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The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has already put himself at odds with the vast majority of climate scientists. In a TV interview today, Pruitt said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change. As NPR's Nathan Rott reports, his own agency has said otherwise.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: The question asked of Mr. Pruitt on CNBC's "Squawk Box" was whether or not he believed it's been proven that carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is the, quote, "primary control knob for climate." Here's the EPA administrator's response.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SQUAWK BOX")
SCOTT PRUITT: No. 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. That - so, no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.
DAVID TITLEY: I don't know what Mr. Pruitt does or does not believe in. And honestly it doesn't really matter what he believes in.
ROTT: This is David Titley, the director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate at Pennsylvania State University and a former rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.
TITLEY: The atmosphere doesn't care what any single person believes. It's just going to keep getting warmer, and the climate's going to change as long as we keep increasing the amount of greenhouse gases.
ROTT: The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees with Titley's point. A report by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just earlier this year said that changes in the planet's surface temperature are largely driven by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions. The EPA's own website says, quote, "it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming." Jennifer Francis is a research professor at Rutgers University.
JENNIFER FRANCIS: It would be hard to find a scientist that disagreed with that. The evidence is overwhelming.
ROTT: Pruitt's comments to the contrary, though, aren't out of the ordinary for him. During his confirmation hearing, he said that the degree to which humans impact climate change is in question. He's written on the topic, and as Oklahoma's attorney general, he sued to stop the Obama administration's biggest regulation to combat climate change, the clean power plan, with the backing of the oil and gas industry.
Donald Trump has promised to get rid of that plan, as well as another major regulation that aims to limit carbon emissions from cars and trucks. An executive order that would set those changes in motion is expected just next week. Francis thinks all of that is concerning.
FRANCIS: The longer it takes us to get a grip and start reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases, the worse problem it's going to get and the harder it's going to be to fix it.
ROTT: The EPA actually has a legal mandate to regulate greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide because of a Supreme Court decision in 2007. But Pruitt in his interview today said he'd like to see Congress weigh in on that, as well. Nathan Rott, NPR News.
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