EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants scientists to debate climate change on TV

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the early stages of launching a debate about climate change that could air on television – challenging scientists to prove the widespread view that global warming is a serious threat, the head of the agency said.

SEE ALSO: Massive iceberg the size of Delaware breaks off Antarctica

The move comes as the administration of President Donald Trump seeks to roll back a slew of Obama-era regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, and begins a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement - a global pact to stem planetary warming through emissions cuts.

"There are lots of questions that have not been asked and answered (about climate change)," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told Reuters in an interview late on Monday.

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SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: Ice calves from the Northern wall of the Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: Runoff cascades from the edge of Heim glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 27: The Perito Moreno glacier stands in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 27, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a blueish hue due to light refraction. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: Runoff cascades from the edge of Heim glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 27: The Perito Moreno glacier stands in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 27, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: The Perito Moreno glacier stands in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: An iceberg broken off from a melting glacier floats in Lake Argentino, which holds runoff water from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the surrounding Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: Melting glacial ice floats in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: An iceberg broken off from a melting glacier floats in Lake Argentino, which holds runoff water from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a blueish hue due to light refraction. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the surrounding Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: Melted glacial ice floats in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: The Perito Moreno glacier stands in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: Runoff cascades from the edge of Heim glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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"Who better to do that than a group of scientists... getting together and having a robust discussion for all the world to see," he added without explaining how the scientists would be chosen.

Asked if he thought the debate should be televised, Pruitt said: "I think so. I think so. I mean, I don't know yet, but you want this to be open to the world. You want this to be on full display. I think the American people would be very interested in consuming that. I think they deserve it."

Pruitt, one of the most controversial figures in the Trump administration, has repeatedly expressed doubts about climate change – one of the main points of contention in his narrow confirmation by the Senate.

While acknowledging the planet is warming, Pruitt says he questions the gravity of the problem and the need for regulations that require companies to take costly measures to reduce their carbon footprint.

SEE ALSO: Earth faces 'biological annihilation' as scientists warn of sixth mass extinction

"It is a question about how much we contribute to it. How do we measure that with precision? And by the way, are we on an unsustainable path? And is it causing an existential threat?" he said in the interview.

Since taking up his role at EPA, he has emerged as one of the more prolific Trump cabinet appointees, taking steps to undo more than two dozen regulations, and influencing Trump's decision to pull the United States from the Paris climate change deal, agreed by nearly 200 countries in 2015.

Pruitt rejected global criticism of the United States for pulling out of the climate deal, which Trump has said would have cost America trillions of dollars without benefit.

"We have nothing to be apologetic about," Pruitt said. "It was absolutely a decision of courage and fortitude and truly represented an America First strategy with respect to how we are leading on this issue."

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Avocados

There are many reasons why avocados are more expensive now than ever before, including a farmers' strike. But the biggest threats to avocados are rooted in environmental issues linked to climate change: hot weather and droughts have caused problems everywhere from California to Australia. Avocados are weather-sensitive and slow growing — making them especially susceptible to the effects of climate change. 

(Photo credit should read RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Coffee

In September, a report from the nonprofit Climate Institute concluded that the area around the world fit for coffee production would decrease by 50% due to climate change. In addition to dealing with drought, climate change has made coffee crops more vulnerable to diseases like coffee rust, which have wiped out more than a billion dollars in crops. 

(Photo by Taylor Weidman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Beer

Warmer and more extreme weather is hurting hops production in the US, reports ClimateWatch Magazine. 

And droughts could mean less tasty drinks. Some brewers fear that a shortage of river water may force them to brew with groundwater — a change that the head brewer at Lagunitas said "would be like brewing with Alka-Seltzer," according to NPR. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

Oysters

Right now, climate change is actually helping oysters, as they grow faster in warmer waters. However, warmer waters also make oysters more susceptible to oyster drills, reports Seeker, citing a recent study in Functional Ecology

Drills are snails that attack and eat oysters. They're already a multi-million dollar problem for the oyster industry that could get worse thanks to warming water temperatures.

(Photo via Getty Images)

Maple syrup

Climate change is already shifting maple syrup tapping season and impacting the quality of syrup, according to Climate Central. Southern producers fear that eventually, areas like Virginia won't get cold enough for maple syrup production, even during the chilliest time of the year. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

Chocolate

Indonesia and Ghana, which have historically had ideal climates for growing cocoa beans, are already seeing decreased yields of cocoa. Chocolate companies, like Mars, have hired meteorologists to study the impact of changing weather patterns and attempt to reduce damage. 

"If climate conditions in these growing areas begin to change over time, it may influence both the supply and quality available of an ingredient that we use in our products," Katie Johnson, a senior manager on the commercial applied research team, told Business Insider in September. "Anticipating what the climate will be like 10, 20, or even 100 years from now is difficult, though the better we can understand what the different climate scenarios and risks to our supply chain are, the more prepared we can be in the future."

(Photo by Charlotte Lake / Alamy)

Lobsters

If ocean waters increase more than five degrees, baby lobsters may not be able to survive, according to research by the University of Maine Darling Marine Center and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the Guardian reported. 

