Regulatory Developments

Reactions to the Paris Withdrawal

Limited vocal support from private sector

In his 3,000-word address announcing that the United States would withdraw from the 2015 Paris accord, President Donald Trump never once uses the phrase climate change, the singular subject of that accord. (Neither did EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speak those two words in his follow-up address, which praised the president’s “fortitude, courage, and steadfastness” in serving the United States and its people.) The president also had little to say about the environment in general, simply emphasizing in several places that America is the “cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth.” Trump did not explain how the environmental cleanliness of one nation mitigates our departure from an agreement intended to address a global environmental issue. What the president did focus on was the economic consequences of an agreement “that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.” In fact, the president appears to suggest that this was the real purpose of the accord.

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“The fact that the Paris deal hamstrings the United States, while empowering some of the world’s top polluting countries, should dispel any doubt as to the real reason why foreign lobbyists wish to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down by this agreement,” said the president. “It’s to give their country an economic edge over the United States.”

As Pruitt noted, the president’s withdrawal from the accord fulfills the promise Trump made on the campaign trail. While candidate Trump did refer to climate change as a hoax, he has never made any genuine attempt to cite scientific evidence behind that assertion. Following the speech, reporters attempted to find out from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer if Trump’s views on climate change have shifted. Spicer responded that he has not had that discussion with the president. In a press conference the day after the address, Pruitt was asked if the president believes that climate change is real and a threat to the United States. Pruitt seemed to indicate that this consideration never affected the president’s decision.

“All the discussions we had over the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue,” answered Pruitt. “Is Paris good or not for this country? That’s the discussions I’ve had with the president.”

In his speech, the president said several times that he would be willing to enter discussions to either renegotiate the terms of the accord or write an entirely new agreement provided the outcome “protects our country and its taxpayers.” Would the president agree to engage in discussions that placed any restrictions on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases if he did not believe claims that human activity had some negative impact on the earth’s climate? That is likely to be a question at the president’s next press conference, which, at this writing, has not been scheduled.

EU leaders—The accord is settled

The president’s desire to redo Paris or strike a new deal was not welcomed by other nations. Following the president’s speech, the leaders of France, Germany, and Italy said there would be no rewriting the accord.

“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible, and we firmly believe that the Paris agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

“The Paris Agreement will endure,” added the European Union’s Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete. “The world can continue to count on Europe for global leadership in the fight against climate change. The EU will strengthen its existing partnerships and seek new alliances from the world’s largest economies to the most vulnerable island states. This partnership will of course include the many U.S. businesses, citizens, and communities that have voiced their support for Paris and are taking ambitious climate action.”

China and Russia also announced that they would stick with the commitments they made in Paris.

IT companies—Pro-Paris

Generally, major companies that have made their views known appear to oppose withdrawal. In a letter sent to the president before he made his decision, 25 companies said staying in the agreement would reduce the risk of global competitive imbalances, create jobs in clean technologies, and reduce future business risks in areas such as agricultural productivity and water supplies. The signatories include Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, PG&E Corporation, and Unilever.

Ceres reports that the president’s decision “perilously ignores the call from more than 280 global investors and more than 1100 businesses, including at least 70 Fortune 500 firms. It also ignores the call from 30 CEOs of major companies across the U.S.”

“While the U.S. sits on the sidelines, China and the more than 195 other nations that are parties to the Paris Climate Agreement will race ahead to spur innovation, investments and new jobs,” said Mindy Lubber, Ceres CEO and president. “Today’s announcement is a direct threat to U.S. economic and job growth. The U.S. business community, which continues to embrace and accelerate the low-carbon future, recognizes the urgency of tackling climate change.”

Publicly voiced support for the withdrawal comes mainly from the coal industry. The media reported that in late April, the members of the National Mining Association voted 26 to 5 to support withdrawal. Also, according to reports, Cloud Peak Energy, a major coal mining company, believes the United States should have stuck with Paris while providing more subsidies to advance clean coal energy technologies.

