New U.S. environmental chief says agency can also be pro-jobs

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By Timothy Gardner | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The new head of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday that America
need not choose between jobs and the environment, in a nod to
the energy industry, as the White House prepares executive
orders that could come as soon as this week to roll back
Obama-era regulation.

“I believe that we as an agency, and we as a nation, can be
both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment,” Scott Pruitt said in his first address to staff. “We don’t have to choose
between the two.”

Critics of the agency have complained that regulations
ushered in by former Democratic President Barack Obama have
killed thousands of energy jobs by restricting carbon emissions
and limiting areas open to coal mining and oil drilling.

Democrats, environmental advocates and many of the EPA’s
current and former staff worry President Donald Trump’s
appointment of Pruitt signals a reversal in America’s progress
toward cleaner air and water and fighting global climate change.

Both Trump and Pruitt have expressed doubts about climate
change, and Trump vowed during his 2016 presidential campaign to
pull the United States out of a global pact to fight it. The
Republican president has promised to slash environmental rules
to help the drilling and mining industries, but without hurting
air and water quality.

Pruitt sued the agency he now leads more than a dozen times
while attorney general of Oklahoma to stop federal rules. He did
not mention climate change in his 12-minute speech at the EPA’s
headquarters in Washington.

He struck a conciliatory tone in the address, saying he
would “listen, learn and lead” and that he valued the
contributions of career staff.

Trump is expected to sign executive orders aimed at
reshaping environmental policy as early as this week. Those
orders would lift a ban on coal mining leases on federal lands
and ease greenhouse gas emissions curbs on electric utilities,
according to a report by the Washington Post.

They would also require changes to Obama’s Waters of the
United States rule that details which waterways fall under
federal protection, the report said.

The White House did not immediately reply to a request for
comment on the Washington Post story.


Pruitt was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week after
contentious hearings that focused on his record as the top
prosecutor of the oil- and gas-producing state of Oklahoma.

Democrats had sought to delay Pruitt’s confirmation over
questions about his ties to the oil industry. Some 800 former
EPA staff also signed a letter urging senators to reject him,
and about 30 current EPA staff joined a protest set up in
Chicago by the Sierra Club environmental group.

In Oklahoma, a state judge ruled last week that Pruitt would
have to turn over emails between his office and energy companies
by Tuesday after a watchdog group, the Center for Media and
Democracy, sued for their release.

The judge will review and perhaps hold back some of the
emails before releasing them, a court clerk said.

Nicole Cantello, a representative of the union that
represents EPA workers, said that despite Pruitt’s record, she
was hoping for the best.

“One would hope that the administrator would learn about
what we do and would then not treat as lightly the EPA’s mission
and accomplishments, and what it is required to do under the
statutes,” she said.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said it
looked forward to working with Pruitt, the administration and
Congress “on policies that will keep energy affordable, create
jobs, and strengthen our economy.”

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