By Doina Chiacu and Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday he is not convinced that carbon dioxide from human activity is the main driver of climate change and said he wants Congress to assess whether CO2 is a harmful pollutant that should be regulated.
In an interview with CNBC, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the Trump administration will make an announcement on fuel efficiency standards for automobiles “very soon,” emphasizing that he and President Donald Trump believe the standards current ones were quickly approved.
Pruitt, 48, is a climate change denier who has sued the agency he now runs more than a dozen times as Oklahoma‘s attorney general. He said he was not convinced that carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal is the main cause of climate change, a conclusion widely embraced by scientists.
“I think accurately measuring human activity in climate is a very difficult thing to do and there is tremendous disagreement on the degree of impact,” he told CNBC.
“So no, I would not agree that it is a major contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said. “But we don’t know yet, we have to continue debating, continue review and analysis.”
Trump campaigned on a promise to roll back environmental regulations introduced by former President Barack Obama, including those aimed at combating climate change. He framed his stance as aimed at boosting American businesses, including the oil and gas extraction and coal mining industries.
“We can support growth, jobs and the environment,” Pruitt said Wednesday afternoon in a speech in Houston at CERAWeek, the world’s largest gathering of energy executives.
Scientists immediately criticized Pruitt’s statement, saying it ignores a large body of evidence collected over decades showing that the burning of fossil fuels is the main driver of climate change.
“We cannot afford to reject this clear and compelling scientific evidence when we make public policy. Embracing ignorance is not an option,” said Ben Santer, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in a statement.
The Supreme Court unleashed a regulatory and litigation fury when it ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases are an air pollutant that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Two years later, the EPA declared that carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases are pollutants.
Pruitt said the Supreme Court decision should not have been seen as permission for the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.
“Decisions were made at the executive branch level that did not respect the rule of law,” Pruitt said in his speech in Houston.
Pruitt has previously said that the EPA should not regulate CO2 without a law passed by Congress authorizing it to do so. The Republican-controlled Congress could potentially send a strong signal to the EPA that carbon dioxide should not be regulated by the agency, a move that would undermine many Obama-era rules aimed at curbing emissions.
“Administrator Pruitt is right, Congress has never explicitly given EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant and the committee has no plans to do so,” said Mike Danylak, spokesman for the Public Works and Environment Committee. Senate, the panel that oversees the EPA.
When asked at his confirmation hearing in January whether he would support the EPA’s hazard determination, Pruitt said it was the “law of the land” and that he was bound by it for now.
Pruitt declined to respond to a question from a reporter after his Houston speech about whether he would now seek to overturn the hazard finding.
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt and a dozen other attorneys general unsuccessfully challenged the hazard determination in federal appeals court.
“He removed his mask. After hiding his true views during Senate confirmation hearings, Scott Pruitt has declared himself a pure climate denier,” said David Doniger, director of the Defense Council’s climate program. of Natural Resources.
The new head of the EPA said he was committed to ensuring thorough processes for environmental rules and regulations to reduce “regulatory uncertainty.”
Pruitt added that he shared Trump’s view that the global climate accord agreed to by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015 was “bad business.” Trump vowed during his campaign for the White House to pull the United States out of the deal, but since then he has been mostly quiet on the issue.