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Pruitt Unsure If EPA Will Replace Clean Power Plan

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Wednesday the agency may not replace the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas-cutting Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is reviewing.

The rule was a cornerstone of former President Barack Obama’s actions on climate change and drew criticism from conservatives, including Pruitt, who said it would hurt the economy. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt was involved in the lawsuit against the plan, which led the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay on it; he has recused himself from the lawsuit when he came to the EPA.

Environmentalists argue the Clean Air Act, which calls on the EPA to regulate dangerous air pollutants, requires some kind of rule on power plant emissions. The EPA has also not revoked its “endangerment finding,” a position that greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health.

But Pruitt said he doesn’t necessarily think the EPA has to introduce new regulations on emissions if it revokes the Obama administration’s rule, and says new rules aren’t required under the Clean Air Act.

“On CPP, I think it’s yet to be determined,” Pruitt said at a discussion at the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, referring to whether the agency should introduce a replacement. “I think there’s a fair question to be asked and answered on that issue with stationary sources [of emissions]. What are the tools in the toolbox?”

The Clean Air Act was “set up to address local and regional air pollutants” rather than greenhouse gas emissions, Pruitt said.

Pruitt contrasted the Clean Power Plan review with the EPA’s consideration of another Obama-era regulation: the 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which defines the agency’s jurisdiction in regulating water pollution. Conservatives disagreed with the rule, saying the agency claimed too much authority. But Pruitt said the Trump administration can’t simply undo it. Instead, it needs to come up with its own definition.

The Clean Power Plan is “unlike WOTUS, where there’s a definition that is required, needed,” Pruitt said. “That’s something that’s been worked on for a number of years. We have to get that right.”

Pruitt also reiterated his position that the U.S. should leave the Paris climate agreement, calling it “a bad business deal at its core.” Pruitt’s comments come as Trump administration officials publicly debate whether the U.S. should stay in the deal and try to renegotiate its commitments — or simply leave.

Pruitt criticized the Paris deal for allowing developing countries such as China and India to continue using more coal for a time. He also said it was unwise to move aggressively away from fossil fuels, as states need a diverse set of fuels in their energy portfolios.

“Paris represents basically the rest of the world applauding as we penalize ourselves and our economy,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt also laid out several other priorities for the agency. The backlog of chemicals awaiting EPA approval under the Toxic Substances Control Act should be “cleared out by this summer,” he said, adding he also hopes to speed up the agency’s work on Superfund sites contaminated by hazardous materials. He also said he expects the White House to support funding for water projects in its coming infrastructure package.