WASHINGTON • The new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that the country need not choose between jobs and the environment, in a nod to the energy industry, as the White House prepares executive orders that could come as soon as this week to roll back Obama-era regulation.
"I believe that we as an agency, and we as a nation, can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro- environment," Mr Scott Pruitt said on Tuesday, in his first address to staff.
"We don't have to choose between the two."
Critics of the agency have complained that regulations ushered in by former president Barack Obama, a Democrat, have killed thousands of energy jobs by restricting carbon emissions and limiting areas open to coal mining and oil drilling.
However, Democrats, environmental advocates and many of the EPA's current and former staff worry that President Donald Trump's appointment of Mr Pruitt signals a reversal in the US' progress towards cleaner air and water and fighting global climate change.
Both Mr Trump and Mr Pruitt have expressed doubts about climate change, and Mr Trump had vowed during his presidential campaign last year to pull the United States out of a global pact to fight it.
TAKING A U-TURN
I believe that we as an agency, and we as a nation, can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment. We don't have to choose between the two.
MR SCOTT PRUITT, in his first address to staff at the US environment agency.
The Republican President has promised to slash environmental rules to help the drilling and mining industries, but without hurting air and water quality.
Mr Pruitt sued the agency he now leads more than a dozen times while he was attorney-general of Oklahoma to stop federal rules. He did not mention climate change in his 12-minute speech at the EPA's headquarters in Washington.
He did strike a conciliatory tone in the address, saying he would "listen, learn and lead" and that he valued the contributions of career staff.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is ex- pected to sign executive orders aimed at reshaping environmental policy as early as this week. Those orders would lift a ban on coal mining leases on federal lands and ease greenhouse gas emissions curbs on electric utilities, The Washington Post has reported.
They would also require changes to Mr Obama's Waters of the United States rule that details which waterways fall under federal protection, the report said.
The White House did not reply to a request for comment on The Washington Post story.
Mr Pruitt was confirmed by the US Senate last week after contentious hearings that focused on his record as the top prosecutor of the oil- and gas-producing state of Oklahoma.
Democrats had sought to delay Mr Pruitt's confirmation over questions about his ties to the oil industry. Some 800 former EPA staff also signed a letter urging senators to reject him, and about 30 current EPA staff had joined a protest in Chicago organised by the Sierra Club environmental group.
In Oklahoma, a state judge ruled last week that Mr Pruitt would have to turn over e-mails between his office and energy companies by Tuesday this week after a watchdog group, the Centre for Media and Democracy, sued for their release.
The judge will review and perhaps hold back some of the e-mails before releasing them, a court clerk said.
Ms Nicole Cantello, a representative of the union that represents EPA workers, said that despite Mr Pruitt's record, she was hoping for the best. "One would hope that the administrator would learn about what we do and would then not treat as lightly the EPA's mission and accomplishments, and what it is required to do under the statutes," she said.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said it looked forward to working with Mr Pruitt, the administration and Congress "on policies that will keep energy affordable, create jobs and strengthen our economy".