EPA says climate scientists trying to 'politicize' Texas storm

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday rejected a contention by scientists that the historic rainfall from Tropical Storm Harvey was linked to climate change, calling it “an attempt to politicize an ongoing tragedy.”

People evacuate by boat from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Houston, Texas August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Several scientists have said that factors related to global warming have contributed to increased rainfall from storms like Harvey, which struck the Texas coast as a major hurricane on Friday and has since triggered catastrophic flooding in Houston, killing at least 12 people and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.

“EPA is focused on the safety of those affected by Hurricane Harvey and providing emergency response support - not engaging in attempts to politicize an ongoing tragedy,” said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman, responding to a question about comments from the climate scientists.

A White House official said: “Right now, the top priority of the federal government as we work together to support state and local authorities in Texas and Louisiana is protecting the life and safety of those in impacted areas.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed doubts about climate change and has announced he will pull out of a global pact to combat it. On Aug. 15, days before the Texas storm, he signed an executive order revoking an Obama-era rule requiring projects built in coastal floodplains that receive federal aid to account for the impacts of sea-level rise.

Climate scientists have said that coastal areas, which have seen a surge in population growth, can expect to grapple with more severe flooding as global temperatures rise.

“There is universal agreement” that global warming will boost rainfall during hurricanes because warmer air holds more moisture, increasing the risk of severe floods, said Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“If you look at long-term effects of hurricanes on society, the impacts are more about water than wind,” he said. “Harvey is an example of how vulnerable modern society is to rainstorms as the climate warms. It’s solid physics,” he said.

Emanuel and other scientists were careful to say that storms like Harvey were not caused directly by climate change.

“To sum things up: Storm Harvey was not caused by climate change, yet its impacts – the storm surge, and especially the extreme rainfall – very likely worsened due to human-caused global warming,” said Stefan Rahmstorf at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Peter Cooney