EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Defends Decision To Withdraw From Paris Agreement: "There Are Climate Exaggerators"

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EPA administrator Scott Pruitt defended President Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord saying the agreement was a bad deal for the US economy.

"I don't know if you guys caught my confirmation process or not," Pruitt joked. "But during that confirmation process I indicated that, in fact, global warming is occurring, that human activity contributes to it in some manner."

He continued: "But it still begs the question: what do we do about it? Does it pose an existential threat, as some say? You know, people have -- have called me a climate skeptic or a climate denier. I -- I don't even -- what it means to deny the climate."

"I would say that there are climate exaggerators," he explained. "I don't know if you saw this article or not, but the Climate of Complete Certainty, by Bret Stephens, that was in the New York Times, talked about -- and I'll just read a quote, because I think it's a very important quote from this -- from this article: 'Anyone who's read the 2014 report of the IPCC knows that, while the -- while modest, 0.85 degrees Celsius, warming of the earth' has occurred since 1880. 'Much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That's especially true of the sophisticated, but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn't to deny science. It is to acknowledge it honestly.' And I think that what the American people deserve is a debate."

Full transcript:

SCOTT PRUITT: I's good to be with you this afternoon. And want to first begin by saying that the president made a very courageous decision yesterday in behalf of America.

He put America's interests first with respect to environmental agreements and international discussions. I really appreciate his fortitude. I really appreciate his leadership in this matter.

The discussion over the last several weeks has been one of a thoughtful deliberation. He heard many voices, voices across a wide spectrum of -- of vantage points. And the president made a very informed, and I think thoughtful and important decision for the country's benefit.

You know, what we have to remember when it comes to environmental agreements and international agreements with respect to things like the Paris Agreement is we have nothing to be apologetic about as a country. We had 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 percent. And that's been largely accomplished through innovation and technology, not government mandate.

So, when we look at issues like this, we are leading with action and not words. I also want to say that exiting Paris does not mean disengagement. In fact, the president said yesterday that Paris represents a bad deal for this country.

It doesn't mean that we're not going to continue the discussion. To export our innovation, to export our technology to the rest of the world, to demonstrate how we do it better here is I think a very important message to send.

He indicated that he's going to either reenter Paris or engage in a discussion around a new deal with a commitment to putting America first. The president has said routinely he's going to put the interest of American citizens at the head of this -- of this administration. That's in trade policy, that's in national security, that's in border security, that's in right-sizing Washington, D.C., and he did that with respect to his decision yesterday on Paris.

So, with that, would be happy to answer any questions you might have. And I don't know your names, so you'll have to forgive me of that. And if I just point to you, we'll -- we'll just go from there.

Yes, ma'am? Your name?

QUESTION: Mary Bruce with ABC.

PRUITT: Hello, Mary.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking our questions. Just hoping you can clear this up once and for all.

Yes or no, does the president believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States?

PRUITT: You -- you know, what's interesting about all the discussions that we had through the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue. Is Paris good or not for this country? That's the discussions I've had with the president.

So, that's been my focus. The focus remained on whether put -- Paris put us at a disadvantage. And in fact, it did. It put us in an economic disadvantage.

You may not know this, but Paris, it set targets at 26 to 28 percent. With the entire agenda of the previous -- previous administration, we still fell 40 percent short of those targets.

It was a failed deal to being with. And -- and even if all of the targets were met by all nations across the globe, it only reduced the temperature by less than two-tenths of one degree.

So, that is something that the parent -- the -- the president focused upon with respect to how it impacted us economically and whether there were good environmental objectives that were achieved as a result of Paris. His decision was no, and that was the extent of our discussions.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Regarding (ph) climate change...

PRUITT: Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Yes or no?PRUITT: Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: You said 1 percent, specifically your citing the MIT scientists who helped with that report say that Trump quote, "Badly misunderstood the findings of that report and that in fact would be taking no action." (Inaudible)

So specifically -- specifically what other science?

PRUITT: Through other studies that were published.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

PRUITT: There were other studies published at the time the MIT study was something that -- that -- as you indicated showed two tenths of one degree. They didn't have a corner on the market as far as the studies at that time.

There were many at that point, we can provide those to you. What's clear about Paris -- what's clear is if you go back and look at criticism that was being levied against the Paris Agreement, it wasn't just from folks in this country who wanted to be ratified or were critical to processes.
PRUITT: The environmental left were -- was very critical of Paris. In fact James -- what's -- James Hansen is an individual who said at the time, it was a fake and a fraud. And -- and the general counsel of the Sierra Club said the same thing.

So if you go back and read the media accounts, there was much criticism, largely because -- largely because it did not hold nations like China and India accountable.

As you know, China did not have to take any steps of compliance until about -- until 2030. India had no obligations until $2.5 trillion of aid were provided. And Russia, when they set their targets, they set 1990 as their baseline, which allowed them to continue emitting more CO2.

In this country, we had to have a 26 to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, which represented the Clean Power Plan and the entire climate action agenda of the past administration.

