Trump EPA pick: no plans to review finding that CO2 is dangerous
WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency expressed doubt about the science behind global climate change during a contentious Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, but added he would be obliged for now to uphold the EPA’s finding carbon dioxide poses a public danger.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, 48, sued the agency he intends to run more than a dozen times on behalf of his state, leading both his opponents and supporters to believe he will aggressively carry out Trump’s campaign vows to slash EPA regulation to boost domestic oil and gas drilling and coal mining.
“Science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity, in some manner, impacts that change,” Pruitt said during the hearing in front of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”
Responding to a question from Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Pruitt said he would be obliged as administrator to initially abide by the EPA finding that carbon dioxide and other gases scientists believe contribute to climate change pose a risk to the public. That is a premise for many of the regulations limiting carbon emissions imposed during President Barack Obama’s tenure.
“There’s nothing that I know of that would cause a review at this point,” he said.
Trump has promised to refocus the EPA on its core values of protecting air and water quality, while scrapping many of Obama’s initiatives to combat climate change by targeting carbon dioxide emissions.
That stance has triggered an international diplomatic backlash, worried environmentalists, and cast a cloud of doubt over the future of a global pact to combat climate change and its effects, signed in Paris last year. U.S. government agencies said on Wednesday that world temperatures in 2016 hit a record high for the third year in a row.
“Why are folks so concerned?… We’re concerned that we won’t be fine with the environment,” said Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. “That’s why you have the kind of concern you’re witnessing here today.”
In prepared remarks that were interrupted by protesters shouting “There is no planet B”, Pruitt said he would seek to ensure environmental rules imposed by the EPA were effective, but without hurting development.
“Environmental regulations should not occur in an economic vacuum. We can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic growth,” he said. He added that he would seek to give states more authority to regulate their own environmental issues.
Pruitt said he would recuse himself from ongoing cases against the EPA that he is involved in if the EPA’s ethics commission required him to do so.
For weeks, environmental groups have campaigned to urge lawmakers to block Pruitt’s nomination, saying he is doing the bidding of energy companies and industry groups that have contributed to his election campaigns.
During the hearing, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon showed a blown-up image of a letter Pruitt sent to the current EPA administrator several years ago opposing regulations limiting methane emissions from the energy sector. Merkley said it had been written by Oklahoma company Devon Energy.
Pruitt responded by saying the letter was not sent on behalf of any one company but on behalf of an entire industry that is important to the state’s economy
New Jersey Democratic Senator Corey Booker later asked Pruitt if he had sent similar letters of behalf of Oklahoma citizens affected by pollution, citing statistics showing the state has among the highest asthma rates in the country.
“Did you even file one lawsuit on behalf of those kids?”
Republicans on the committee meanwhile focused their questions on how Pruitt will work to avoid pollution crises like the lead contamination crisis affecting Flint, Michigan, and criticized the Obama administration’s climate regulations.
Asked what would be his guiding philosophy as EPA administrator, he said: “I believe that the role of the regulator is to make things regular…and restoring confidence and certainty to those that are regulated.”
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