Overnight Energy: EPA chief ignites climate furor

Overnight Energy: EPA chief ignites climate furor
© Greg Nash

PRUITT SKEPTICAL ON CARBON'S ROLE ON CLIMATE: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt kicked off a firestorm Thursday morning when he expressed doubt about the role of carbon dioxide in climate change.

The former Oklahoma attorney general had previously said that he was unsure about the extent of the role of human activity in global warming, but he went further in a CNBC interview.

"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," Scott Pruitt said on CNBC Thursday morning from an oil industry conference in Houston.

"But we don't know that yet ... we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis," Pruitt continued.

CNBC host Joe Kernen had asked Pruitt if he believes that carbon dioxide is the "primary control knob" in global warming.

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The comments contradicted the EPA's established position on the overwhelming scientific consensus, which is that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the chief cause of climate change.

It garnered backlash from Democrats and environmentalists.

"This is just nuts," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted.

"If there was ever any doubt that Scott Pruitt is a climate denier, this settles it," he said in a statement. "Anyone who denies over a century's worth of established science and basic facts is unqualified to be the administrator of the EPA."

"This [is] like hearing the head of NASA say the earth is flat," said Vera Pardee of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's absolutely terrifying that the man in charge of the EPA denies fundamental facts about climate change. Pruitt's scientific illiteracy makes him unfit to lead this science-based agency."

Pruitt asks: Can the EPA regulate carbon? Hours after Pruitt's CNBC interview, he told an energy conference that he isn't sure the EPA even has the congressional authority to regulate carbon pollution.

Pruitt said there is a "fundamental question" about whether his agency has the congressional authority to "deal with the CO2 issue," the Wall Street Journal reports.

"It's a question that needs to be asked and answered," Pruitt said at CERAweek.

Pruitt told senators during his confirmation hearing that he thinks the EPA has an obligation to regulate carbon under a Supreme Court decision and a subsequent "endangerment finding," that concluded greenhouse gases put public health at risk and need to be regulated.

But Pruitt -- who sued against the endangerment finding as attorney general -- often talks about implementing policies only if they've been explicitly approved by Congress, an indication he could look to reconsider the EPA's carbon pollution work.   

The Sierra Club released a statement saying Pruitt was trying to "mislead Congress," and Michael Brune, its executive director, called for his firing.

"Pruitt is endangering our families, and any sensible senator should demand he is removed from his position immediately for misleading Congress and being unfit and unwilling to do the job he has been entrusted to do," he said.

EPA downplays: The EPA tried to downplay Pruitt's remarks, saying that they are completely in line with his previous positions on climate change.

"He made a statement this morning that is consistent with his prior statements," John Konkus, an EPA spokesman, told reporters at the conference in Houston where Pruitt spoke, according to Axios.

In a statement of its own, the agency said Pruitt "has said repeatedly and consistently that he believes the climate is warming and that it is in part due to human activity," and has also said that details like the human attribution and what to do about it are open to study and debate.

STATE DEPT. SAYS TILLERSON WILL RECUSE HIMSELF FROM KEYSTONE DECISION: The State Department says Secretary Rex Tillerson will recuse himself from decisions related to the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil Corp, “recused himself from working on issues related to TransCanada’s application for a presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline,” a State Department ethics official wrote in a letter to Greenpeace on Thursday. 

“He has not worked on the matter at the Department of State and will play no role in the deliberations or ultimate resolution of TransCanada’s application,” wrote Katherine McManus in a letter released by the Office of Government Ethics. 

Greenpeace formally urged the Office of Government Ethics and the State Department to ask for Tillerson’s recusal in a Tuesday letter. The group noted Exxon, the company Tillerson led until December, would benefit from Keystone’s construction because the project would raise the value of crude oil from Alberta, where Exxon has investments. 

Read more here.

HOUSE APPROVES EPA 'SECRET SCIENCE' BILLS: The House Science Committee approved three bills on Thursday overhauling the way the EPA conducts its scientific research.

One bill, from Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), would require the EPA to release the scientific data it uses to write regulation.

The bill, similar to those introduced and passed by the House each of the last two Congresses, is designed to cut down on what he and Republicans call "secret science" coming from the agency.

"In our modern information age, federal regulations should be based only upon data that is available for every American to see and can be subjected to independent review," he said during a hearing on Thursday. "That's the scientific method."

The committee also passed a bill changing the make-up of the EPA's Science Advisory Board, calling for more industry positions, greater disclosures from members and increased public input.

Democrats broadly opposed each bill, saying they would hurt the EPA's ability to conduct scientific research.

Smith's bill, said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), would "undermine the science that EPA can use in their work, and ultimately, make it easier to pollute in our country."

Read more here.  

AROUND THE WEB:

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said trade with the United States is her "No. 1 issue," Reuters reports.

The Philippines Senate is moving a resolution concurring with the Paris climate agreement, the Philippines Star reports.  

Royal Dutch Shell is closing its Canadian oil sands operations, CBC News reports.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories...

-State Dept.: Tillerson will recuse himself from Keystone decision
-EPA head questions agency's right to target carbon emissions
-EPA's environmental justice head resigns
-House committee passes two EPA science bills
-EPA chief: Carbon dioxide isn't a 'primary contributor' to global warming

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