QUESTION: Mr. Pruitt?

PRUITT: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Sir, I'd like to go back to the first question that was asked, that you didn't answer. Does the president believe, today, that climate change is a hoax? That's something, of course, he said in the campaign. When the pool (ph) was up in the Oval Office with him a couple days ago, he refused to answer. So I'm wondering if you can speak for him.

PRUITT: You know, I did answer the question, because I said the discussions the president and I have had over the last several weeks have been focused on one key issue: Is Paris good or bad for this country?

The president and I focused our attentions there. He determined that it was bad for this country. It hurt us economically. It didn't achieve good environmental outcomes, and he made the decision to reject the Paris deal.

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: Yes, sir? Yes, sir, right there. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Thank you. Given the fact that you and other administration officials haven't been able to outline the president's views on climate change, why should other countries believe that the president wants to negotiate any deal in good faith?

PRUITT: As I indicated in my comments yesterday, and the president emphasized in his speech, this -- this administration and the country as a whole -- we have taken significant steps to reduce our CO2 footprint to levels of the pre-1990s.

What you won't hear -- how did we achieve that? Largely because of technology, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, that has allowed a conversion to and natural gas and the generation of electricity. You won't hear that from the environmental left.

And so we need to export clean coal technology, we need to export the technology in natural gas to those around the globe -- India and China -- and help them learn from us on what we've done to achieve good outcomes. We've led with action, not words.

Paris, truly -- Paris, at its core, was a bunch of words committed to very, very minimal environmental benefits and -- cost the country a substantial amount of money and put us at an economic disadvantage.

Yes, sir? Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Does -- does the president believe that -- or does the administration believe that any additional deal on climate -- on carbon emissions, whether it's Paris or a subsequent deal...

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: I'm sorry, I missed the first part of your question. Can you...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Does the administration believe that any deal, whether it's a revised Paris agreement or -- or another carbon emission deal, needs congressional approval, either as a treaty or some other form of...

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: Well, I think -- I think it's clear, with respect to the Paris agreement, that there are concerns by the administration -- the president expressed this -- constitutionally -- in his speech yesterday. I have similar concerns that it should have been submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification.

I think it depends on the nature of the deal -- what you actually negotiate. If we're talking about exporting innovation and technology to the rest of the globe, I would say not. I would -- I would say that that's not something that should need to be submitted to the U.S. Senate. I would say, however, that, if you're -- if you're setting targets -- if you're setting emission targets that are enforceable, domestically, through regulation or statute, then, very much so. The voice of the American citizens across the country needs to be heard through the ratification process.

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: Yes, sir? Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Thank you.

Obviously, a lot of people in the White House are not willing to answer this question of what the president's view is on climate change. So let's talk about your personal views.

In March, you said there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of human impact, and you would not agree that it's a primary contributor to global warming.

Would you agree that human activity contributes at all to global warming?

PRUITT: I don't know if you guys caught my confirmation process or not, but it's -- it's a very intense process, by the way. But that confirmation process -- I indicated that -- that, in fact, global warming is occurring, that human activity contributes to it in some manner. Measuring with precision, from my perspective, the degree of human contribution is very challenging.

But it still begs the question: what do we do about it? Does it pose an existential threat, as some say? You know, people have -- have called me a climate skeptic or a climate denier. I -- I don't even -- what it means to deny the climate.

I would say that there are climate exaggerators. In fact, many of you -- I don't know if you saw this article or not, but the Climate of Complete Certainty, by Bret Stephens, that was in the New York -- the New York Times talked about -- and I'll just read a quote, because I think it's a very important quote from this -- from this article.

"Anyone who's read the 2014 report of the IPCC knows that, while the -- while modest, 0.85 degrees Celsius, warming of the earth" has occurred since 1880. "Much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.

"That's especially true of the sophisticated, but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn't to deny science. Isn't (sic) to acknowledge it honestly."

And -- and I think that, look, the debate -- what -- what the American people deserve -- what the American people deserve is a debate -- objective, transparent discussion about this issue. And what Paris represents -- what Paris represents is a international agreement to put this country at a disadvantage, with very little benefit environmentally across the globe.

QUESTION: If we deserve a debate, then why not (ph)...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. Pruitt -- Mr. Pruitt, may I ask a follow-up question on tat, sir? Why -- why, then, is...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... why, then, is the Arctic ice shelf melting? Why are the sea levels rising? Why are the hottest temperatures in the last decade essentially the hottest temperatures that we've seen on record?

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: You guys haven't been on (ph) hiatus since the late 1990s, as you know (ph), and -- and...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: But the -- but -- but, sir -- but, sir -- so there's -- when NASA says that 95 percent of the experts in this area around the world believe that the earth is warming, and you are up there throwing out information that says, "well, maybe this is being exaggerated," and so forth, and you're talking about climate exaggerators, it just seems to a lot of people around the world that you and the president are just denying the reality.

And the reality of the situation is that climate change is happening, and it is a significant threat to the planet.

