President Donald Trump’s new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, says CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming.
In an interview with CNBC on Thursday (US time) , Mr Pruitt also said he wanted Congress to weigh in on whether CO2 is a harmful pollutant that should be regulated.
He added the Trump administration will also make an announcement on fuel efficiency standards for cars “very soon,” stressing that he and President Donald Trump believed current standards were rushed through.
Mr Pruitt, 48, is a climate change skeptic who sued the EPA he now leads more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s attorney general. He said he was not convinced that carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal is the main cause of climate change, a conclusion widely embraced by scientists.
“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,” he told CNBC.
So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
“But we don’t know that yet, we need to continue to debate, continue the review and analysis.”
Scientists immediately criticised Mr Pruitt’s statement, saying it ignores a large body of evidence collected over decades that shows fossil fuel burning as the main factor in climate change.
“We can’t afford to reject this clear and compelling scientific evidence when we make public policy. Embracing ignorance is not an option,” Ben Santer, climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said in a statement.
The Supreme Court unleashed a fury of regulation and litigation when it ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases are an air pollutant that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Two years later, the EPA declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants.
“Nowhere in the continuum, nowhere in the equation, has Congress spoken. The legislative branch has not addressed this issue at all,” Mr Pruitt told CNBC.
Mr Trump campaigned on a promise to roll back environmental regulations ushered in by former president Barack Obama, including those aimed at combating climate change.
He framed his stand as aimed at boosting US businesses, including the oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries.
Pruitt’s long feud with the EPA
As Oklahoma’s attorney-general, Mr Pruitt and another dozen attorneys-general unsuccessfully challenged the endangerment finding in a federal appeals court.
“The mask is off. After obscuring his true views during his Senate confirmation hearings, Scott Pruitt has outed himself as a pure climate denier,” said David Doniger, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defence Council.
The new EPA chief said he was committed to ensuring thorough processes for environmental rules and regulations to reduce “regulatory uncertainty”.
Mr Pruitt added that he shared Mr Trump’s view the global climate accord agreed by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015 was a “bad deal”.
Mr Trump promised during his campaign for the White House to pull the United States out of the accord, but has since been mostly quiet on the issue.