By Devin Henry - 06-02-17 14:16 PM EDT
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt on Friday refused to say whether President Trump believes in climate change.
The remarks came the day after Trump said he would remove the United States from the Paris climate deal.
Pruitt, speaking at the White House press briefing, at one point quoted from a controversial article from New York Times columnist Bret Stephens that he said illustrates a global debate on climate change.
"All the discussions we had through the last several weeks had been focused on one singular issue: Is Paris good or not for this country?" Pruitt said when asked about Trump's climate views.
Asked about his own views on climate change, Pruitt referenced his confirmation hearings in the Senate.
"I indicated that in fact global warming is occurring, human activity contributes to it in some manner," he said.
"Measuring with precision, from my perspective, the degree of human contribution is very challenging, but it still begs the question, what do we do about it? Does it pose an existential threat as some say?"
"People have called me a climate skeptic or a climate denier," Pruitt continued. "I don't even know what it means to deny the climate. I would say that there are climate exaggerators."
He then quoted from Stephens's April 29 column in The New York Times in which he questioned studies that show manmade climate change is occurring.
Stephens's hiring kicked off a firestorm from environmentalists because of his history of climate change skepticism. Pruitt, too, has drawn complaints for suggesting he doesn't know if carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change.
The vast majority of climate scientists agree the Earth is warming and human activity is contributing to it.
The Paris climate deal aims to stop the Earth from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius, a level scientists warn will trigger the worst effects of climate change.
White House officials on Thursday refused to answer whether Trump believes in climate change. Trump has previously said he doubts the science behind it, and he's called it a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday told reporters he would get back to us about Trump's views on climate change. But on Friday, he said, "I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion."