EPA chief Pruitt repeatedly refuses to say whether Trump still denies climate change

Michael Walsh
Reporter

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt refused to answer the same question repeatedly throughout Friday’s White House briefing: Does President Trump believe in climate change or does he still think it’s a hoax?

Pruitt, who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, was taking questions because of Trump’s bombshell announcement on Thursday that he had decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement to combat climate change.

The first question came from ABC News correspondent Mary Bruce: “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?”

Rather than answer the question, Pruitt said that he and Trump were focused on whether or not the Paris Agreement serves the interests of the American people.

“All the discussions 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,” Pruitt said.

Echoing what Trump said Thursday, Pruitt said the Paris climate accord placed the U.S. at an economic disadvantage and was a “failed deal to begin with.”

Scott Pruitt at the daily briefing at the White House on Friday. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

“Even if all targets were met by all nations across the globe, it only reduced the temperature by less than two-tenths of one degree,” he said.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep this century’s global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Scientists say that humankind can avert the worst consequences of anthropogenic climate change if global warming is limited in this way.

As Pruitt called on the next reporter, Bruce reiterated her request for an answer to her question — “But on climate change, yes or no?” — which he ignored.

Shortly after, another reporter, Philip Rucker of the Washington Post, gave Pruitt another opportunity to answer Bruce’s question.

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

Trump had in fact ignored that exact question from a reporter during his meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Wednesday.

President Trump announces his plan to withdraw from the Paris agreement. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Again, Pruitt deflected and returned to his talking points while claiming that he had answered the question.

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

Many scientific organizations and associations have released statements saying the scientific evidence clearly shows that global climate change caused by human activities is already happening and that it’s a serious threat.

To name just one example, a portion of the American Physical Society’s national policy reads, “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.”

At the press briefing, Jim Acosta of CNN told Pruitt that it seems like ignoring reality to dismiss climate change activists as “exaggerators” while Arctic and Antarctic sea ice is melting, sea levels are rising and temperatures are setting annual heat records.

“They’re a little worried that you’re putting your head in the sand, Mr. Pruitt,” Acosta said.

To many critics, as Acosta pointed out, it appears as if Pruitt and Trump are simply denying the reality of climate change and its threat to the planet.

“There’s no evidence of that,” Pruitt said.

On the campaign trail, Trump said many times that climate change is a hoax designed to make money.

Pruitt has denied climate science in the past and even said that carbon dioxide is not a “primary contributor” to global warming. In his previous position as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he fought against regulations on the fossil fuel industry intended to protect the environment and sued the EPA many times alleging governmental overreach.

John Coequyt, the global climate policy director for the Sierra Club, released a statement saying that Pruitt was “clearly scrambling to explain the unexplainable.”

“Pruitt’s incoherent distortions of reality offer no good reasons why the Trump Administration would turn its back on the vast majorities of the public that support the Paris Agreement because there are no good reasons,” he said. “Pruitt is learning that the hard way.”

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