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EPA chief leads Trump admin's Paris defense

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made the Sunday talk show rounds to defend the White House decision to abandon the Paris climate accord. A few takeaways . . .

EPA ascendant: Pruitt's presence on three shows Sunday—and his visible public role in the Paris issue overall—signals the shift in bureaucratic power within the federal government on international climate matters. The State Department has traditionally the lead agency on global climate issues, but has had almost no public communications on the decision or what will follow in terms of U.S. engagement with other countries. Secretary Rex Tillerson, who had argued for remaining in the Paris deal, has offered only a single brief statement on the decision in response to a question.

Minority report: An exchange Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press underscores why one option that had been batted around—staying in the deal while explicitly softening the U.S. commitment—was rejected in the internal administration debate.

  • The Obama administration pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
  • "You can change those targets," Meet the Press host Chuck Todd said. "No, no, no. No, not under the agreement," Pruitt responded.

Pruitt argued the wording of the deal only allows nations to make their emissions targets more aggressive, not scale them back. However, this view is not widely held among experts. For instance, E&E News noted Friday that "the vast majority of international legal experts say they can be rescinded and lowered at will."

Finessing Trump: Pruitt, joining several other administration officials, declined to say whether President Trump still believes human-induced global warming is a "hoax."

  • "I think the whole question is an effort to get it off the point and the issue of whether Paris is good for this country or not," Pruitt told George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's This Week, after he pressed Pruitt repeatedly on Trump's views on global warming.

Pruitt noted only that Trump has "indicated the climate changes," but declined to address the scientific consensus that human activities are the main driver of the warming trend. However, on CBS's Face the Nation, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley kind of split the difference, saying Trump "believes the climate is changing, and he believes pollutants are part of that equation."

Pruitt's case: In his appearances on Sunday, Pruitt steered the discussion toward economic issues, pointing to (disputed) studies released or backed by conservative and industry groups that forecast economic and employment harm to the U.S. from the accord.

He also noted that even before entering into the Paris deal, the U.S. has reduced its CO2 emissions. "American innovation, American technology is leading the way with respect to reducing the CO2 footprint, not government mandates," Pruitt said on Fox News Sunday.

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have been on a generally downward trend for the past decade, thanks largely to the displacement of coal by natural gas and renewables in power generation.

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