As President Donald Trump’s communication strategy begins to take shape for the 2020 election, his favorite network has been repeatedly booking a former Environmental Protection Agency official to gaslight for the president’s destructive anti-climate and anti-science agenda.
Since February, Mandy Gunasekara has appeared at least 17 times on both Fox News and Fox Business to talk about her past work with the Trump administration, promote his energy agenda, and criticize the Democratic presidential candidates. She has made numerous appearances on other right-wing outlets as well, including The Daily Caller and Bill Mitchell’s radio program. Gunasekara’s history of working with climate change deniers makes her the perfect right-wing pundit for Trump’s so-called “energy dominance” agenda.
Gunasekara worked at Scott Pruitt’s EPA after cutting her teeth working for infamous climate denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
From March 2017 through February of this year, Gunasekara was a top climate and air quality adviser at the EPA, where she played a key role in helping the Trump administration undo major environmental regulations. Her organization, Energy45, lists her as “chief architect of the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord” and an orchestrator of the Clean Power Plan repeal. At a 2017 conference, she reportedly told coal company representatives that she was in a position at the EPA to “make a big difference and do things to help out and tear back the problems that stemmed from decisions of the last administration.”
Before joining the EPA, Gunasekara worked on Capitol Hill, where she served as counsel for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), “the grandfather of climate denial,” handing him the snowball during his infamous climate denial speech in 2015.
Gunasekara currently runs a pro-Trump energy PAC
Gunasekara resigned from the EPA in February to start Energy45, also known as the Energy 45 Fund, a dark money PAC that is “dedicated to informing the public about the environmental and economic gains made under the Trump Administration.” The organization’s issues include “Defending the Trump Energy Agenda,” promoting “America First Environmentalism,” and “Exposing Liberal Energy Fantasies.” The description of the last of those issues calls policies to combat climate change “nothing but a proxy for draconian government control” that “would make Stalin blush.”
In addition to her role with the Energy 45 Fund, Gunasekara is also a senior fellow with Life:Powered, a project of the Koch-backed Texas Public Policy Foundation, which generally rejects climate science and has close connections to the Trump administration.
In a June interview with The Washington Post, Gunasekara explained her new role in promoting Trump’s energy agenda:
“I think what Republicans are starting to understand is, we need to be better about communicating the good work that we're doing,” Gunasekara, the former deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's air office, said in an interview Tuesday.
“I always say, we're right on the policy, we're right on the facts,” she added. “But what we're not great at is conveying that.”
Apparently for Gunasekara, that means lying about energy and climate issues.
Gunasekara has appeared at least two dozen times in right-wing outlets since February
Since starting the Energy45 PAC, Gunasekara has appeared nine times on Fox News and eight times on Fox Business, splitting her time on Fox News between Trump’s favorite show, Fox & Friends, and America’s Newsroom, while all of her Fox Business appearances have come on Varney & Co.
She also penned an op-ed for FoxNews.com on February 20 which bashed the Green New Deal as “Karl Marx’s Christmas list” and chastised Democrats for moving “so far to the extreme that eating meat is murder, but killing a baby moments after birth is a choice.” Most recently, she appeared on Fox Nation’s Deep Dive on August 14 to discuss the Green New Deal and Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda.
Gunasekara has also appeared: twice on One America News Network, a right-wing outlet that has received plaudits from Trump; twice on The Daily Caller platform, on its podcast and in a video criticizing the Green New Deal; and twice on the radio show of Bill Mitchell, an extreme pro-Trump pundit and ridiculous climate denier who has amplified the QAnon conspiracy theory. She’s also appeared on a conservative Minnesota radio show and has written for Y’all Politics, a conservative news outlet focused on Mississippi politics.
In contrast, she has appeared sparingly in mainstream outlets, including BBC Radio and C-SPAN. In June, she penned an op-ed for USA Today criticizing Joe Biden’s climate plan. That op-ed was then amplified by the official Twitter account of Trump’s election campaign.
She regularly spouts climate denial
Gunasekara has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus on climate change. In her July 10 appearance on Fox & Friends First, she stated falsely that “there is serious lack of consensus on the issue” and claimed that “climate change is not a crisis”:
That same day on America’s Newsroom, Gunasekara accused Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) of using climate change to “manufacture crises” and “divert the American people’s attention away from all the successes of the President Trump administration.” She also stated that climate change is “not a national emergency, it’s not an existential threat -- it’s something that’s always been occurring.”