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that the Gulf of Maine will reach that temperature by 2100. In other words, Maine's lobsters could go from a more than $330 million business to extinct in 84 years. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

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Pruitt said the United States had already cut its carbon output to the lowest levels in nearly 25 years without mandates, thanks mainly to increased use of natural gas - which burns cleaner than coal.

"RED TEAM, BLUE TEAM" TACTICS

Pruitt said his desire for the agency to host an ongoing climate change debate was inspired by two articles published in April – one in the Wall Street Journal by theoretical physicist Steve Koonin, who served as undersecretary of energy under Obama – and one by conservative columnist Brett Stephens in the New York Times.

Koonin's article made the case that climate science should use the "red team-blue team" methodology used by the national security community to test assumptions. Stephens' article criticized claims of complete certainty in climate science, saying that it "traduces the spirit of science."

Pruitt said scientists should not scoff at the idea of participating in these debates.

SEE ALSO: G-20 leaders note Trump's dissent on climate change in communique

"If you're going to win and if you're so certain about it, come and do your deal. They shouldn't be scared of the debate and discussion," he said.

Pruitt said debate is not necessarily aimed at undermining the 2009 "endangerment finding," the scientific determination that carbon dioxide harms human health that formed the basis for the Democratic Obama administration's regulation of greenhouse gases. He said there may be a legal basis to challenge the finding but would prefer Congress weigh in on the matter.

RELATED: Vatican projects endangered species and climate change

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Vatican projects endangered species and climate change
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: Images are projected onto the walls of St Peter's Basilica during a light Installation at St. Peter's Square on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The public art projection 'Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home' featured images of humanity and climate change to celebrate the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
A picture is projected on St. Peters Basilica during the show Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home, on December 8, 2015 at the Vatican. Images by some of the world's greatest environmental photographers, including Sebastião Salgado, Joel Sartore, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Louie Schwartzberg, are projected in solidarity with COP21 talks in Paris. It is also part of the inauguration of the Roman Catholic Churchs yearlong Jubilee of Mercy, which starts today. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI / AFP / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: Images are projected onto the walls of St Peter's Basilica during a light Installation at St. Peter's Square on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The public art projection 'Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home' featured images of humanity and climate change to celebrate the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: Images are projected onto the walls of St Peter's Basilica during a light Installation at St. Peter's Square on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The public art projection 'Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home' featured images of humanity and climate change to celebrate the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: Images are projected onto the walls of St Peter's Basilica during a light Installation at St. Peter's Square on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The public art projection 'Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home' featured images of humanity and climate change to celebrate the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
A picture is projected on the facade and the cupola of St. Peters Basilica during the show Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home, on December 8, 2015 at the Vatican. Images by some of the world's greatest environmental photographers, including Sebastião Salgado, Joel Sartore, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Louie Schwartzberg, are projected in solidarity with COP21 talks in Paris. It is also part of the inauguration of the Roman Catholic Churchs yearlong Jubilee of Mercy, which starts today. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture is projected on the cupola of St. Peters Basilica during the show Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home, on December 8, 2015 at the Vatican. Images by some of the world's greatest environmental photographers, including Sebastião Salgado, Joel Sartore, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Louie Schwartzberg, are projected in solidarity with COP21 talks in Paris. It is also part of the inauguration of the Roman Catholic Churchs yearlong Jubilee of Mercy, which starts today. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI / AFP / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: Images are projected onto the walls of St Peter's Basilica during a light Installation at St. Peter's Square on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The public art projection 'Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home' featured images of humanity and climate change to celebrate the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
A picture is projected on the cupola of St. Peters Basilica during the show Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home, on December 8, 2015 at the Vatican. Images by some of the world's greatest environmental photographers, including Sebastião Salgado, Joel Sartore, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Louie Schwartzberg, are projected in solidarity with COP21 talks in Paris. It is also part of the inauguration of the Roman Catholic Churchs yearlong Jubilee of Mercy, which starts today. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI / AFP / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: An image is seen as it is projected on St. Peters Basilica's front side during the show 'Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home' on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: Images are projected onto the walls of St Peter's Basilica during a light Installation at St. Peter's Square on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The public art projection 'Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home' featured images of humanity and climate change to celebrate the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 08: Images are projected onto the walls of St Peter's Basilica during a light Installation at St. Peter's Square on December 8, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The public art projection 'Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home' featured images of humanity and climate change to celebrate the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
A picture is projected on the facade and the cupola of St. Peters Basilica during the show Fiat Lux : Illuminating Our Common Home, on December 8, 2015 at the Vatican. Images by some of the world's greatest environmental photographers, including Sebastião Salgado, Joel Sartore, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Louie Schwartzberg, are projected in solidarity with COP21 talks in Paris. It is also part of the inauguration of the Roman Catholic Churchs yearlong Jubilee of Mercy, which starts today. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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In the interview, Pruitt added that he intended to deal "very aggressively" with automakers that use devices to cheat emissions tests, and would also seek to boost accountability for companies to clean up polluted sites under the Superfund program.

He said EPA was also not ready to decide yet on a change proposed by Trump's special adviser Carl Icahn to the U.S. biofuels program, that would shift the burden of blending biofuels like ethanol into gasoline away from refiners to companies further down the supply chain.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Marguerita Choy)

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