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EPA chief unconvinced on CO2 link to global warming

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The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday he is not convinced that carbon dioxide from human activity is the main driver of climate change and said he wants Congress to weigh in on whether CO2 is a harmful pollutant that should be regulated.

In an interview with CNBC, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt also said the Trump administration will make an announcement on fuel efficiency standards for cars “very soon,” stressing that he and President Donald Trump believe current standards were rushed through.

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Pruitt, 48, is a climate change denier who sued the agency he now leads more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s attorney general. He said he was not convinced that carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal is the main cause of climate change, a conclusion widely embraced by scientists.

“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,” he told CNBC.

“So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said. “But we don’t know that yet, we need to continue to debate, continue the review and analysis.”

Trump campaigned on a promise to roll back environmental regulations ushered in by former President Barack Obama, including those aimed at combating climate change. He framed his stand as aimed at boosting U.S. businesses, including the oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries.

Scientists immediately criticized Pruitt’s statement, saying it ignores a large body of evidence collected over decades that shows fossil fuel burning as the main factor in climate change.

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“We can’t afford to reject this clear and compelling scientific evidence when we make public policy. Embracing ignorance is not an option,” Ben Santer, climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said in a statement.

The Supreme Court unleashed a fury of regulation and litigation when it ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases are an air pollutant that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Two years later, the EPA declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants.

“Nowhere in the continuum, nowhere in the equation, has Congress spoken. The legislative branch has not addressed this issue at all,” Pruitt told CNBC.

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He said the Supreme Court’s decision should not have been viewed as permission for the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

“So I think all those things need to be addressed as we go forward, not least of which is the response of the legislative branch with respect to this issue,” he said.

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REGULATING CO2

Pruitt has previously said the EPA should not regulate CO2 without a law passed by Congress authorizing it to do so. The Republican-controlled Congress could potentially issue a strong signal to the EPA that carbon dioxide should not be regulated by the agency, a move that would undermine many Obama-era rules aimed at curbing emissions.

“Administrator Pruitt is correct, the Congress has never explicitly given the EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant and the committee has no plans to do so,” said Mike Danylak, spokesman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the panel that oversees the EPA.

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When asked at his confirmation hearing in January whether he would uphold the EPA endangerment finding, Pruitt said it was the “law of the land” and he was obliged to uphold it for now.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt and another dozen attorney generals unsuccessfully challenged the endangerment finding in a federal appeals court.

“The mask is off. After obscuring his true views during his Senate confirmation hearings, Scott Pruitt has outed himself as a pure climate denier,” said David Doniger, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The new EPA chief said he was committed to ensuring thorough processes for environmental rules and regulations to reduce “regulatory uncertainty.”

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Pruitt added that he shared Trump’s view that the global climate accord agreed by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015 was a “bad deal.” Trump promised during his campaign for the White House to pull the United States out of the accord, but has since been mostly quiet on the issue.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Eric Walsh and Dan Grebler)


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Hawaii holds woman over missing children amid suspicious deaths and ‘doomsday cult’ links

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A 46-year-old American woman with reported links to a doomsday cult and to at least three people whose deaths are being investigated has been arrested in Hawaii over the disappearance of her two children.

Lori Vallow was arrested Thursday on the island of Kauai and charged with felony desertion of the children, 7-year-old Joshua Vallow, who is autistic, and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan, police said in a statement.

According to US media reports, the children, who have different fathers, were last seen on September 23, 2019.

Their disappearance was reported in November by the boy's grandparents, who live in Louisiana and had heard nothing from the children for an extended period.

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Pressured by US sanctions, Cuba struggles to pay its debts

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Foreign companies going unpaid, creditor countries told to be patient: as Cuba struggles under the weight of US sanctions it has also been struggling to pay its debts, raising serious concern among its partners.

Having negotiated a restructuring of its debt with 14 countries through the Paris Club of creditors in 2015, Cuba last year failed to make timely payments to six of them - Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Japan and Spain.

The Caribbean nation was supposed to pay those countries "$32 to $33 million" of the total $82 million due in 2019, one diplomatic source said. Its failure to do so leaves it facing stiff interest payments of 9 percent.

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Israel’s ‘most vulnerable’ hit by political stalemate

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Israel's grinding political deadlock has squeezed funding for programmes helping troubled youths, disadvantaged communities and the disabled, forcing state-backed social organisations to rely on crowd-funding to get by.

Polls indicate the country's March 2 election, the third in less than a year, will not produce a clear win for right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his main rival Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party.

That result could force more fraught coalition talks, prolonging the stalemate that has kept lawmakers from passing a budget for this year.

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