The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will replace Obama-era carbon and clean water regulations and open up a national debate on climate change in 2018, part of a list of priorities for the year that also includes fighting lead contamination in public drinking water.
The agenda, laid out by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in an exclusive interview with Reuters on Tuesday, marks an extension of the agency's efforts under President Donald Trump to weaken or kill regulations the administration believes are too broad and harm economic growth, but which environmentalists say are critical to human health.
"The climate is changing. That's not the debate. The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100? ... I think the American people deserve an open honest transparent discussion about those things," said Pruitt, who has frequently cast doubt on the causes and implications of global warming.
Pruitt reaffirmed plans for the EPA to host a public debate on climate science sometime this year that would pit climate change doubters against other climate scientists, but he provided no further details on timing or which scientists would be involved.
Pruitt said among the EPA's top priorities for 2018 will be to replace the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama's centerpiece climate change regulation which would have slashed carbon emissions from power plants. The EPA began the process of rescinding the regulation last year and is taking input on what should replace it.
"A proposed rule will come out this year and then a final rule will come out sometime this year," he said. He did not give any details on what the rule could look like, saying the agency was still soliciting comments from stakeholders.
He said the agency was also planning to rewrite the Waters of the United States rule, another Obama-era regulation, this one defining which U.S. waterways are protected under federal law. Pruitt and Trump have said the rule marked an overreach by including streams that are shallow, narrow, or sometimes completely dry s and was choking off energy development.
Pruitt said that in both cases, former President Barack Obama had made the rules by executive order, and without Congress. "We only have the authority that Congress gives us," Pruitt said.
Pruitt's plans to replace the Clean Power Plan have raised concerns by attorneys general of states like California and New York, who said in comments submitted to the EPA on Tuesday that the administrator should recuse himself because as Oklahoma attorney general he led legal challenges against it.