Sierra Club Demands Basis for Wheeler’s Claim that “Most” Climate Consequences are “50 to 75 years out”

The U.S. Government’s National Climate Assessment Directly Contradicts Trump’s EPA Administrator

Adam Beitman, or 202-670-5585

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Sierra Club filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) produce any records it has supporting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s assertion that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

Wheeler’s claim directly contradicts the body of reputable scientific evidence, including the Trump administration’s own recent National Climate Assessment, authored by scientists from 13 federal agencies including the EPA. Among the Assessment’s many findings, “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” “The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States,” and “Observations collected around the world provide significant, clear, and compelling evidence that global average temperature is much higher, and is rising more rapidly, than anything modern civilization has experienced, with widespread and growing impacts” (Introduction, Pg. 34, 36).

Wheeler, a coal lobbyist prior to working for the Trump administration, made the false claim during his first nationally televised network interview with CBS News after confirmation to his cabinet level post.

“Andrew Wheeler’s deceitful comments, clearly designed to confuse the public, are directly contradicted by the Trump administration’s own National Climate Assessment,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “The United States government, the governments of the entire world, and scientific consensus all agree that the consequences of the climate crisis are severe, they are being felt now, they are worsening, and they will be much worse if we do not act immediately.”

Sierra Club Attorney Matthew Miller, who filed the FOIA request, added: “We are confident that EPA’s response to this request will reveal that Wheeler’s assertion was unsupported by science and is inconsistent with the research and conclusions of the U.S. government’s career scientists. We are prepared to hold Wheeler and EPA accountable in court if the agency fails to respond fully and timely to this request as required by law.”

Directly contradicting Wheeler, the National Climate Assessment (NCA) finds many current severe consequences already happening as a result of the climate crisis:

  • FLOODING AND SEA LEVEL RISE: “Since the 1960s, sea level rise has already increased the frequency of high tide flooding by a factor of 5 to 10 for several U.S. coastal communities.” NCA, Page 98

  • TEMPERATURE INCREASES: “Global average temperature has increased by about 1.8°F from 1901 to 2016, and observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations for this amount of warming; instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause.” NCA, Page 73

  • HOTTEST YEARS ON RECORD: “each successive decade in the last 30 years has been the warmest in the period of reliable instrumental records (going back to 1850; Figure A5.15). In fact, the rate of warming has accelerated in the past several decades, and 17 of the 18 warmest years have occurred since 2001.” NCA, Page 1470

  • WILDFIRES: “Analyses estimate that the area burned by wildfire from 1984 to 2015 was twice what would have burned had climate change not occurred. Furthermore, the area burned from 1916 to 2003 was more closely related to climate factors than to fire suppression, local fire management, or other non-climate factors.” NCA, Page 1115;

    • “Climatic changes, including warmer springs, longer summer dry seasons, and drier soils and vegetation, have already lengthened the wildfire season and increased the frequency of large wildfires. Exposure to wildfire smoke increases the risk of respiratory disease, resulting in adverse impacts to human health.” NCA, Page 514

  • CORAL BLEACHING: “Warming has led to mass bleaching and/or outbreaks of coral diseases off the coastlines of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, Hawai‘i, and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands ... that threaten reef ecosystems and the people who depend on them.” NCA, Page 355

  • MILITARY ASSETS AND INFRASTRUCTURE: “Climate change is already affecting U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) assets by, among other impacts, damaging roads, runways, and waterfront infrastructure.” NCA, Page 613

  • WATER INFRASTRUCTURE: “Changes in the frequency and intensity of climate extremes relative to the 20th century and deteriorating water infrastructure are contributing to declining community and ecosystem resilience.” NCA, Page 149

  • INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY RELOCATION: “Throughout the United States, climate-related impacts are causing some Indigenous peoples to consider or actively pursue community re-location as an adaptation strategy, presenting challenges associated with maintaining cultural and community continuity.” NCA, Page 28

  • INJURY, ILLNESS & DEATH: “Climate-related changes in weather patterns and associated changes in air, water, food, and the environment are affecting the health and well-being of the American people, causing injuries, illnesses, and death.” NCA, Page 541

In addition to the United States government, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees that "Human-induced global warming has already caused multiple observed changes in the climate system" (IPCC Special Report, Page 177) and that the pace of serious change is far faster than Wheeler claimed: "Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate." (IPCC Special Report, Page 6).

Today's Sierra Club FOIA filing has strong precedent.

In 2017, since-disgraced then-EPA-Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed during a CNBC interview that carbon dioxide does not contribute to climate change. After months of trying, the EPA had no choice but to admit that Pruitt’s claims were unsupported after Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) submitted a FOIA request and successfully sued EPA in federal court, forcing the agency to respond after it initially balked at the request.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit