“What I will tell you is that we will always follow the science on that in this administration,” the vice-president said, in answer to CNN State of the Union host Jake Tapper’s first posing of the question.
Tapper responded: “The science says it is.”
“But what we won’t do,” said Pence, “and the Clean Power Plan was all about that, was hamstringing energy in this country, raising the cost of utility rates for working families across this country.”
Tapper interjected: “But is it a threat?”
Pence did not answer the interjection, complaining instead that “other nations like China and India absolutely do nothing or make illusory promises decades down the road”. He also praised US focus on natural gas and “clean coal technology”.
Tapper persevered: “But is what people are calling a climate emergency, is it a threat? Do you think it is a threat, manmade climate emergency is a threat?”
“I think,” Pence said, “the answer to [that] is going to be based upon the science.”
Tapper insisted “the science says yes” and told the VP “the science community in your own administration, at [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] at the [Director of National Intelligence], they all say it is a threat … but you won’t, for some reason.”
“Look,” said Pence. “What the president has said, what we have said is that we’re not going to raise utility rates.”
Tapper persisted: “But is it not a threat?”
Pence criticised the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era rule which the Environmental Protection Agency rolled back on Wednesday, thereby relaxing controls on carbon dioxide admissions from coal-fired power stations.
He also took aim at the Green New Deal, a package of proposed legislation which Democrats including the prominent New York progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez say would boost the US economy while working to reduce the effects of the climate crisis but which Republicans say would be financially ruinous.
Tapper tried once more: “OK. So you don’t think it is a threat, is all I’m saying? You don’t think it is a threat?”
Pence said: “I think we’re making great progress reducing carbon emissions, America has the cleanest air and water in the world...”
Tapper interrupted, laughing: “That is not true. We don’t have the cleanest air and water in the world. We don’t.”
Pence said: “OK.”
Tapper asked him to “get back to me with some statistics that show it”.
Pence could have reached for the Environmental Performance Index, a joint initiative of Yale and Columbia universities and the World Economic Forum which does in fact rank the US joint-first in the world on drinking water. However, it also places America 10th in the world for air quality and 29th for water and sanitation combined.
Pence insisted the Trump administration was “making progress on reducing carbon emissions. We’re doing it through technology, through natural gas, through continuing to support … nuclear energy, clean energy.
“The answer, though, is not to raise the utility rates of millions of utility rate payers across the country.”
Tapper finally gave up, and asked about Russian election interference instead.