WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, said on Tuesday in his first address to his staff that America should not have to choose between jobs and the environment, as the White House prepares executive orders to roll back Obama-era green regulations.
The controversial pick who has sued the agency he now leads more than a dozen times while attorney general of Oklahoma also struck a conciliatory tone saying he would “listen, learn and lead” and that he valued civil discussion.
“I believe that we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment. We don’t have to choose between the two,” he said in his 12-minute speech to about 70 staff seated in a room at EPA headquarters in Washington, who had greeted him with a standing ovation.
Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the EPA, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week after contentious hearings that focused on his record as top prosecutor of oil- and gas-producing state Oklahoma, where he sued the EPA repeatedly to stop federal environmental rules.
Democrats, environmental advocates and many of the EPA’s current and former staff worry Pruitt’s appointment signals a reversal in America’s progress cleaning up air and water and in fighting global climate change.
But many Republican lawmakers view him as a refreshing change at the top of an agency they have long accused of federal overreach and killing jobs.
Both Trump and Pruitt have expressed doubts about the science behind climate change, and Trump vowed during his 2016 campaign for the White House to pull the United States out of a global pact to fight it.
Trump has promised to slash environmental regulation ushered in by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, and to help bolster the drilling and mining industries, but without hurting air and water quality.
Trump is expected to sign executive orders aimed at reshaping U.S. environmental policy as early as this week, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the orders. He would instruct the Department of the Interior to lift a ban on new coal mining leases on federal lands and would require the EPA to ease greenhouse gas emissions curbs on electric utilities, according to the news report.
The orders would also require the EPA to change Obama’s Waters of the United States rule that details which U.S. waterways fall under federal environmental protection, according to the report.
Before Pruitt’s confirmation, some 800 former EPA staff signed a letter urging senators to reject him, and around 30 current EPA staff joined a protest set up by the environmental group Sierra Club in Chicago.
Democrats had sought to delay his nomination over questions about his ties to the oil industry in Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma, a state judge ruled last week that Pruitt will have to turn over thousands of 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.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Howard Goller and Alistair Bell)