EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt joined me this morning:
HH: On the day after President Trump announces the United States will exit the Paris accord, I am pleased to welcome the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. Administrator Pruitt, good morning, thank you for joining me today.
SP: Hugh, good morning.
HH: Was there a great debate within the White House before the President made his decision?
SP: You know, Hugh, I think that on every decision the President makes, as you might imagine, they’re momentous decisions. And each of us have a very important role to play. And those voices are heard, and the President makes an informed decision and a thoughtful decision. I think the discussion was very robust. I think it was very helpful to him. He had certain convictions and instincts that he approached this decision with, and I think he sought out information to make an informed decision. And I think the process worked as it should have.
HH: I want to emphasize this, because I’ve been reading a lot of the critics this morning. Did the President have all of the information? He heard both advocates of remain and exit, both sides clearly and at length, Scott Pruitt?
SP: Well, without question. I mean, this was a very, very deliberative process. And these folks that are trying to criticize the process and say that there were divisions or silos, it’s just simply legend. I mean, the President engaged in a very robust discussion, asked a lot of questions across a spectrum of issues, and each of us around him did our job to inform him. And each of us around him care for him, and helped him make a very important decision. So he heard a cross-section of input, and I think made a very, very thoughtful, deliberative decision.
HH: Now Administrator Pruitt, you are a superb lawyer, Constitutional authority as well. And you know, lawyers always know the best arguments of the other side. So what, in your mind, was the best argument on behalf of staying in the Paris Climate Accord?
SP: You know, that this idea that somehow that it was just simply not enforceable, or not something that really could be enforced domestically, and that’s just simply not the case. I mean, when you look at our Clean Air Act, China and India don’t face what we do domestically. What we face domestically was you know, with the Paris Agreement in place, are 26-28% targets with all of the previous actions by the previous administration, the climate action agenda, the Clean Power Plan and the rest, still fell 40% short of those 26-28% targets. And so we were vulnerable to an action by an environmental group here domestically to sue under the Clean Air Act, specifically Section 115 of the Clean Air Act, to compel regulatory response. I mean, this was a legal evaluation as much as anything to make sure that our agenda wouldn’t be hijacked or dominated by some sort of litigation post-staying in Paris. So this was a very important decision across the board. But part of the decision, in fact, a major part of the decision was the legal vulnerabilities.
HH: I knew that, and I have heard people say there was nothing to worry about by staying in and rejected that, because we know about regulatory creep. I also want to bring up, Mr. Administrator, the fact that this was not submitted to the United States Senate. My friends on the left say, and George Schultz has argued, former Secretary of State has argued, we ought to do things that mitigate risk. And we did that with the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol was submitted to the Senate and unanimously approved, 83-0. It wasn’t 100-0, but it was 83-0 in 1988. It went to the Senate. This was not submitted. I just thought the President made a Constitutional argument yesterday that does not get much credit.
SP: That’s exactly right, and look, we know this. We know that the individuals of Paris negotiating for the United States and also those in attendance on behalf of other countries, walked up to the very line. They did all that they could to create what would be constituted a treaty, but then called it something else. And they did that, because they knew they couldn’t get it ratified in the U.S. Senate. And that’s just a bad way to do business. I mean, when you have decisions being made in Paris that impact the cost of electricity in this country, or a contraction of the power grid, or you’re taking fossil fuels, natural gas or coal off the power grid, those types of things, voters ought to have a voice in that process, and that’s what the U.S. Senate and Constitutional protections are intended to address. And the President made a very, very important point yesterday. You know, these commitments, these expectations, and I want to say something, Hugh. In the meetings I’ve had with my counterparts from other parts of the world, other countries, is they come in to spend time with me leading up to this decision. Many of them, in fact, maybe all of them have asked at some point what are you going to do to fulfill your expectations, you know, the targets that are set in the Paris Accord? So there was a belief worldwide the United States was going to take steps, obviously, and did take steps, post-script, to carry out its obligations and affairs. And so that type of commitment should be what? Ratified by the U.S. Senate. There’s a Constitutional concern there. And again, this was legal and Constitutional as much as anything else.
