Trump EPA transition team head sounds off on 'impending disaster' on green rules in closed-door remarks

WASHINGTON, May 22 (Reuters) - The man who led President Donald Trump's transition team for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, told a conservative conference last month that the new administration is moving too slowly to unravel climate change regulations.

In closed-door remarks to members of the conservative Jefferson Institute in Virginia on April 18, a recording of which was obtained by Reuters, Ebell said Trump's administration had made a series of missteps, including delays in appointing key EPA officials, that could hamper efforts to cut red tape for industry.

"This is an impending disaster for the Trump administration," Ebell, a prominent climate change doubter, said in the recording provided to the Center for Media and Democracy and shared with Reuters.

RELATED: A look at EPA Director Scott Pruitt

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Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees of the Agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is sworn in by Justice Samuel Alito as his wife Marilyn holds a bible during ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meets with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) (L) in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Farm Bureau Vice President of Public Policy John R.H. Collison (L) meets with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) to discuss state water issues at the attorney generals office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014.

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a meeting at his office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014. 

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

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Ebell was chosen by Trump's campaign to lead the EPA's transition until the Jan. 20 inauguration, a choice that had reinforced expectations Trump would follow through on promises to rescind Obama-era green rules and pull the United States out of a global pact to fight climate change.

Ebell had been seen as a candidate for the EPA administrator job, a post that ultimately went to former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Ebell no longer works at the agency but remains influential within a faction of the U.S. conservative movement with ties to the Trump administration. His criticism reflects a broader disappointment by some conservatives about Pruitt's focus and commitment to scrapping even more complex Obama-era regulations.

Since taking office, Trump and Pruitt have moved to unwind environmental regulations, including former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generators.

But his administration has frustrated some conservatives by entertaining the idea of remaining in the Paris Climate Agreement, and hesitating to tackle the Obama-era "endangerment finding" that concludes carbon dioxide is a public health threat and underlies many U.S. regulations governing emissions. Lawyers have said challenging that scientific finding could be time consuming and legally complex.

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Pruitt has said he does not want the United States to remain in the Paris agreement but he has not yet decided to tackle the endangerment finding. At least three conservative groups have filed petitions asking the EPA to overturn the finding.

"Paris and the endangerment finding are the two big outstanding issues. It's the first wave of things that are necessary to turn this country around, particularly in the heartland states," Ebell said at the conference.

Ebell cited the slow pace of key EPA appointments, including deputy administrator and various assistant administrators, a lack of experienced personnel at the White House, deep ideological divisions between the president's close advisers, and an "imperfect choice" of EPA administrator, as the main reasons Trump was not acting more aggressively on climate rules.

He said Trump strategists should have allowed his transition team to roll out the full de-regulatory agenda before Trump took office, instead of delaying. "The new president doesn't have long before inertia sets in," he said.

He also found fault in Trump's choice of Pruitt to run the EPA, saying the former state attorney is a "clever lawyer" but his "political ambition" may distract him from taking-on time-consuming efforts like challenging the endangerment finding.

A spokesman for Pruitt responded to Ebell's assertions, saying Pruitt had been implementing Trump's executive orders and had spearheaded "about two dozen regulatory reform actions" since taking up his position.

Ebell also faulted Trump for choosing advisers with broadly different political perspectives and backgrounds - something he said was triggering paralyzing debate, instead of action.

RELATED: What do the Cabinet positions do anyway?

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What do the Cabinet positions do anyway?

Vice President of the United States

Originally, the Vice President's main job was to preside over the Senate. But beginning in the 1970s, the Vice President's powers grew. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, is considered to have had a large role in shaping George W. Bush's foreign policy. Former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will take over the office from Joe Biden when Trump is inaugurated in January.

Pictured: Vice President-elect Mike Pence

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Secretary of State

The secretary of state serves as the President's main adviser on foreign policy issues, negotiates treaties and represents the U.S. at the United Nations. Trump has yet to say who will replace current Secretary of State John Kerry in his administration, but former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Bob Corker and retired General and former CIA Director David Petraeus are reportedly under consideration, though the New York Times reported Sunday that Trump is still interviewing candidates, so that list may still grow.

Pictured: Current Secretary of State John Kerry

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Secretary of the Treasury

The secretary of the treasury is in charge of the administration's financial and economic policies. Trump named hedge fund manager and movie financier Steven Mnuchin as his replacement for current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Pictured: Trump's pick, Steven Mnuchin

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Secretary of Defense

The secretary of defense is the president's adviser on military and international security policy. James "Mad Dog" Mattis is Trump's pick to fill the role, which is currently occupied by Ash Carter.

Pictured: Trump's pick, James Mattis

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

United States Attorney General

Dubbed the "pople's lawyer," the attorney general helms the United States Department of Justice and advises the president on legal matters. The position is currently held by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Trump has picked Sen. Jeff Sessions to fill the role. 

