This is Scott Pruitt’s moment

Source: Niina Heikkinen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, June 5, 2017

Scott Pruitt clasped President Trump’s hand as he stepped to the lectern in the White House Rose Garden yesterday to claim the biggest political victory of his nascent tenure as U.S. EPA chief.

Trump had just announced that the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change — and Pruitt had led the way to making it happen.

“Today we put America first,” the EPA administrator announced. “We as a nation do 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. We owe no apologies to other nations.”

Pruitt’s brief remarks, which did not mention climate change, marked the culmination of months of behind-the-scenes efforts to convince Trump to leave the historic climate agreement. He proved successful despite widespread opposition from environmental and business groups, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and the president’s own daughter and son-in-law.

For Pruitt, the victory could be an important one politically, observers say. The EPA administrator is rumored to be interested in running for the U.S. Senate seat held by his friend, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is up for re-election in 2020. Some in Washington are speculating on whether Inhofe, 82, will want to seek another term. The senator has not yet announced whether he plans to run again.

Like Pruitt, Inhofe had called for departing from the Paris Agreement. Inhofe said he worked with the EPA administrator to craft a letter to Trump, signed by 22 senators, advising him to leave the climate accord.

“He won,” Inhofe told E&E News. “I think that certainly vindicates any criticism of Scott Pruitt.”

Inhofe said Pruitt had not discussed with him running for office. The senator did say that in the past three days, meeting with Republican groups in the state, he could not find any members of the party who disagreed with pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

Inhofe said the United States had to get out of the Paris Agreement, “just for the sake of honesty.”

“We had a president who went to Paris and made commitments on behalf of the United States that he knew we could not keep,” he said.

Speaking in the Rose Garden, Pruitt commended Trump for having the “courage” to get out of the climate accord. Repeating arguments he had made numerous times on conservative media over the past few weeks, Pruitt said the United States would now be striking a better balance between job creation and protecting the environment.

“America finally has a leader who answers only to the people,” he said.

On CNN with Jake Tapper after the announcement, Pruitt said that withdrawing had nothing to do with whether climate change is occurring.

“This is about making sure America, as we negotiate CO2 reductions, that we do so with an America-first approach,” he said.

Benefits of political experience

Supporters and critics alike said Pruitt’s success in moving Trump toward his view of the Paris Agreement means his star is ascending in the administration and the GOP base.

“I think it bolsters his reputation among conservatives,” said Nick Loris, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

“The fact that he was influential in swaying Trump to withdraw only strengthens his reputation as a leader who is willing to fight for all sources of energy in the United States and will make sure we aren’t putting in regulations with high compliance costs and minimal, if any, climate benefits,” he said.

Andrew Light, a distinguished fellow at the World Resources Institute and former State Department climate negotiator, said the ability of Pruitt and Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon ability to push for withdrawal from the climate accord showed their greater political experience over Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Tillerson.

“Certainly what this demonstrates is that he is one of the more adept people in the Cabinet and the White House,” he said.

Light noted that while Pruitt and Bannon had made a legal argument for exiting Paris, namely that the United States could not lower its emissions target under the agreement, the president’s announcement focused instead on the administration’s policy shift.

“The premises were all wrong, but the language was all policy stuff. In that respect, I guess it was not that particular legal argument which really was carrying this decision across the finish line, for Bannon and Pruitt, in the way that they thought that it would,” he said.