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‘It’s a simple question’: EPA chief grilled over Trump’s views on climate change

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt discusses the Paris Agreement on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday. (Photo: MSNBC)

Ever since President Trump said he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change pact, reporters have been asking if the president — who during the campaign pronounced global warming a “hoax” — still rejects the worldwide scientific and political consensus that the climate is changing as a result of human activity.

They haven’t gotten an answer. On Monday, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders promised Yahoo News White House correspondent Hunter Walker a response by the end of the day, then failed to produce one. Tuesday morning, the entire on-air team of “Morning Joe” pressed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to give a yes-or-no answer. They failed.

Pruitt, who sued the EPA more than a dozen times in his former position as Oklahoma’s attorney general and who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, insists he had not discussed the question with the president.

“You said just a couple of days ago and repeated again that you haven’t had a chance to talk to the president of the United States about whether he thinks climate change is real and whether or not humans have impacted it,” said “Morning Joe” co-host Willie Geist in Tuesday morning’s interview. “Have you since had a chance to ask him about that?”

“No, what I’ve talked about is our focus over the last several weeks has been on the merits and demerits of the Paris deal,” Pruitt said.

“Right, but have you talked to the president…” Geist said.

“I have not talked to the president…”

“So in your conversations you’ve never talked to him about whether climate change is real and whether it’s impacted by humans?”

Pruitt did not answer this question. Instead, he reiterated that the focus of his discussions with the president has been on the “merits and demerits” of the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change never came up in those meetings?” Geist asked.

Pruitt responded that Trump emphasized the importance of U.S. engagement during his speech on Thursday.

Eventually, co-host Joe Scarborough weighed in.

“No, no. Wait, wait. Mr. Pruitt, it’s a simple question. Have you ever talked to the president about whether he believes climate change is real,” Scarborough said. “Does he still believe that it was a hoax launched in China?”

Pruitt said, “The president has said that when you make decisions on environmental decisions internationally that we put America’s interests first.”

“This interview has to stop in its tracks until I get a yes-no answer from you on whether you believe it’s important whether Americans find out whether their president believes that climate change is a conspiracy theory based out of China,” Scarborough insisted.

Finally Pruitt gave this response: “The president has indicated, Joe, that the climate is changing. I indicated during my confirmation process that there’s a warming trend with respect to the climate and moreover, there’s a human contribution to it. Measuring that with precision is very difficult.”

Throughout the exchange, Pruitt touted the power of coal and disparaged the “environmental left.” He said technology and innovation will lead the way in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, as it has in the U.S. since the turn of the century — spurred, as he did not acknowledge, by regulations such as the fuel-efficiency regulations for automobiles that the Trump administration now wants to weaken.

Pruitt has also come under fire for incorrectly claiming that the U.S. has added “almost 50,000 jobs” to the coal sector since the fourth quarter of 2016, which he said on three shows Sunday: NBC’s “Meet the Press,” ABC’s “This Week” and “Fox News Sunday.” He was defending Trump’s decision to leave the Paris accord and trying to celebrate the success of the current administration.

But, as the Huffington Post, the Washington Post and others have pointed out, there are only about 50,000 jobs in coal, total, in the U.S. The figure Pruitt was citing was for all mining employment. About 1,400 coal jobs were added in the final four months of the Obama administration, and 1,000 coal jobs were added in the first four months of the Trump administration, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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