Trump's new Paris comments confound greens

Trump's new Paris comments confound greens
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report MORE's promise this week to "look very carefully" at the Paris climate deal raised eyebrows among environmentalists, who are preparing for a fight with the president-elect. 

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Despite his newly mellowed rhetoric, environmental activists say they don't trust Trump to pull back on his oft-repeated pledge to end U.S. involvement in the international climate change accord.

"He may have started to understand that as opposed to what some of his denialist advisers are telling him, that this is not 'all gain and no pain' if he pulls the U.S. out,” said Alden Meyer, the director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It’s not clear whether those are just some words in response to a question ... or whether it really does mean he’s going to do a serious relook at this whole issue.”

Trump told The New York Times on Tuesday that he has an “open mind” about climate change and the international deal reached in Paris last year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’ll tell you what, I have an open mind to it,” he said. “We’re going to look very carefully. It’s one issue that’s interesting because there are few things where there’s more division [politically] than climate change.”

Trump insisted during the campaign that he would “cancel” the deal as soon as he took office, making even the suggestion he could participate in the accord a shift in attitude.

Supporters of the Paris deal greeted Trump’s new tone with hope and trepidation.

The League of Conservation Voters said Trump having an “open mind” for staying in the Paris agreement would be “an enormous step forward in the global battle to address the devastating impacts of climate change.”

Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist who asked Trump about climate change, wrote Tuesday that the exchange was “interesting.”

“On several key issues — like climate change and torture — where he adopted extreme positions during his campaign to galvanize his base, he went out of his way to make clear he was rethinking them,” Friedman wrote in a column.

“How far? I don’t know. But stay tuned, especially on climate.”

Many environmental activists are leery about Trump’s tone on the Paris deal, a landmark agreement reached less than a year ago that sets greenhouse gas reduction targets.  

“Talk is cheap, and no one should believe Donald Trump means this until he acts upon it,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement, calling on Trump to "prove it."

“We’re waiting for action, and Trump is kidding nobody on climate as he simultaneously stacks his transition team and cabinet with climate science deniers and the dirtiest hacks the fossil fuel industry can offer."

The tough language comes as greens vow to remain vigilant about protecting the Paris deal, especially in light of the advisers Trump has surrounded himself with since winning the White House.

Environmentalists have lambasted Trump for tapping Myron Ebell, who works at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and is a leading skeptic of climate change science, to head his Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

“Actions speak louder than words. As long as Trump has a climate change denier like Myron Ebell running his transition team, you know this is all a bunch of empty rhetoric,” said May Boeve, executive director of environmental group 350.org.

Trump on Monday named Steven Groves to his State Department transition team. Groves, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, has often written about pulling the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.

He penned an essay last week suggesting Trump should even end the country’s engagement in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the underlying United Nations climate treaty.

Ebell and Groves declined to comment on Trump’s Tuesday statement, but Nick Loris, a Heritage fellow who coauthored last week’s essay, said he doesn’t see Trump's comments as a shift in his position.

“Taking a critical look at [the deal] will be important for the president-elect and his administration,” he said. “I don’t see it as a shift, but more that these policies require examination from a cost-benefit analysis, and this one fails that miserably.”

Trump’s comments on the Paris agreement come after weeks of private and public pressure from Democrats, climate diplomats, businesses and others who argue the United States's presence in international environmental work is critical.

President Obama pressed Trump on the Paris deal earlier this month, arguing it’s a good way to get nations like China and India to commit to new climate plans.

“The tradition has been you carry them forward across the administrations, particularly if once you actually examine them, they’re doing good for us and binding other countries into behavior that will help us,” Obama said.

Obama administration officials have also looked to move Trump toward their position.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryBiden leads CNN poll, but Harris, Sanders on the rise Beto is the poor man's Obama — Dems can do better Joe Biden could be a great president, but can he win? MORE told an international climate conference last week that Trump should listen to scientists and businesses that support climate action, a message Jonathan Pershing, Obama’s U.N. climate envoy, said he will give to Trump’s State Department transition team.

“There is enormous opportunity here for us,” Pershing said on Tuesday. “The opportunities are global, and the U.S. is a pretty small share of the market, so if we actually want to play in that space, we’ve got to play globally. We’ve got to be an international actor.”

International officials have also pushed Trump to remain in the deal. Chinese officials have repeatedly criticized his plan to break the Paris agreement, and Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom's foreign secretary, said this week he hopes Trump is a “deal-maker” on climate matters.

“When it comes to climate change, this is something that the U.K. has led on globally, we have had outstanding success and, yes … it is a message that we are taking to the [Trump] administration,” Johnson said on Monday.

Loris dismissed the pressure as an predictable response from people who had expected Trump to lose the election. The Heritage fellow said he thinks Trump will listen to advisers who have determined the deal will be bad for the U.S. economy.

“I would hope that the wheels are in motion leading up to Inauguration Day," Loris said, urging Trump to withdraw from the underlying U.N. climate treaty and withdraw the U.S. from the Paris deal within a year.

That’s a worrying prospect for greens, who saw at least a glimmer of hope from Trump this week.

“It’s like what Reagan said about the Soviet Union: Trust but verify,” Smith said. “You’ve got to hold out hope, because the consequences of him following through on what he said during the campaign are really quite devastating.”

Timothy Cama contributed