U.S. environment chief Scott Pruitt headed home before the conclusion of a Group of Seven ministers’ meeting on climate in Italy to attend a cabinet meeting in Washington.
Pruitt, who as Environmental Protection Agency administrator successfully campaigned for the U.S. to quit the landmark Paris climate agreement, left Bologna Sunday, the EPA said in an emailed statement. The ministers have a news conference set for Monday. Jane Nishida, his acting assistant administrator, will attend the remainder of the meeting in his place, according to a spokesman for the G-7 talks, Davide Russo.
The cabinet meeting was scheduled a couple of weeks ago and is the first full gathering of President Donald Trump’s top advisers since he took office, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday. EPA officials didn’t say before the trip that Pruitt wouldn’t be at the G-7 conference on its final day Monday.
Pruitt’s exit from the discussions may further impede plans by environment ministers at the two-day meeting. The delegates from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. were intending to issue a statement on a range of green issues including climate change on Monday.
Lincoln Ferguson, a spokesman for the EPA, said Pruitt always planned to return to the U.S. early to attend the meeting at the White House.
Expectations for the G-7 talks were already low, given Trump’s decision on June 1 to withdraw from the Paris agreement that almost 200 nations signed in 2015. His plans to renegotiate a more favorable deal for the U.S. have been rebuffed by the leaders of Germany, France and Italy.
Despite not attending the full schedule, Pruitt has held “thoughtful” bilateral talks during his time in Italy, his first G-7 ministerial meeting. the EPA said in the statement. He met with Japanese Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto to discuss air quality and with U.K. Environment Minister Therese Coffey, according to Pruitt’s Twitter feed.
Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said Pruitt’s comments at the talks had been positive.
“We are all looking for American leadership,” Solheim said in Bologna. “We need American leadership on climate, trade and peace. If the White House is not providing that leadership, we will find that leadership in other places. Europe is now more united than ever.”