Scott Pruitt – White House Presser on Paris Climate Accord Withdrawal
White House Presser on Paris Climate Accord Withdrawal
delivered 2 June 2017, White House, Washington, D.C.
Well, it’s good to be with you this afternoon. And I want to first begin by saying that the President made a very courageous decision yesterday on behalf of America. He put America’s interest 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 vantage points. And the President made a very informed and, I think, thoughtful and important decision for the country’s benefit.
What we have to remember when it comes to the 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 have reduced our CO2 footprint to levels of the early 1990s. And in fact, from 2000 to 2014, we reduced our carbon footprint by 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 said, routinely, he’s going to put the interest of American citizens at the head 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, I’d be glad to answer any questions you might have. And I don’t know your names, so you’ll have to give me that. I’ll just point to you, and we’ll just go from there.
Administrator Pruitt: Yes, ma’am. Your name?
Question: It’s Mary Bruce with ABC.
Administrator Pruitt: Hello, Mary.
Question: Thank you. I have a two-part question. I was hoping you could clear this up once and for all. Yes or no, does the President believe that climate change is real as a threat to the United States?
Administrator Pruitt: You know, what’s interesting about all the discussions we had for 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 Paris put us at a disadvantage, and in fact, it did. It put us at an economic disadvantage.
You may not know this, but Paris set targets of 26 to 28 percent. With the entire agenda of the previous administration, we still fell 40 percent short of those targets. It was a failed deal to begin with. 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 President focused upon with respect to how it impacted us economically and whether they were good environmental objectives that were achieved as a result of Paris. His decision was, no, and that was the extent of our discussions.
Question: On climate change, yes or no?
Administrator Pruitt: Yes, ma’am.
Question: Two-tenths of one percent, a statistic that you’re citing — the MIT scientists who helped with that report say that Trump “badly misunderstood” the findings of that report, and that, in fact, if we take no action, temperatures can rise a devastating five percentage points. So, specifically, what other science did the President rely on.
Administrator Pruitt: There were other stories that were published at the time. The MIT study was something 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 that if you go back and look at the criticism that was being levied against the Paris Agreement, it wasn’t just from folks in this country who wanted it to be ratified, or were critical of processes, the environmental left was very critical of Paris. In fact, James — what was — James Hansen is an individual who said at the time it was a fake and a fraud. 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 it did not hold nations like China and India accountable.
As you know, China did not have to take any steps of compliance 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 percent to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, which represented the Clean Power Plan and the entire Climate Action agenda of the past administration.
Question: 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 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.
Administrator Pruitt: I did answer the question because I said the discussions that the President and I have had over the last several weeks have been focused on one key issue — is Paris good or bad for the 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.
Yes, 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 a new deal in good faith?
Administrator Pruitt: As I indicated in my comments yesterday and the President emphasized in his speech, 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 natural gas in 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 this country a substantial amount of money and put us at an economic disadvantage.
Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Question: Does the President believe that — or does the administration believe that any additional deal on carbon emissions, whether it’s Paris or a subsequent deal, needs —
Administrator Pruitt: I’m sorry. I missed the first part of your question. Can you —
Question: Does the administration believe that any deal — whether it’s a revised Paris Agreement or another carbon emissions deal — needs congressional approval? Either as a treaty or some other form —
Administrator Pruitt: Well, 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 say that that’s not something that should — needs to be submitted to the U.S. Senate.
I would say, however, that 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 American citizens across the country needs to be heard through the ratification process.
Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Question: Obviously a lot of people from 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?
Administrator Pruitt: I don’t know if you guys caught my confirmation process or not, but — it’s a very intense process, by the way — but that confirmation process — I indicated 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? People have called me a climate skeptic or a climate denier — I don’t even know 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 Times talked about — and I’ll just read a quote, because I think it a very important quote from this article — “Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the IPCC knows that while modest, 0.8 degree 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 to acknowledge it honestly.”
And I think that — look, the debate — what the American people deserve is a debate objective — transparent discussion about this issue. And what Paris represents is a international agreement that put this country at a disadvantage with very little benefit environmentally across the globe.
Question: If we just look at the —
Question: Can I ask a follow-up question on that, sir? 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?
Administrator Pruitt: We’ve actually been on hiatus since the late 1990s, as you know.
Question: 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 this situation is that climate change is happening and it is a significant threat to the planet.
Administrator Pruitt: Let me say this, and I’ve said it in the confirmation process and I said it yesterday —
Question: That’s true, though, right? About the Arctic ice and the sea levels and —
Administrator 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 some national groups and by countries across 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 America is somewhat — should be apologetic of its CO2 position. We are actually making tremendous advances. We’re just not going to agree to frameworks and agreements that put us at an economic disadvantage and hurt citizens across this country.
Question: Critics argue you’re putting your head in the sand, though, Mr. Pruitt. They’re a little worried that you’re putting your head in the sand.
Administrator Pruitt: There is no evidence of that.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Administrator. Your fellow Sooner Senator Inhofe said that while he has 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 it means to exit the Paris Climate Accord. As the Administrator of EPA, what do you say to your own staff?
Administrator Pruitt: 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 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 withdrawal on 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.
Question: European leaders have made it very clear 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?
Administrator Pruitt: Well, as he indicated, whether it’s part of the Paris framework or a new deal, he’s — it’s either approach.
Question: But a new deal with who, if they’re not going to sit down at the table with him?
Administrator Pruitt: Well, that’s up to them, right? 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 reduction. We have made tremendous progress. 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 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 that climate change is a hoax? Where does he stand?
Administrator Pruitt: As I indicated several times through the process — there’s enough to deal with, with respect to the Paris Agreement and making an informed decision about this important issue. That where our focus has been over the last several weeks. I’ve answered the question a couple times.
Yes, sir. Yes, sir, this gentleman right here.
Question: Thank you. 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 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?
Administrator Pruitt: As I indicated, largely, we have reduced our CO2 footprint through innovation and technology, not the least of which is hydraulic fracturing and 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?
Administrator Pruitt: Well, truly, this gentleman’s question back here — if it was a promise that was enforceable and was going to obligate this country, then it should have been ratified as a treaty, right? 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 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 the applauded because they knew it was going to put this country at an economic disadvantage. And the reason European leaders — going back to the question earlier — that I think they want us to stay in is because they know it will 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.
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