Appearing in a Real News Insights video posted to Facebook on July 9, she said that Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez “are trying to scare the American people by citing frivolous science in terms of climate change” in order “to make their socialist agenda seem reasonable.”
In her March 29 appearance on The Daily Caller podcast, Gunasekara said that the climate is changing but that the important question is “what role are humans actually having.” (Hint: Humans are having an outsized role and are by far the dominant cause of climate change.) In this same interview, she also accused “activist scientists” of writing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report’s Summary for Policymakers and referred to United Nations climate conferences as “somewhat of a religion or somewhat cultish."
In a July interview with Bloomberg Environment, she offered a more nuanced opinion on climate:
“I embrace the consensus that the climate is changing and support continuing to enhance our understanding of humans’ role,” she said. “What I reject are intrusive policies that masquerade as some ‘solution’ to our changing climate where they will have little meaningful impact on the environment, but massive costs to the economy.”
She repeatedly makes false claims about Trump’s environmental progressGunasekara often uses her appearances on the president’s favorite network to boast about the environmental progress made under the Trump administration. Examples include:
- February 8: In her first appearance on America’s Newsroom, Gunasekara attacked the Green New Deal proposal and said the Trump administration had worked instead on “practical solutions to improve the environment.” The same day on Varney & Co., she praised the “extensive environmental progress” of the Trump administration.
- February 20: In a FoxNews.com op-ed, she stated that the “U.S. is already the leader on environmental issues in spite of oft-criticized actions like withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.”
- March 18: She referenced “significant environmental gains” made in the U.S. on an America's Newsroom appearance.
- March 27: Appearing on Fox & Friends First, Gunasekara stated that the “president is setting us up for perpetual success thanks to his economic agenda and environmental dominance that goes alongside a very healthy future when it comes to environmental progress.”
- June 13: Appearing on Varney & Co., she stated that “we are making the economy and the planet much better and it's under president Trump's balanced policies.”
This is extreme gaslighting -- Trump’s environmental record is shameful. His administration has rolled back 83 federal regulations aimed at protecting the environment, which will cause great harm to the general public and may put “thousands of lives” at risk. The replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, the Affordable Clean Energy rule, is estimated to cause up to an additional 1,400 annual premature deaths by 2030, and it may cause polluting coal plants to stay open longer while not doing anything to reverse fortunes for the declining coal industry. Ditto for the administration's vehicle emissions rollback plan, which will likely increase traffic fatalities and lead to more auto pollution.
She makes false claims about clean air records under Trump
Gunasekara also likes to state that the U.S. has the cleanest air on record. Examples include:
- June 5: Appearing on Varney & Co., she stated, “Under President Trump we've not only continued to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country, but we have the cleanest air on record.” Later in the interview, she referenced the EPA’s success in reducing criteria pollutants since the 1970s, doubling down on her claim that “we undoubtedly have the cleanest air on record.”
- June 13: In another Varney & Co. appearance, she said, “We are already leading the world in terms of clean air, clean water, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
- August 2: Appearing on America’s Newsroom, Gunasekara claimed that Trump “has put in place balanced regulations that continue the trajectory of having the cleanest air on record.”
We currently do not have the cleanest air on record; in fact, air quality has worsened since 2016. There has been a 15% increase in the number of high air pollution days since President Barack Obama’s second term. At least one report shows that the U.S. ranks 123rd out of 195 nations for ozone pollution levels. Additionally, at least three toxic “criteria” pollutants are more prevalent in the air now than in 2016, and the number of unhealthy air days in the U.S. has been increasing since Trump took office.
She’s made numerous other inaccurate remarks about environmental issues
In a July 2 Daily Caller video, Gunsekara stated that “some could say we are leading the world in fighting climate change.” This is blatantly false -- the U.S. is actually disproportionately causing climate change, as it is one of the largest carbon emitters in the world on a per capita basis. The emissions reductions that Gunasekara often hypes were largely just a continuation of Obama-era policies. In fact, the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental regulations mean that we may never see very deep cuts in emissions again. Additionally, U.S. emissions shot up in 2018, and the U.S. is nowhere close to being on track to prevent the worst effects of climate change by 2050.
