On Wednesday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt proved once again that to get an interview with the administrator, it helps to be an outlet friendly to his viewpoints.
Since the beginning of August, Pruitt has been engaged in a “state listening tour,” traveling to various parts of the country to meet with local leaders and industry groups about the EPA’s proposed repeal and rewrite of the Clean Water Rule, an Obama-era regulation that sought to clarify the extent of federal authority under the Clean Water Act. Pruitt’s most recent stop was Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he met with the state’s governor as well as local officials for a roundtable on energy, environmental, and water use issues.
But before heading to the meeting — and reportedly skipping out on answering questions from local media — Pruitt stopped by the conservative talk radio show What’s On Your Mind to share his thoughts on a number of EPA-related issues, from the Waters of the United States Rule, which Pruitt has already begun withdrawing, to climate change.
“This so-called settled science, we’ve talked about… having a red-team, blue-team exercise where we bring red-team scientists in and blue-team scientists in and ask the question, ‘what do we know?’, ‘what don’t we know about this issue?'” Pruitt said when asked about climate science. “The American people deserve an open, honest, transparent discussion about this supposed threat to this country.”
When it was first announced in June, Pruitt’s red-team, blue-team exercise was met with an outpouring of criticism from the scientific community, which worried that Pruitt would use the exercise to essentially hijack the existing peer-review process for political gain. Scientists like Michael Mann were quick to note that the alleged point of the exercise — to subject consensus climate science to rigorous questioning and review — is the very definition of the peer-review process.
Major reports like the National Climate Assessment and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are the amalgamation of hundreds of peer-reviewed climate studies, and themselves undergo rigorous review. Earlier this week, an overview of the state of climate science that will be used for the upcoming update to the National Climate Assessment made public by the New York Times found that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
Pruitt, however, does not accept the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change, telling CNBC in March that carbon emissions are not a primary contributor to global warming.
Pruitt’s views on whether climate change is a threat to the United States (and the world) are also contradicted by the U.S. intelligence and national security communities, both of which acknowledge the threats posed by climate change.
The Pentagon officially recognizes climate change as a threat, and has been working for years to protect military operations and bases from climate-related consequences like rising sea levels. In written testimony submitted to Congress in January, Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that climate change is already impacting stability in areas where the United States has troops, and noted that it is appropriate for military operations to take the threat of climate change into account when making plans. Former Secretary of Homeland Security and newly-appointed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also has experience dealing with security threats posed by natural disasters and mass migration, both of which are likely to become more common with climate change.
During Wednesday’s interview Pruitt also took time to talk about the Waters of the United States Rule, a 2015 rule that sought to clarify the extent of the federal government’s authority under the Clean Water Act.
“That was all about power,” Pruitt said. “It was all about making sure that the first stop on land use across this country as going to be Washington, D.C., to get permission to use your own land.”
In reality, the rule was promulgated after years of consultation with various stakeholders, from industry to scientists to environmentalists, in an attempt to clarify a vagueness in the Clean Water Act that had plagued courts for decades. Under the 1972 law, the federal government has the authority to regulate pollution in the “waters of the United States,” which were defined as “navigable waters.” Some bodies of water — like the Mississippi River, for instance — are obviously navigable waters. But other bodies of water — like Western mountain rivers that flow only when snowpack melts, or wetlands — are less clearly defined. That uncertainty meant that stakeholders often faced piecemeal litigation when trying to develop or use land for industrial or commercial purposes, like in the early 2000s, when the EPA sued a Michigan developer for dumping waste into wetlands without a permit.
Under Pruitt, the EPA has already begun unraveling the Clean Water Rule, using the formal rule-making process to withdraw the rule and return regulation to how it was before the 2015 rule. Legal experts have argued that since creating a new rule will likely take months, if not years, rescinding the Clean Water Rule will only return the state of water regulation to the kind of confusion that was prevalent before the rule.
Pruitt, however, told What’s On Your Mind that rescinding the rule will actually make things more certain.
“It created great uncertainty,” he said. “Regulations ought to make things regular.”
During the interview, Pruitt also praised President Donald Trump’s “courage” in withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, falsely claiming that the agreement compelled the country to a particular course of action on climate change.
“Paris put an obligation on this country that we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by the year 2030,” he said.
The Paris agreement did not bind the United States to a particular obligation; under the accord, each participating nation was free to choose its own route to cutting carbon emissions. The 26 to 28 percent reduction in carbon emissions was the Obama administration’s pledge created for the agreement, but being party to the agreement did not in any way bind the Trump administration to those same reduction levels.
Pruitt’s interview on What’s On Your Mind appears to be his only media appearance in conjunction with his visit to North Dakota. Local media had reportedly been told that they would be able to attend the final 15 minutes of each of Pruitt’s two round-tables, though Grand Forks Herald reporter Andrew Haffner said on Twitter that reporters were not invited to Pruitt’s roundtables, and that the administrator would be leaving immediately after the event. Pruitt’s lack of availability to local reporters was also on display during an earlier visit to Colorado, where Pruitt skipped a public town hall and declined to let local observe his visit to the site of the Gold King Mine spill. Denver Post reporter Jesse Aaron Paul said on Twitter that the EPA only gave media a 24-hour notice that Pruitt would be in the state.
In addition to following a pattern of dodging local media, Pruitt’s decision to appear on a conservative talk radio show in lieu of meeting with local reporters follows a pattern of preferring outlets likely to present a positive view of his EPA leadership rather than those that might question his regulatory rollbacks. Many of Pruitt’s media appearances since becoming EPA administrator have been in conservative outlets like Brietbart, the Federalist, and Wall Street Journal. He has also been a frequent guest of conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who shares Pruitt’s denial of mainstream climate science.