to cut emissions intensity of their economy really amounts to a bait-and-switch.

Kessler goes on to say Paris makes a distinction “between developing and developed countries in that developed countries are expected to reduce actual emissions, while developing countries would lower emissions based on units tied to measures such as gross domestic product or economic output.”

China promised to lower its emissions per unit of economic output, or GDP, 60 to 65 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. India pledged to cut emissions per unit of GDP 33 to 35 percent in that same time period. But those aren’t pledges China and India are legally obligated to work toward. Countries naturally reduce their emissions to GDP ratio as industries become more efficient over time and use less energy (mostly fossil fuels) to produce more goods.

Look at global emissions intensity data compiled by the World Bank — No Paris agreement necessary.

China had already cut its emissions per unit of GDP nearly 34 percent below 2005 levels before Paris went into effect in 2016. India had decreased its emissions intensity 12.5 percent by 2010. And despite promises of using more green energy, both China and India will be using way more coal and fossil fuels in the future.

EPA responded to Kessler after he published the fact check.

“Administrator Pruitt was referring to no emission reduction obligations,” an EPA spokeswoman said, adding “no one has any obligations regarding emissions reductions activities under the Paris Agreement because it is ‘non-binding.’”

“They are pretty clear that they aren’t really agreeing to do anything,” she said, referring to China.

Kessler in turn responded to the EPA statement, saying that China and India are taking steps, even if they’re not bound by the agreement. “This ignores that fact that China and India are actually taking steps to try to meet these commitments, with China on track to peak by 2025, if not sooner,” he said.

Kessler ignores China and India aren’t actually “taking steps.” Their economies are growing and their industries are becoming more efficient. It’s Econ 101.

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