Scott Pruitt: EPA chief who urged Trump to ditch climate pact


Washington (AFP)

After years of fighting to roll back Barack Obama's policies, top US environmental official and climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt saw his efforts bear fruit Thursday when President Donald Trump announced the US exit from the Paris climate deal.

Pruitt heads the Environmental Protection Agency, and has spent much of the last few months since his confirmation lobbying the president to ditch the global agreement -- a move that flies in the face of advice from environmental advocates, scientists and former EPA officials including his own predecessor.

Pruitt stressed that the Paris Agreement -- whose signatories commit to a goal of holding global warming to well below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels -- was "a bad deal" for the US economy.

He found a sympathizer in Trump, who told supporters last year that he wanted to "cancel" US participation in the agreement -- a campaign pledge that the Republican billionaire has now moved to fulfill.

Pruitt's position appeared to win out over those of other advisors, notably Trump's daughter Ivanka, who had urged that the United States remain on board.

The 49-year-old Pruitt is among the youngest members of Trump's cabinet, and the president's contentious climate decision only served to highlight the sway the EPA chief has on the issue in the White House.

As Trump announced the withdrawal, he asked Pruitt to say a few words.

"It should be noted that we as a nation do it better than anyone in the world in striking the balance between growing our economy, growing jobs while also being a good steward of our environment," Pruitt told the Rose Garden audience, as Trump looked on appreciatively.

"We owe no apologies to other nations for our environmental stewardship."

- Suing the EPA -

Pruitt, an ally of the fossil fuel industry who served as attorney general of the state of Oklahoma, has built a reputation as a contrarian on climate science.

Before accepting the EPA role, Pruitt repeatedly waged war on the agency and sought to sow scientific doubt where little existed.

That mission continues with him at the EPA helm. Barely three weeks into the job, Pruitt said carbon dioxide was not the main driver of global warming, a position starkly at odds with scientific consensus.

"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," Pruitt told CNBC television.

Pruitt's stance runs counter to scientific consensus that underpins the Paris Agreement, which saw 195 nations agree to lower emissions that lead to global warming.

As Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt filed or joined in 13 lawsuits to block EPA rules, siding with industry executives seeking to roll back regulations on pollution, clean air and clean water.

In a 2015 suit, he went after the federal Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions at coal plants, Obama's most ambitious policy to fight climate change.

During his confirmation hearings in January, Pruitt said he did not believe climate change was a "hoax," as Trump has previously alleged, but said "the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activity's impact on the climate is subject to more debate."

But he has made no secret of his hostility toward the EPA. In 2015, he told Fox News that the environment would be just "fine" without the agency.

Pruitt has shown himself to be "the worst EPA administrator in history," Ken Cook, president of the non-profit Environmental Working Group, told AFP.

"His strident, anti-science views are clearly influencing President Trump's repeated assaults on human health and the environment, as we have just witnessed today."