Lawmakers more vocal

But across the board, the private sector seemed to be keeping its views private, at least at present. This was not the case with U.S. lawmakers. Republicans generally applauded the president’s decision. In late May, 22 GOP senators sent Trump a letter urging a quick exit from Paris and assuring the president that he stood on firm legal ground in doing so. The general sentiment was expressed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“I applaud President Trump and his administration for dealing yet another significant blow to the Obama Administration’s assault on domestic energy production and jobs,” said McConnell. “President Obama made commitments in this deal based off a costly power plan that we knew at the time was on shaky legal ground. By withdrawing from this unattainable mandate, President Trump has reiterated his commitment to protecting middle class families across the country and workers throughout coal country from higher energy prices and potential job loss.”

But Republicans were not unanimous in this response. Several GOP members of the House saw advantages to staying in the agreement.

“The President and his administration are right to have a healthy concern about the economic costs of complying with the Paris goals and other climate change driven policies,” said Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ). “But the Paris accord is a political agreement and commitments are voluntary and may be amended. That’s why I joined Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House economic council director Gary Cohn, and others in the Trump Administration in the belief that it is in our best national interests to remain at the table to ensure a constructive role in negotiating the best deal for America concerning the future of global energy production and consumption and their effect on economic development and climate. And as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee I remain committed to enacting public policy that supports both a strong economy and clean environment, regardless of today’s executive action.”

“I am disappointed by the Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement,” said Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA). “This decision is a setback to sustainable energy innovation across our country and forfeits an opportunity for the United States to lead on an issue of economic and environmental significance. While the Paris Agreement has its flaws, the solution should not be to pack up, walk away, and surrender our position of influence. The solution should be to work with our partners and improve this initiative while championing critical protections for American families and businesses.”

Governors and mayors to meet commitment

The opposition to the withdrawal that has received the most attention came from U.S. governors and mayors. In early May, the governors of 12 states with 107 million Americans and producing 38 percent of the nation’s GDP wrote to the president urging continued participation in Paris. Following the president’s speech, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, California Governor Jerry Brown., and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced the formation of the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition that will convene U.S. states committed to upholding the accord and taking “aggressive action on climate change.”

“I am proud to stand with other governors as we make sure that the inaction in D.C. is met by an equal force of action from the states,” said Inslee. “Today’s announcement by the president leaves the full responsibility of climate action on states and cities throughout our nation. While the president’s actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up.”

Cities have also chimed in. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, said cities, states, and businesses can fulfill the U.S. commitment under Paris. Bloomberg is the United Nations’ secretary-general’s special envoy for cities and climate change.

“Americans don’t need Washington to meet our Paris commitments, and Americans are not going to let Washington in the way of fulfilling it,” said Bloomberg.He added that the United States has led the world on emissions reductions over the past decade because of citizens and cities—not the federal government—aided by market forces that have made solar and wind energy cheaper than coal.

Also, the leadership of C40, which describes itself as a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, said it remained committed to Paris. Members of C40 include Austin, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

“The effects of climate disruption are already being felt in the great cities of the world, from hurricanes in New Orleans and New York, floods in Paris, Houston and Montreal, deadly heat waves in Sydney, to toxic air pollution in Beijing, New Delhi and in all large cities,” said Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and C40 chair. “This explains why more than 190 nations decided to sign the Paris Agreement. That incredible diplomatic achievement could not have been secured without the decisive role of the United States. That is why it is a dramatic mistake for President Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. Regardless of Donald Trump’s definitive decision, the great cities of the world, in particular the 12 American C40 cities, remain resolutely committed to doing what needs to be done to implement the Paris Agreement.”

In the latest sign of resistance, on June 5, the attorneys general of 19 states pledged to maintain their commitment to fighting climate change and abiding by the principles of the Paris global agreement.

William C. Schillaci
Bschillaci@blr.com

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