Energy & Environment

Team Trump readies for critical meeting on Paris climate deal

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Top Trump administration officials are planning to meet soon at the White House for another discussion about whether to stay in or exit the Paris climate change agreement.

The discussion had been scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed due to scheduling conflicts, and not yet rescheduled, a White House official said.

The group’s planned meeting, which people familiar with the discussions say is likely to focus on the potential legal implications of staying in the pact, could be its last gathering — and the last chance for the administration’s warring factions to flesh out their arguments.

{mosads}President Trump could make a decision as soon as this week. He definitely wants to have a final decision by May 26, the start of the Group of Seven leaders’ meeting in Italy.

Trump has promised to “cancel” the 2015 pact signed by former President Obama, in which nearly 200 countries agreed on a nonbinding basis to reduce or limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump continues to bash the agreement as a bad deal for the United States, which agreed to cut its emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025.

At a rally last month, Trump called it a “one-sided deal” in which the U.S. “pays billions of dollars while China, Russia and India have contributed and will contribute nothing.”

He also compared it to the Iran nuclear deal, which he has repeatedly disparaged.

Despite those misgivings, senior administration officials are divided over whether the U.S. should stay in the agreement, and their battle has frequently been in public view.

The central issue in the debate recently, say those familiar with the discussions, is whether Trump can legally reduce the U.S. commitment under the Paris deal while not withdrawing completely.

The agreement was designed for countries to ratchet up their promises, not to reduce them. So it says that a country “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.”

Environmentalists and others who want Trump to stay in the pact say that since the deal is not binding, Trump can do what ever he wants — including decreasing U.S. commitments.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., has been a leading voice in the “stay” camp. He argues it’s important to maintain a “seat at the table” in international climate policy discussions.

Joining Tillerson are Trump’s daughter Ivanka, son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and economic adviser Gary Cohn, sources say. They say that the United States loses out diplomatically by leaving the treaty and that Trump can always reduce Obama’s commitment while staying in the deal.

Major business interests have also pushed Trump to stay.

“By expanding markets for innovative clean technologies, the agreement generates jobs and economic growth,” says an open letter being published this week in newspapers that has been signed by leaders of Google, Microsoft Corp., PG&E Corp. and other companies.

“U.S. companies are well positioned to lead in these markets. Withdrawing from the agreement will limit our access to them and could expose us to retaliatory measures.”

Even some big fossil fuel companies want the U.S. to stay in the deal, including Cloud Peak Energy Inc. and Cheniere Energy Inc.

The “leave” camp within the administration is led by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon. They argue it would be dangerous for the United States to stay in the pact.

“What Paris represents is an America-second strategy,” said Pruitt, who called the Paris accord a bad deal for the country on Fox Business Network.

Bannon prides himself on fighting “globalist” policies such as the Paris deal.

Chief among the conservative objections to the pact is that it would hurt the U.S. economy.

They also say staying in the Paris deal, even if its emissions reductions are ostensibly not binding, would make it legally harder to repeal Obama’s climate change regulations. They argue that environmentalists and Democratic state attorneys general could try to use the pact to force Trump to keep the Obama rules and issue more, to in effect force compliance under various legal theories.

“Failing to withdraw from Paris exposes key parts of his energy and therefore his economic agenda to unnecessary legal risk,” said Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Horner’s group and dozens of other right-wing organizations sent Trump a letter Monday urging him to live up to his campaign promise, saying it would “protect U.S. energy producers and manufacturers from regulatory warfare not just for the next four years but also for decades to come.”

Tillerson, Kushner, Cohn, Pruitt, Bannon and Ivanka Trump are all planning to attend the White House meeting. Pruitt and Trump are planning their own meeting beforehand.

Despite the broader views about the pact among the participants, the legal questions surrounding President Trump’s ability to reduce the United States’ commitment is dominating the current discussion. Sources say White House counsel Don McGahn is concerned about it.

As the White House deliberates, delegates from the countries that signed on to the Paris accord are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to discuss how to implement the pact.

The Trump administration sent only seven representatives, down from more than 40 two years ago — and fewer than Zimbabwe.

The White House declined to comment on the internal Paris negotiations, except to confirm the original meeting and the postponement.

— This story was updated at 7:15 a.m. to reflect the postponement of Tuesday’s meeting.


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