Policy Advisers Urge Trump to Keep U.S. in Paris Accord

Source: By CORAL DAVENPORT, New York Times • Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2017

President Trump departing Air Force One last week in West Palm Beach, Fla. During the campaign, he vowed to “cancel” the Paris climate deal, and his most politically conservative advisers have pushed him to follow through. Al Drago/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s most influential policy advisers are urging him to keep the United States in the landmark Paris climate accord of 2015, a move that would break one of his signature campaign promises and further downgrade the counsel of his senior strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.

Mr. Trump plans to make a final decision on the fate of the Paris agreement before a meeting of the Group of 7 leading economies at the end of May, according to Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. A team of Mr. Trump’s principal advisers was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon at the White House to discuss the decision with the aim of recommending a path forward, but the meeting was canceled after some of the planned attendees flew with Mr. Trump to an event in Wisconsin, according to a White House spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman, Kelly Love, said the meeting was still expected to take place, although the exact timing was unclear.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump vowed to “cancel” the climate deal, and his most politically conservative advisers, including Mr. Bannon, have pushed him to follow through. But Mr. Bannon’s influence has waned in recent weeks, while authority has risen for Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who advocate staying in the accord.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has also spoken in favor of “keeping a seat at the table” in the climate pact, and in recent days, major corporations have stepped forward to embrace that position.

While no decision has been made, experts tracking it say that view is gaining traction.

“We do not currently believe the Trump administration plans to withdraw from either Paris agreement,” wrote Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington firm, in a memo to clients on Monday.

While Mr. Trump does not have the power to undo a multilateral United Nationsaccord, he could withdraw the world’s largest economy from the pact, weakening it substantially. Such a move would win cheers from the nation’s most powerful conservative political advocates, and give Mr. Trump bragging rights in coal country.

But withdrawing from the landmark accord that committed nearly every nation to take action against planet-warming emissions could create diplomatic blowback, while weakening American leadership in arenas far afield from energy and the environment.

Besides, keeping the United States’ name on the accord does not obligate the Trump administration to abide by the ambitious emissions-control pledges of Mr. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. At least one senior White House climate policy adviser, George David Banks, has advocated staying in the agreement while replacing the Obama plan with a weaker, more industry-friendly pledge.

Over recent weeks, Mr. Banks has asked top officials at several major corporations, including Exxon Mobil, who have similar views, to submit letters to the White House confirming their support for staying in the Paris deal, even if in a modified form.

In response, Peter Trelenberg, the manager of environmental policy and planning at Exxon Mobil, wrote to Mr. Banks, “Exxon Mobil supports the Paris agreement as an effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change.”

Royal Dutch Shell and BP, European companies with significant investments in the United States, have also endorsed the accord.

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, spoke last week to coal miners in Sycamore, Pa. He has emerged as a leading voice for withdrawal from the Paris accord. Justin Merriman/Getty Images

Last month, Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican from oil-, gas- and coal-rich North Dakota, wrote, “The U.S. should present a new pledge that does no harm to our economy.” Mr. Cramer, an early supporter of Donald J. Trump, advised Mr. Trump on energy issues during his presidential campaign.

Colin Marshall, the chief executive of Cloud Peak, a major coal producer in Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-mining state, also wrote to Mr. Trump: “By remaining in the Paris agreement, albeit with a much different pledge on emissions, you can help shape a more rational international approach to climate policy.”

Regardless of his decision, Mr. Trump has already undermined the United States’ ability to meet its Paris pledge. Mr. Obama declared that the United States would reduce its planet-warming carbon pollution about 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Its primary policy for meeting that target would be the Clean Power Plan, a set of Environmental Protection Agency regulations designed to shutter hundreds of heavily polluting coal-fired power plants, the nation’s chief source of greenhouse emissions.

Last month, Mr. Trump directed Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to begin the legal process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan. Whether or not the United States remains in the Paris pact, it almost certainly will not be able to meet its pledged pollution-reduction targets.

Mr. Pruitt has emerged as a leading voice for withdrawal from the Paris deal. Last week, he told Fox News, “It’s something we need to exit.”

That reflects the views of powerful conservative political advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the influential libertarian brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.

“What we say to the White House is that it’s clearly a terrible agreement for the American people,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity.

That view is also backed by economists at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that has supplied the Trump administration with many of its policy proposals.

Harold G. Hamm, the chief executive of Continental Resources and a Trump campaign adviser, has also condemned the pact. “Cancel the Paris climate treaty and any other agreements entered into unilaterally and without the consent of Congress,” Mr. Hamm wrote in a letter to Mr. Trump before his inauguration.

Bob Murray, the chief executive of the coal company Murray Energy, who is personally close with the president, has also strongly criticized the deal.

Mr. Book, the analyst, noted that the risks of withdrawing from the Paris deal include not only diplomatic ill will, but also the possibility of trade reprisals. Countries that tax emissions of carbon dioxide pollution could place a carbon tariff on imports of American-made goods. The European Union currently charges polluters fees for carbon emissions, while China, Mexico and Canada are in the process of carrying out such programs.

“If the U.S. were to pull out, it would do so in the context that would invite trade reprisals,” Mr. Book said. “It could lead to a carbon tariff trade war.”

Daniel M. Bodansky, an expert in international environmental agreements at Arizona State University, said that remaining in the Paris deal but weakening the United States’ commitment could still have the effect of generating some ill will — but without the repercussions of trade sanctions.

“They could just submit a new plan,” he said. “People internationally would not be happy, but they’d be a lot less unhappy than if the U.S. actually pulled out.”