PRUITT: Let me say this, and I've said it in the confirmation process, and I said it yesterday, and then -- no, let me finish.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... right about the Arctic ice, and the...

PRUITT: There -- there is -- there...

QUESTION: ... sea levels, and?

PRUITT: ... we have done a tremendous amount, as a country, to achieve reductions in CO2. And we have done that through technology and innovation. We will continue to do that. We will continue to stay engaged.

We are part, as you know, of the UNFCCC. And that process encourages voices by subnational groups and by countries across the -- the globe. And we are going to stay engaged and try to work through agreements and achieve outcomes that put America's interest first.

This is not -- this is not a message to anyone in the world that -- that America is somewhat -- should be apologetic of its CO2 position. We are actually making tremendous advances. We're just not going to agree to...

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: ... we're just not going to agree to frameworks and -- and agreements that put us at an economic disadvantage and hurt citizens across this country.

Yes, sir?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... though, that you're putting your head in the sand, though, Mr. Peabody (ph). We're a little worried that you're putting your head in the sand on...

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: Well, that -- there's no evidence of that.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Administrator.

Your fellow Sooner, Senator Inhofe, said that, while he had full confidence in the president in this, he is very nervous about lower- level career government employees in the EPA and the State Department in actually executing what's need (ph) to exit the Paris climate accord.

As the administrator of EPA, what do you say to your own senator?

PRUITT: I mean, what's -- what's important to know is that the president said unequivocally, yesterday, that the targets set in Paris -- the 26 to 28 percent targets -- are not enforceable and are not going to be complied with.

The Green Climate Fund, where the United States committed $3 billion of initial funding, is not going to continue. That is unequivocally the -- the case, and that's going to be immediate.

Now, there are discussions that are ongoing with the Justice Department on the steps that we'll be taking to execute the -- the withdrawal and the exit. That's something that's going to be happening over the next several weeks.

But as far as the targets are concerned, as far as the Green Climate Fund, that is immediate, and it's something that's clear.

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Thank you. European leaders have been very clear...

PRUITT: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: ... European leaders have made it very clear...

PRUITT: OK.

QUESTION: ... the deal can't be renegotiated. So how does the president renegotiate a deal when the other parties aren't willing to come to the table?

PRUITT: Well, as he indicated, whether it's part of the Paris framework or a new deal, he's -- it's -- it's either approach. And -- and...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... if they're not going to sit down at the table with him?

PRUITT: Well, that's up to them, right? I mean, it -- that -- what -- what America -- the United States has a seat at the table. After all, we're the United States, and we are leading with respect to CO2 production. We have made tremendous progress.PRUITT: If nations around the globe want to see -- to learn from us on what we're doing to reduce our CO2 footprint, we're going to share that with them. And -- and that's something that should occur and will occur in the future. And we will reach out and reciprocate with nations who seek to achieve that.

QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up. You're the EPA administrator. Shouldn't you be able to tell the American people whether or not the president still believes if climate change is a hoax?

Where does he stand?

PRUITT: As I indicated, several times through the process -- there's enough to deal with, with respect to the Paris agreement and -- and -- and making an informed decision about this important issue. That's what our focus has been over the last several weeks. I've asked -- I've answered the question a couple times.

Yes, sir? Yes, sir? This gentleman right here.

Yes, this gentleman right here?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir...

PRUITT: This gentleman right here.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

PRUITT: Yes.

QUESTION: Frank (ph)?

QUESTION: Is -- isn't it of concern that the United States has broken a promise to 190 countries? And the president did not address that particular point.

And second, you've several times raised that the -- the lowering of CO2 levels. Isn't the reason for lower CO2 levels because of blocking the smokestack spews that now are not allowed, the kind of regulations that the administration is now opposing?

PRUITT: As I indicated, largely we have reduced our CO2 footprint through innovation and technology. Not the least of which is hydraulic fracturing or horizontal drilling.

And the first part of your question, I forget?

QUESTION: Isn't it of concern that we broke a promise to 190 countries? And how does that help our credibility?

PRUITT: Well, truly, this gentleman's question back here -- if it was a promise that was enforceable and -- and was going to obligate this country, then it should've been ratified as a treaty, right? The -- the exposure here to us domestically was 26 to 28 percent targets that were part of an international agreement, and there are provisions in the Clean Air Act that actually allow for lawsuits to be filed domestically to compel regulation to meet those kinds of percentages.

This was as much about a Constitutional and legal concerns as anything else. And the president dealt decisively with that.

But let's -- again, the important thing here is it put us in an economic disadvantage. The world applauded -- the world applauded when we joined Paris.

And you know why? I think they applauded because they knew it was going to put this country at an economic disadvantage. And reason European leaders -- going back to the question earlier -- that I think they want us to stay in is because they know it'll continue to shackle our economy, though we are leading the world with respect to our CO2 reduction.

That's all I've got. I've got to head to the airport. Thank you very much.

Sean, thank you.

SPICER: Forgot (ph) your glasses.

QUESTION: Why did you celebrate at a French restaurant...

PRUITT: Thank you.

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