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Pruitt defends Paris exit, refuses to opine on Trump's climate beliefs

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said the president made a "courageous decision" to exit the Paris Agreement on climate change, defending the Trump administration's controversial plan to pull out of the global pact.

Pruitt spoke at the White House's daily press briefing on June 2, a day after President Donald Trump announced his intention to remove the U.S. from the Paris accord. The EPA leader reiterated many of Trump's key talking points on the withdrawal, including that it was a bad deal for workers and would put the U.S. at a disadvantage to other countries. But he stressed that the U.S. could still work with other countries on climate change and energy issues.

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U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt addresses reporters at the White House press briefing on June 2, 2017.

Source: Associated Press

"Exiting Paris does not mean disengagement. ... It doesn't mean that we're not going to continue the discussion," Pruitt said. "To export our innovation, to export out technology to the rest of the world, to demonstrate how we do it better here, is I think is a very important message to send."

Trump said he was willing to re-enter the Paris agreement with "fair" terms or renegotiate a new deal. Despite those offers, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said the agreement cannot be renegotiated based on a single party's request, and several major signatories have said they are not willing to reconsider the Paris deal.

Although the State Department has historically managed U.S. participation in global climate deals, Pruitt has played a prominent role in the Paris decision. The EPA is busy undoing domestic climate policies finalized under the Obama administration, including the Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants — a rule that many believed was crucial to satisfying U.S. obligations to the Paris deal.

The Trump administration's efforts to roll back federal climate regulations and now the Paris agreement have raised questions on what type of climate policy the president will pursue. Reporters at the June 2 press briefing repeatedly asked Pruitt if Trump still believed climate change was a hoax or saw it as a legitimate threat being driven by human activity.

Pruitt did not give a direct answer, instead emphasizing that Trump saw the Paris agreement as a bad deal. For his part, Pruitt said he believed global warming was occurring and humans contributed to it but questioned to what degree. "I would say that there are climate exaggerators," he said.

Administration officials will be working with the U.S. Justice Department in the coming weeks on how to exit the Paris deal, Pruitt said. Under the terms of the accord, no country can start the withdrawal process until three years after the deal enters into force. The agreement entered force on Nov. 4, 2016, meaning the U.S. could not start the formal removal process until late 2019. The exit will take a year, meaning the U.S. cannot complete its removal until late 2020.

But Pruitt said the U.S. emissions targets under the global agreement are "not enforceable" and that the country will promptly halt any further payments to the Global Climate Fund, in which the U.S. and other countries agreed to contribute money to developing nations for climate change mitigation. "That's going to be immediate," he said.