Pictured: Trump's pick, Jeff Sessions

(Photo credit ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of the Interior

Known to some as the "department of everything else," the DOI "protects America's natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities and supplies the energy to power our future" and is currently headed by Secretary Sally Jewell. Trump has yet to name his pick, but the drilling advocates on his short list — which apparently includes former Vice-presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — have environmental activists concerned. 

Pictured: Current Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

(Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

Secretary of Agriculture

Thomas J. Vilsack currently heads the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees policies relating to food, agriculture and rural development. No word yet on who will fill that role in Trump's administration, but one of the names Trump has mentioned is Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner and Trump adviser who once called Hillary Clinton a "cunt" on Twitter.

Pictured: Current Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Secretary of Commerce

As the department's mission statement puts it: "The Secretary of Commerce serves as the voice of U.S. business within the President's Cabinet." Businesswoman Penny Pritzker currently serves in the role, for which Trump has tapped billionaire investor and longtime Trump business associate Wilbur Ross Jr.

Pictured: Trump's pick, Wilbur Ross Jr.

(Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Secretary of Labor

Thomas E. Perez is the current United States Secretary of Labor and is tasked with overseeing the welfare of U.S. workers. Trump has yet to officially announce his choice, but reports indicate that he is considering Obama-critic Andrew Puzder, the CEO of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's parent company CKE Restaurants.

Pictured: Current Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Secretary of Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services oversees all health-related policy. Trump has tapped Rep. Tom Price, a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act, to replace current Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell.

Pictured: Trump's pick, Tom Price

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Earlier this week, Trump announced the nomination of one of his former Republican presidential primary opponents, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, despite his lack of formal qualifications. In that role, he will take over for Julian Castro as the president's adviser on issues relating to housing and cities, including homelessness, sustainability and equal opportunity. 

Pictured: Trump's pick, Ben Carson

(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Secretary of Transportation

The Department of Transportation secretary became an official Cabinet post in 1967. Trump has chosen former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to head the department — which is currently under the guidance of Secretary Anthony Foxx — in what some have described as one of Trump's more conventional picks.

Pictured: Trump's pick, Elaine Chao

(Photo credit EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of Energy

According to its mission statement, the Energy Department seeks to "ensure America's security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions." The current secretary of energy is Ernest Moniz; Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative democrat, is reportedly under consideration for the role in Trump's administration.

Pictured: Current Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Secretary of Education

Trump's selection of Betsy DeVos, a republican donor and so-called "school choice" advocate, has been met with significant criticism. DeVos, who would be Trump's primary voice on educational policy, is considered the face of a struggling school system in her native Michigan. The department is currently run by Secretary John King. 

Pictured: Trump's pick, Betsy DeVos

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Trump has promised to "fix" the VA, which is currently run by Secretary Robert McDonald. But some veterans advocates worry that the incoming Trump administration will gut the department, which is tasked with providing assistance to military veterans. Reports that Sarah Palin and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry are under consideration for the role add to concerns that the new administration will privatize the VA.

Pictured: Current Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald

(Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)

Secretary of Homeland Security

One of the central tenets of Trump's presidential campaign was immigration. His calls to build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, to conduct massive deportations of undocumented immigrants and to halt immigration from Muslim countries were among his signature tunes at campaign rallies. That potentially makes the head of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in the wake of September 11th, one of the most significant roles in the Trump administration. The agency, which focuses on terrorism, national security and the enforcement of immigration laws, is currently headed by Secretary Jeh Johnson. Trump has yet to officially announce his secretary of homeland security pick, but Politico reported that top Trump aides have mentioned retired Marine General John Kelly as the top candidate. Far-right Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke is also reportedly under consideration

Pictured: Current Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson

(Photo via REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Cabinet-level positions

There are currently seven positions that are not considered to be an official part of the president's Cabinet, but that have Cabinet-level rankings. They are: the White House chief of staff, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the United States Trade representative, the United States mission to the United Nations, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and the head of the Small Business Administration. 

On Nov. 13, Trump named Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus chief of staff.

Pictured: Trump's chief of staff Reince Priebus

(Photo credit JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

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"He's got people on different sides and they are all fighting over who gets these jobs and nobody has the clout except the president to say, 'Hey fix this, let's get this done,'" Ebell said.

In a statement given to Reuters on Saturday, Ebell said he is still concerned about the White House log-jam in nominating people for key EPA posts and the delay in making the Paris decision.

But he said he supports Pruitt as an administrator and is encouraged by his recent actions.

"Pruitt was an excellent choice to head the EPA, and minor disagreements aside, his recent actions have made me even more confident that he will be an outstanding administrator," he said.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alistair Bell)

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