In an America’s Newsroom appearance on March 18, Gunasekara reiterated her support for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, and accused France of “not even achieving environmental progress.” This accusation is completely baseless, as French emissions actually declined in 2018, unlike in the U.S. France also has a much cleaner energy sector than the U.S.
In her February 20 FoxNews.com op-ed, Gunasekara said the Green New Deal “reads like Karl Marx’s Christmas list,” and she’s attacked the proposal a number of other times as well. On February 8, the day after the Green New Deal was released, she claimed on Varney & Co. that it could cost anywhere from $5 trillion to $7 trillion. These numbers are some of many that have been floating around for the Green New Deal, and they are bogus; in reality, no one knows how much it would cost. After the Senate vote on the Green New Deal in March, she claimed on Fox & Friends First that “it’s a total embarrassment” that Democrats voted “present” rather than no. What she didn’t mention was that entire vote was really a political stunt orchestrated by Republicans. On this same episode, she said that the Green New Deal is “trying to propose issues that are not popular and wouldn’t work.” The Green New Deal is actually quite popular, and it gets support from environmentalists, labor unions, and even coal miners.
Speaking with Lara Trump on July 2, Gunasekara said Trump ended the Clean Power Plan and the “war on coal,” which she claimed “was a war on communities.” Speaking about former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign one month later on America’s Newsroom, she declared that “the Obama-Biden legacy was the war on coal.” Republicans have long pushed a mythical war on coal, but in reality, the cheap cost of renewable energy sources and the explosive growth of natural gas production are the causes of the reduced market for coal. Gunasekara also failed to mention the number of coal plant closures under Trump, or the fact that more coal plants were shut down in Trump’s first two years in office than in all of Obama’s first term.
Her proposed climate solutions bash renewables and promote more fossil fuel usage
Gunasekara has often claimed that the U.S is doing a great job in reducing emissions in its fossil energy use, but she changes her tune when it comes to things that will further reduce emissions and make a meaningful impact in the fight against climate change. One example came in a February 18 Varney & Co. segment about local opposition to a solar project in rural Virginia, in which Gunasekara downplayed the environmental benefits of solar power and criticized the project as a case of “political preferences overtaking and ignoring the needs of the community”:
In reality, the only polling on the project shows overwhelming local support, and research from the Energy & Policy Institute showed that this specific solar project had been infiltrated by climate skeptics and fossil fuel interests who played a role in influencing much of the opposition to the project. Gunasekara also left out the fact that solar power is clearly more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels.
On the March 11 edition of Varney & Co., Gunasekara praised Trump’s decision to cut the budget of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) by 70%, calling its programs “inefficient” and stating that “a lot of this money goes to propping up investment from left-wing donors”:
The Trump administration’s massive proposed cuts to this office were too much even for congressional Republicans. And contrary to Gunasekara’s claims, the office’s programs are not inefficient; one assessment showed that “an EERE taxpayer investment of $12 billion already has yielded an estimated net economic benefit of more than $230 billion.”
In an America’s Newsroom segment on July 10, Gunasekara praised the EPA’s deregulatory agenda under Trump and propped up the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule as an example of the EPA helping to curb greenhouse gas emissions:
The ACE rule is really just a lifeline to the coal companies that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler used to support directly as a lobbyist. The rule will also lead to more CO2 emissions, which directly contradicts Gunasekara’s statement.
Gunasekara is nothing more than a propaganda mouthpiece for Trump
Trump knows he has an abysmal record on environmental issues. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that only 29% of Americans approve of Trump’s position on climate change, while 62% disapprove. Additionally, Trump’s own internal polling says that his awful record on environmental issues is a huge obstacle to his reelection.
Who better to gaslight for him than Gunasekara, who’s spent much of her career supporting climate deniers and boosting the fossil fuel industry? In her resignation letter from the EPA, she was clear that she would fight to tell the public about his environmental successes. And she doesn’t plan to stick to just right-wing media; in her recent interview with Bloomberg Environment, she said she plans to “branch out and try connecting with Democratic voters on outlets like MSNBC.” Media outlets must take her claims with a grain of salt and push back vigorously against her attempts to whitewash the Trump administration’s environmental record.