EPA chief on Irma: The time to talk climate change isn't now

Story highlights

  • Pruitt said he's focused on helping Florida after Irma
  • He said Congress needs to address climate change

Washington (CNN)Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told CNN in an interview about Hurricane Irma on Thursday that the time to talk about climate change isn't now.

"Here's the issue," Pruitt told CNN in a phone interview. "To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced."
He continued: "What we need to focus on is access to clean water, addressing these areas of superfund activities that may cause an attack on water, these issues of access to fuel. ... Those are things so important to citizens of Florida right now, and to discuss the cause and effect of these storms, there's the... place (and time) to do that, it's not now."
    President Donald Trump has previously called climate change a "hoax" and Pruitt has led a push to roll back EPA regulations regarding greenhouse gas emissions.
    Hurricane Irma is hammering a string of northeast Caribbean islands and making its way toward a possible hit on Florida over the weekend. As the Category 5 storm heads toward the Florida coast, experts have been clear about how global warming has contributed to the increased strength of hurricanes this season.
    Gradually warming temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico -- as much as 2 degrees Celsius above average -- could be a pressure cooker for key ingredients of a hurricane: extreme winds, rainfall and storm surge.
    Pruitt said that it's up to Congress to eventually address the issue, but right now the EPA's focus is on providing assistance to those in need in Florida.
    "Congress should address that at some point. And Congress hasn't," he said. "All I'm saying to you is, to use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida."
    Pruitt said that the EPA is putting extra attention into monitoring 80 toxic waste sites -- otherwise known as superfund sites -- in the case that they affect the water in Florida.
    "There's a multitude of these kinds of sites," he said. "We are working in advance with the owners of those sites to secure those sites ... to prevent leakage and/or harm to citizens in the area."
    Pruitt also said that to speed up the delivery of fuel and other critical supplies, he rescinded all weight and driver restrictions on its highways. Florida has also tried to improve gasoline supplies by getting an EPA waiver for certain regulations that would normally restrict the kind of fuels it can use.
    He added he's embedded staff in towns and cities in Florida so that they can make real-time decisions for the hurricane.
    "My focus has to be on ... these areas that I described," he said. "And with all respect, really that's where I have to focus on."
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