HH: Let me now run through the critics. First of all, the MIT officials in charge of the department that put out the study that the President cited said the President got it wrong, and that without agreement, the temperature could rise dramatically. If we don’t do anything, we might shoot over five degrees or more, and that would be catastrophic, John Reilly, the co-director of the University’s joint program. Did the President get the MIT study wrong?
SP: No. Look, I mean, what’s crazy about this is that if you go back to the decision when Paris was signed, if you go back to the media accounts at that time, there was as much criticism on the left, the environmental left as there was on the right, that those on the conservative spectrum were complaining about Paris for the very thing we just talked about. It was a treaty, it needed to be affirmed or ratified by the U.S. Senate. And on the left, guess what they were criticizing? That Paris did not hold China and India accountable, did not take the meaningful steps that needed to be taken. So this was, it’s short memory by these folks that are saying that the Paris Accord was a panacea, you know, as far as solving these issues. And all, as the President indicated yesterday, if every nation that signed up for Paris met all of the commitments that they put as part of that agreement, by the year 2100, the temperature would be reduced all of two-tenths of one degree Celsius. And for what cost, Hugh? I mean, in this country, it was a $2.5 trillion dollar cost for gross domestic product. I mean, this was a bad business deal both on advancing environmental objectives, but also the cost that it took domestically while the rest of the world skated. China and India took no steps to meet their obligations until 2030. In fact, India qualified any steps on receiving $2.5 trillion dollars of aid through the Green Climate Fund. That is just, that’s just nonsensical and it makes no sense. It’s a dumb deal if you care about environmental objectives or domestic policy in this country.
HH: And I’m talking with Administrator Scott Pruitt about the decision to exit. I played most of the President’s speech in the first hour, Mr. Administrator, because I thought he was very persuasive and went through this. But most of the commentary yesterday did not deal with his arguments. As the Wall Street Journal said, we had virtue signaling going on all over yesterday, and apocalyptic claims. Jeff Toobin said Antarctica is going to melt, etc. Charles Krauthammer called the reaction evidence it’s almost a religion on the left. I’d like to get to their arguments. But first, Rod from Minnesota called last hour, a critic of the right, asking why four years to exit this, why not get out?
SP: Well, and look, I mean, we said yesterday, the President said yesterday unequivocally that the targets that were set as part of the Paris Accord are not going to be followed or enforced. He indicated that there’s no additional money that will be allocated to the Green Climate Fund. So that is a decisive action. Clearly, there are legal issues about exit. There are questions about whether the framework as far as exit are enforceable, but under the agreement itself, again, President Obama and the administration before, and all the countries that signed up for Paris, put in exit provisions saying it should, you know, a notice at a particular time, which is November of ’19, you couldn’t exit until 2020. That’s built into the framework itself, so there are legal questions about whether that’s enforceable or not. Again, that goes back to the ratification issue that we were talking about earlier. So the President did a tremendous job yesterday. It shouldn’t be lost. He made a courageous decision yesterday. I mean, it took tremendous fortitude to do what he did yesterday, to put America first, to say that the citizens in this country matter more to me than the opinion of world leaders in Paris and across the globe. And this decision, we’ve done this before, as you know. I mean, we exited Kyoto in 2001. And if you go back and read the media accounts then, Hugh, read back in March and April of 2001, and you’ll see the very same arguments being made then by the German chancellor that are being made today. And so this is a redo in many aspects. The only difference here is the orthodoxy over the last 16 years oddly is more embedded in the culture, and it took tremendous fortitude to do what he did. And so I really appreciate the President’s leadership on this, and the convictions that he showed to say we’re going to get this right. And let me say this to you, Hugh. He also said we’re not going to disengage. You know, we’re leading the world right now in CO2 reduction. We’re at pre-1994 levels. And you know why? And environmental groups will never, the environmental left will never address this. It’s because of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. The conversion to natural gas in the generation of electricity, we’re at pre-1994 levels.
HH: We could even be further ahead, Mr. Administrator, if we embraced nuclear power.
HH: I just never understand people who want to concern themselves with the climate who reject the reinvigoration of the national and international nuclear power industry.
SP: It’s craziness, and from 2000-2014, in those years alone, we reduced our CO2 footprint by 18%. So the rest of these countries, you know, for the president of France, or for folks to say well now China is going to leave, really? Really? I mean, we’ve been leading with action, not words. Those countries wanted us in the Paris Accord for one reason, in my view. They wanted to hurt us economically, to put us at a disadvantage to competing with them. All the manufacturing jobs, all the energy sector jobs that were being exported offshore, they liked us putting two hands behind our back and saying okay, we’re going to be apologetic about what we’ve done as a nation in reducing our CO2 footprint. That just simply is not the approach that we should be taking. The President stood against that. He made it very clear we are exiting. We are exiting. And he even made very clear we’re not going to disengage. We’re going to make sure we…
HH: Let me run down some of the criticisms. The first talking point, and it is just a talking point, is that only Nicaragua and Syria are not signatories, and my response is if the United States is picking up the tab, everyone will go to dinner. But what’s your response?
SP: Yeah, I mean, why wouldn’t you want the United States in this deal if you’re the rest of the world? I mean, one, you’re extracting billions of dollars in aid. India is taking no steps. I mean, we’re subsidizing their manufacturing base. And they’re taking no steps to reduce their CO2 emissions. I mean, under the deal, China is continuing to build coal generation facilities, and 365 or so, I can’t remember the exact number, but and I think 800 plants. You know, under the deal, Russia came in and said yes, we’ll agree to target reductions, but we’re going to use a baseline of 1990. And so they had like 20-plus percent reductions, but they baseline it in 1990. Our baseline was 2006, which is, I think, after all some of the progress we had made with respect to reducing CO2 emissions. So it was a much greater hit on our economy versus Russia, and obviously China and India. And this was a bad deal for this country. And the President said yesterday we’re going to go back and make sure that we protect our interests. We’re going to reduce CO2, we’re going to lead the world through innovation and technology in doing so, but we’re not going to put ourselves at an economic disadvantage in achieving that.
HH: Let me read to you the New York Times. “The only clear winners,” it editorializes this morning: “and we’ve looked hard to find them, are hard-core climate deniers like Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency and presidential advisor Stephen Bannon, and various fossil fuel interests that have found in Mr. Trump another president (George W. Bush being the last) credulous enough to swallow the bogus argument that the agreement to fight climate change will destroy or at least inhibit the economy…In huge neon letters, Mr. Trump sends a clear message that this president knows nothing or cares little about the science underlying the stark warnings of environmental disruption.” This is not an argument. This is invective. I know you are not a climate denier. I know you very well. And I just wonder if you think they have any agenda of persuasive engagement on genuine environmental progress with economic growth?
SP: Yeah, are they interested, truly, in seeing outcomes, and positive outcomes occur? Because that type of rhetoric is just simply that. It’s political rhetoric. The climate is changing. The climate has warmed. Human activity contributes to it. How much human activity has contributed to it is difficult to measure with precision. But we have processes that have to be followed. We have innovation technology that can achieve good outcomes in CO2 reduction. You know, there’s a term that I’ve been using here of late. You know, they like to throw out climate denier and those types of things, which I don’t even understand what that means, honestly. But there are climate exaggerators in the marketplace. And there are people that take data that we know, and they stretch it so far that it becomes incredible, and people don’t believe it. I mean, there was, and that was in their own paper, Hugh, the New York Times paper, about a month ago. There was an op-ed called Climate of Complete Certainty where the person writing the op-ed said exactly that, that the politicians have taken scientific data and stretched it so far that the American people don’t have confidence or trust that they can rely upon the information. So what we need is truth. What we need is…
HH: I have less than 30 seconds. But the Nature Climate Change Journal yesterday that predicted possibly, the Washington Post cited this, a staggering 14.5 degree potential rise, have you considered that, yet, Mr. Administrator?
SP: No, it’s not something I’ve heard.
HH: Okay, it’s a brand new, it just came out yesterday. I was wondering if it had entered into it. But Scott Pruitt, I appreciate you going out there and making the rounds. I salute the decision yesterday. Please come back early and often to keep talking about it, because I think the rhetoric is so extreme, no one’s hearing the arguments. I appreciate it very much, Mr. Administrator.
SP: Thank you.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.