Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), tried on Friday to defend President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement by selectively quoting from "the environmental left," which at times criticized the deal for not going far enough.
Mentioning both the Sierra Club and noted former NASA climate scientist James Hansen by name, Pruitt falsely claimed that they opposed the deal "largely because it didn't hold nations like China and India accountable."
Responding to the press conference as it unfolded, the Sierra Club tweeted: "The Sierra Club fully supports the Paris Agreement. Scott Pruitt is a liar."
Others chimed in:
Meanwhile, Pruitt, who has publicly questioned the science of global warming and who since taking office has systemically deconstructed many of the United States' environmental regulations and protections, took pains to frame Trump's withdrawal from the global accord as something done in the interest of the environment.
"Truly," Pruitt said, "Paris at its core was a bunch of words committed to very minimal environmental benefits."
Pruitt is both a) bragging about US progress on carbon emissions, and b) stating repeatedly that US will not meet its Paris targets.— David Roberts (@drvox) June 2, 2017
After, when asked by a reporter if Trump believes that "climate change is real and a threat to the United States," Pruitt said that his personal beliefs were not germane to the discussions he had with the president about the accord.
He said that the president was "focused on" whether the agreement "impacted us economically and whether good environmental objectives were achieved as a result of Paris. His decision was no, and that was our discussion."
Asked point-blank whether Trump believes in climate change. Dodging, slipping, dissembling -- Pruitt just flatly won't answer.— David Roberts (@drvox) June 2, 2017
Pruitt also took fire from critics for citing the much-derided New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, a known "climate-change denier and an incendiary Islamophobe," in defense of the Paris withdrawal.
In a statement following the press briefing, Sierra Club's Global Climate Policy director John Coequyt said that Pruitt is "clearly scrambling to explain the unexplainable" amid the "firestorm of criticism about Trump's historic mistake to pull out of the Paris Agreement."
"Pruitt's incoherent distortions of reality offer no good reasons why the Trump Administration would turn its back on the vast majorities of the public that support the Paris Agreement because there are no good reasons. Pruitt is learning that the hard way," Coequyt said, adding that he and Trump are now "complicit in endangering our families and our future by making this historic mistake just to boost the profits of a few corporate polluters."
Watch EPA head Scott Pruitt dodge a question on whether President Trump believes climate change is real https://t.co/vnRE1hT4gP— Khalfan Bin Ahmed (@KhalfanBinAhmed) June 2, 2017
Taking the podium after Pruitt, White House press secretary Sean Spicer also dodged questions about Trump's beliefs regarding climate change. "You say you haven't discussed climate change with the president," one reporter asked. "Can you have that discussion?" Spicer responded: "I will try."
Spicer says he hasn't had the chance to find out if Trump, WHO JUST WITHDREW FROM A GLOBAL CLIMATE DEAL, believes climate change is real pic.twitter.com/trYVSY99Fs— David Mack (@davidmackau) June 2, 2017