Energy & Environment

How Trump left the Paris climate deal

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President Trump’s announcement on Thursday that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement is the culmination of a furious lobbying fight that raged from the West Wing to corporate boardrooms.  

As media reports piled up earlier this week that Trump was leaning toward exiting the agreement, pressure to stay in the accord ramped up from outside groups and tech and business titans.

The frenzied pushback gave hope to those who wanted to see the U.S. remain that the president would have a last-minute change of heart.

{mosads}“He’s hearing from corporate and business leaders he respects, from Jeffrey Immelt to James Gorman at Morgan Stanley,” Mindy Lubber, the president of the nonprofit group Ceres, which mobilizes business leaders for advocacy, said late Wednesday.

“These are people that rarely weigh in on political matters but feel this is a big enough deal,” she added.

Opponents of Paris sought to solidify the president’s position. 

Robert Murray, the CEO of coal firm Murray Energy Corp. and a longtime Trump supporter, sent the president a letter on Tuesday urging him to pull out of the pact. It followed a separate letter from 22 GOP senators.

“You were elected on the platform that you would withdraw the United States” from the deal, wrote Murray, who pointed to the heated debate within the administration.

“Those in your administration advising you to stay in this fraudulent agreement were not elected; you were. Do not listen to them, for your sake, and for America’s,” Murray wrote.  

Trump, for his part, huddled with a rotating cast of senior administration officials who both support and oppose the pact throughout the week for final discussions. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who supported staying in the agreement, swung by the White House on Wednesday for an afternoon meeting with the president.

A day earlier, Trump met with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has been among the administration’s most vocal advocates of pulling out of Paris.

Trump’s longtime aides, including chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Vice President Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Pruitt, senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, policy adviser Andrew Bremberg and legislative adviser Rick Dearborn, supported withdrawing from the agreement.

Those who want to see the U.S. stay in the accord or renegotiate its terms to be more lenient include Tillerson, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, economic adviser Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. 

Divisions within the White House ran deep, and the debate in some cases split junior staff from their bosses.

Given the differing viewpoints, President Trump’s legal team, led by White House counsel Don McGahn, advised him that the “best, cleanest” way to address it would be to exit completely, according to an administration official.

In the end, Trump’s campaign pledge to honor his “America First” agenda guided his decision, a fact underlined by the president’s own comments at his announcement. He suggested the deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama had put the interests of other countries ahead of America’s — and particularly the interests of the Rust Belt states that determined the 2016 election.

“The Paris climate accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production,” Trump said.

People in Trump’s orbit nonetheless suggested that Trump listen to people on both sides of the issue and said the outcome did remain in doubt.

“The president made a campaign pledge on this issue, which was very clear, but after the election he said he was going to keep an open mind,” one official said. “That’s why it took as long as it did; he was listening.”

To try to get the president’s attention, groups like Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) ran last-minute ads on cable news programs Trump is known to watch, like MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The group’s policy director, Charles Hernick, said his group sat down with George David Banks, a White House aide who supported staying in the Paris agreement and renegotiating it, to make the organization’s case.

“We just want him to know it’s not a binary option of stay or leave; he can renegotiate,” Hernick said late Wednesday, after news of Trump’s likely decision leaked out.

Voices supporting the Paris pact from U.S. allies and the business community heated up their pressure campaign over the last week.

Tim Cook of Apple reached out to the White House this week. Tesla’s Elon Musk publicly threatened to leave the White House advisory councils on which he sat. He fulfilled that threat after Trump’s announcement.

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris penned a letter with 30 other companies asking Trump to stay in the deal. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nongovernmental organization, ran a newspaper ad highlighting support for the pact from 25 companies, including tech giants and energy firms.     

The White House, however, downplayed the notion that there was overwhelming pressure from the business community to remain in the agreement. 

“A lot of these CEOs wanted us potentially to stay in the agreement, but conditioned on changing the [emissions] pledge or something like that,” the official said. “I think it’s a little more nuanced than staying in or not.”

At last week’s Group of Seven summit in Italy, Trump was lectured about Paris’s value.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Trump that exiting the agreement could take years and could prove to be a messy process.

And United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that if the U.S. left Paris, countries like China and Russia could take the lead on international climate work in the United States’ place. To prove that point, the EU and China formally agreed to a closer relationship on climate issues on Wednesday. 

In the end, those voices — inside and outside the administration — lost out.

The White House gave a heads-up to stakeholders that a withdrawal decision had been made on Wednesday.

In a conference call Thursday afternoon, just hours before Trump’s remarks, the White House distributed talking points about how damaging the Paris accord was to about 50 to 60 current and former advisers, but did not reveal the method in which it intended to withdraw.

Pruitt was in the Rose Garden on Thursday for the announcement and gave brief remarks praising Trump’s decision. Tillerson, Kushner and Ivanka Trump did not attend. 

Trump did give a nod to supporters of the deal, saying he would seek to negotiate a stronger accord.

But European allies immediately rejected that negotiation, while major U.S. states and cities led by Democrats said they would seek their own agreements with international allies.

Many on hand for the Rose Garden address found out during the speech that Trump was open to renegotiating the pact and that he would adhere to the four-year withdrawal timeline.

“They held it tight despite the best efforts of the media to pry it out of them,” said Myron Ebell, who led the EPA transition team for Trump.

“They didn’t tell us the details, they just gave us the talking points. It wasn’t until after that we got the word that they’d go through the normal four-year procedure. They held it tight, which was impressive considering the hysteria around this. I think it ended up being a lot more work and trouble than it needed to be.” 

Tags Barack Obama Climate change EU France Germany Jeff Sessions

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