HOUSTON—Scott Pruitt, the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made national headlines March 9 at CERAWeek by IHS Markit before ever taking the stage.

In a morning interview at the Hilton Americas-Houston Hotel, Pruitt told CNBC he does not think CO2 is a primary contributor to climate change. The EPA’s website itself states that one of the most important greenhouse gases emitted by humans includes CO2.

Asked about CO2’s role in climate change, Pruitt told CNBC “…no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Pruitt later addressed a packed ballroom at the Hilton, where he focused on the president’s vision of melding pro-growth initiatives with pro-environment goals.

“The last several years we have adopted the mindset that you can’t be pro-energy and pro-environment,” Pruitt said. “That’s simply an argument that I utterly reject.”

He said the previous eight years have been marked by EPA overreach. He cited the Clean Power Plan, which has been halted by the U.S. Supreme Court while legal issues are addressed. Pruitt said the court’s decision raises a fundamental question about the EPA’s regulatory power.

“Are the tools in the toolbox?” he asked. “Has the EPA been given the tools by Congress to deal with the CO2 issue? I think that’s a fair question. It’s a question that needs to be asked and answered.”

The Clean Power Plan targets, among other things, emissions by power plants. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has said that if the plan is overturned, coal could displace natural gas as the leading source of electricity generation by 2019 and could retain that hold through 2032.

“Without the Clean Power Plan, there is less incentive to switch from carbon-intensive coal to less carbon-intensive natural gas or carbon-free fuels such as wind and solar,” the EIA said in January.

Pruitt said he favors having companies make decisions with flexibility and latitude.

“They ought to be able to draw from any range of power generation that ensures reliability, stability and low cost,” he said. “Regulators ought not use their power to pick winners and losers.

“There shouldn’t be a war on any sector of our economy,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said that as EPA administrator he will also work to reduce regulatory uncertainty so that companies are no longer faced with starting a project only to have the rules change or overturned.

“We need to provide certainty in the marketplace to know what’s expected of them, so that they can allocate resources, invest and see growth occur in the country and respect the rule of law,” he said.

Pruitt said he also wants to instill a sense of cooperative federalism that he said was part of the basis of the EPA’s creation.

“We’re going to partner with the states,” he said. “I want states to see the EPA as a friend, as a partner, and not an adversary.”

Following his speech, roughly 20 reporters followed Pruitt down three floors of the hotel, but he did not take questions before entering a black SUV. An EPA official waiting outside said Pruitt’s views on CO2and global warming are well known.

Darren Barbee can be reached at dbarbee@hartenergy.com.