Faced with budget cuts, Pruitt emphasizes states’ role

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, April 3, 2017

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said yesterday that his agency, which President Trump is targeting for massive budget cuts, will look to states to take on a greater role in environmental protection.

In an appearance yesterday on “Fox News Sunday,” Pruitt was questioned on whether the Trump administration was committed to protecting the environment, given the president’s budget plan for EPA — a 31 percent cut from the agency’s fiscal 2017 funding.

“Over the last several years, there has been a lack of commitment to state partnership,” Pruitt said, saying EPA would be renewing that partnership during his tenure.

“This attitude in Washington, D.C., that people in Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas and Colorado and the rest of the country don’t care about the water they drink or the air they breathe and are not going to take care of the air and the water locally and states, I just don’t believe that,” Pruitt said.

“That narrative is something we reject,” he said, “and we look forward to partnering with states across the country to achieve good outcomes.”

The budget cuts planned for EPA, which could result in $2.6 billion less funding and 3,200 fewer positions at the agency, have been met with protests from environmental groups as well as fierce resistance from several lawmakers. Congress will likely change Trump’s proposal, though it is not clear what EPA programs will survive this year’s budget process.

An internal EPA budget document, reported on by The Washington Post late Friday, provided more detail on Trump’s planned cuts for the agency. Under the president’s proposal, EPA would “center on our core legal requirements,” scrapping programs dealing with scientific research, climate change and education while sending other functions to state and local governments, according to the document.

Pruitt’s TV appearance yesterday came after Trump signed an executive order last week that begins the drawdown of several environmental regulations, including the Clean Power Plan. That EPA regulation has power plants reduce their carbon dioxide emissions in order to address climate change.

Pruitt has questioned the science behind climate change. In a CNBC interview last month, he said carbon dioxide is not the primary contributor behind climate change, contradicting EPA’s own website and enraging green groups (Greenwire, March 9). His comments from that interview have also sparked a review by the agency’s scientific integrity office (see related story).

Yesterday, Pruitt was more cautious when asked about climate change. He repeated similar sentiments he gave during his Senate confirmation hearing that humans do contribute to climate change, though to what extent remains unclear.

“Look, let me say to you, CO2 contributes to greenhouse gas. It has a greenhouse gas effect and global warming, as methane does and other types of gases. The issue is how much we contribute to it from the human activity perspective and then what can be done about it from a process perspective,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt was pressed on why Trump has sought to reverse the Clean Power Plan, given its health benefits as well as the United States’ leadership role in reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA chief contended that the rule never got off the ground because it came under litigation due to its overreach.

“The past administration just made it up. They reimagined authority under the statute. There’s a commitment with the new administration to have a pro-growth, pro-environment approach to these issues, but also to respect rule of law,” Pruitt said.

“You have stays of enforcement against that Clean Power Plan and there’s no progress being made with clean air,” he said, “and we are also spending money on litigation.”

Pruitt said progress already achieved in reducing carbon pollution should be recognized due to technological innovation. In addition, EPA should not be targeting fossil fuels, he argued.

“You ought not have the regulator in Washington, D.C. — in this instance, the EPA picking winners and losers — saying to the American people that we’re going to be anti-coal, anti-fossil-fuel as we generate electricity,” Pruitt said. “That’s bad for America.”