Pruitt signals pullback on U.S. climate policy

Scott Pruitt, attorney general of Oklahoma, arrives at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump, whose victory last month was greeted with a surge in pharmaceutical stocks, declared himself an opponent of high drug prices in an interview with Time magazine. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg, Pool

Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Thursday power utilities should be able to decide how to supply electricity to the grid without government regulators picking “winners and losers.”

The comments, following statements made earlier in the day Thursday during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” questioning the  role of  human activities in climate change, signaled a decided shift away from recent U.S. efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by pushing the power sector away from fossil fuels.

“When regulators act in such a way to displace investments that you made within two to three years after you did it, you get a lot of stranded cost,” he said at the CERAWeek energy conference. “Stranded costs are being born by consumers in a way I don’t think is healthy for having a pro-growth, pro-environment agenda.”

Those comments come as President Donald Trump weighs whether to pull the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change, a landmark 2015 deal in which the leaders of close to 200 countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the decades to come.

Pruitt  was critical of efforts by former President Barack Obama to reduce emissions and promised to recreate the EPA, focusing the agency on areas like cleaning up Superfund sites and maintaining clean drinking water supplies. And he said the agency needs to listen when state officials and industries object to its rules and regulations.

“Right now the focal point I think as we get into the agency, one is dealing with these regulations I think are an example of regulatory overreach,” Pruitt said, citing Obama’s Clean Power Plan as one example.

Pruitt was not asked directly about climate change during his appearance on CERAWeek stage with host Daniel Yergin. But during his appearance on CNBC, Pruitt said, “there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact [by human industry], so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

A 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body that draws on the work of thousands of scientists from around the globe, said there was at least a 95 percent chance that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

The former attorney general of oil-rich Oklahoma, Pruitt has long been a climate change skeptic, repeatedly challenging in court efforts by Obama to rein in carbon emissions.

But since  nominated as EPA administrator, he has taken a softer line. In his Senate confirmation hearing in January, Pruitt said, “The climate is changing, and (human activity) contributes to that in some manner.”

When pressed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential candidate from Vermont, whether he believed that humans were the primary cause, Pruitt responded, “My personal opinion is immaterial to the job.”

Pruitt’s comments on CNBC Thursday drew a rebuttal from former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, who said, “Science is about empirical evidence, not beliefs.”

“When it comes to climate change, the evidence is robust and overwhelmingly clear that the cost of inaction is unacceptably high. Preventing the greatest consequences of climate change is imperative to the health and well-being of all of us who call Earth home,” she said in a statement. “I cannot imagine what additional information the Administrator might want from scientists for him to understand that.”