EPA head calls Trump's climate deal withdrawal 'courageous,' 'thoughtful'
Scott Pruitt dodges the question of whether climate change is an 'existential threat'
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday launched a vigorous defence of Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate-change agreement, but refused to say whether the president believes climate change is a hoax.
Scott Pruitt, speaking to reporters at the White House press briefing, called Trump's decision to exit the Paris deal on Thursday as "courageous" and "thoughtful" and that it does not mean disengagement from the issue of climate change.
Pruitt said nations were free to renegotiate new climate change terms with the U.S.
He sidestepped a question on whether Trump believed climate change was real or not, by saying the discussions focused solely on, "Is Paris good, or not, for this country?"
Trump in 2012 tweeted that climate change was a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive, but as with many issues, his views and statements have shifted over time as he became first a candidate, then president.
Pruitt said both he and Trump believed the Paris deal put the U.S. at an economic disadvantage and that the benefits in terms of the environment were negligible even if all the nations met their targets.
In addition, Pruitt said, the Paris agreement let major polluters China and India off the hook by not setting strict timelines for reducing their emissions. It is contention that has been disputed in the hours since Trump's announcement.
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Later, Pruitt said there were "climate exaggerators" in the media and politics who were hindering the discussions over the issue of whether global warming is an "existential threat."
"Measuring with precision, from my perspective, the degree of human contribution is very challenging," he said.
The Paris climate-change accord was struck in 2015, agreed to by over 190 states and the European Union. Nicaragua and Syria were the only notable countries who were not signatories to the deal.
The U.S., under former president Barack Obama, announced jointly with China in 2016 it would push forward with the agreement's targets.
Pruitt said he didn't consider exiting Paris as a broken promise that will reduce U.S. credibility in the international community, as he said entering such a deal should have required ratification in the Senate.
"What we have to remember with respect to things like the Paris agreement, is we have nothing to be apologetic about as a country," he said. "We have reduced our CO2 footprint to levels of the early 1990s; in fact from 2000 to 2014 we reduced our carbon footprint by up over 18 per cent."
Pruitt said that the progress has been accomplished largely through innovation and technology, not government mandate. "We are leading with action and not words."
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, this week criticized Trump's resistance to the deal, saying the U.S. president doesn't understand the fine print of the agreement and that the process of formally withdrawing could take months if not years.
Two views of Pittsburgh
Canada has said its participation in the deal is ironclad. Trump was pressed at the recent G7 summit in Italy about his resistance to the deal, although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he wasn't prepared to "lecture another country on what they should do."
Trudeau said Thursday that Canada was "deeply disappointed," adding that Canada is "unwavering in our commitment" to fight climate change.
Corporate leaders in America ranging from Coca-Cola to 3M to Dow Chemical and Procter & Gamble have expressed opposition to leaving the deal, saying it may lead to negative trade implications as it isolates the country from all of its traditional allies. The deal benefits U.S. manufacturing, and encourages investment in new technologies and opportunities, 30 leaders said in a public letter earlier this month.
After the announcement, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he would leave his post on three White House economic advisory councils. "Climate change is real," said Musk. "Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world."
Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of multinational financial giant Goldman Sachs, posted to Twitter for the first time on Thursday: "Today's decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.'s leadership position in the world."
During his announcement, Trump said he was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris, referring to the Pennsylvania city that was the longtime steel capital of the U.S.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto quickly lashed back at what he said was an erroneous impression of the city, trumpeting the strides it has made in clean-energy technology.
"In his speechwriter's mind, Pittsburgh is this dirty old town that relies upon big coal and big steel to survive," the mayor said.
Peduto was among dozens of mayors and governors on Thursday who said they would strengthen alliances to combat climate change and adhere to the Paris benchmarks.
"We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice," the group called the Climate Mayors said in a statement.
Following Pruitt on the podium, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer also refused to address whether Trump believed climate change was real and said that the president was fulfilling a campaign promise in leaving the Paris pact.
With files from The Associated Press