White House Leaning Toward Exiting Paris Climate Pact
White House officials are leaning toward taking the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, people familiar with the deliberations say.
While some in the Trump administration have warmed in recent days to the idea of staying in the non-binding pact while potentially changing the United States’ commitment, top officials are now leaning the other way, sources said Tuesday.
Central to the administration’s debate is whether the U.S. could reduce its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases for the 2015 pact without running afoul of it.
The agreement states that a country “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition,” which sources say concerns White House Counsel Don McGahn and his staff.
If Trump wanted to ratchet down former President Barack Obama’s promise of a 26 percent to 28 percent emissions cut by 2025, the agreement may prevent it.
The administration is also worried that staying in the accord would give environmentalists a legal argument to prevent Trump from repealing climate regulations like the Clean Power Plan.
In litigation over that rule in 2015, the Justice Department told the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that stopping the regulation would hurt the U.S. diplomatically.
That court declined to halt the rule, but on appeal, the Supreme Court did pause it. Trump is now working to repeal the regulation.
Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and White House strategist Stephen Bannon have been leading the charge for Trump to fulfill his campaign promise and exit the pact.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, have led the charge to stay in, arguing that it’s better diplomatically while keeping the U.S. in international discussions regarding climate policy.
At a Saturday rally, Trump blasted the agreement as “one-sided” and cited it as an example of a pact in which “the United States pays the costs and bears the burdens while other countries get the benefit and pay nothing.” He said it would cause a big hit to the economy and spur factories to close.
Attorneys from various government agencies met Monday to discuss the legal implications of staying in the deal, and the White House counsel’s office took Pruitt’s side, the Times reported.
Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute who worked on climate negotiations at the State Department under Obama and who helped negotiate the Paris pact, dismissed the legal concerns over staying in the agreement, saying that since the emissions cuts aren’t binding, there is no legal problem.
In White House, Momentum Turns Against Paris Climate Agreement
Foes of the Paris climate agreement have gained the upper hand in the ongoing White House debate over whether the U.S. should pull out of the historic pact, according to participants in the discussions and those briefed on the deliberations, although President Trump has yet to make a final decision.
Senior administration officials have met twice since Thursday to discuss whether the United States should abandon the U.N. accord struck in December 2015, under which the United States pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The president’s aides remain divided over the international and domestic legal implications of remaining party to the agreement, which has provided a critical political opening for those pushing for an exit.
On Thursday several Cabinet members — including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who’s called for exiting the accord, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who wants it renegotiated, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who advocates remaining a party to it — met with top White House advisers, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Both Ivanka Trump and Kushner advocate remaining part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, even though the president has repeatedly criticized the global warming deal.
During that meeting, according to several people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, White House counsel Don McGahn informed participants that the United States could not remain in the agreement and lower the level of carbon cuts it would make by 2025.
The administration is working to unravel many Obama-era policies underpinning that pledge, and the economic consulting firm Rhodium Group has estimated that the elimination of those policies would mean the United States would cut its emissions by 14 percent by 2025 compared with 21 percent if they remained in place. This interpretation represented a change from the White House counsel’s earlier analysis and is at odds with the State Department’s view of the agreement.
Susan Biniaz, who served as the State Department’s lead climate lawyer from 1989 until earlier this year, said in an interview Tuesday that the agreement reached by nearly 200 nations in Paris allows for countries to alter their commitments in either direction.
“The Paris agreement provides for contributions to be nationally determined and it encourages countries, if they decide to change their targets, to make them more ambitious,” Biniaz said. “But it doesn’t legally prohibit them from changing them in another direction.”
Ivanka Trump urged White House staff secretary Rob Porter to convene a second meeting Monday with lawyers from both the White House and the State Department. That session addressed the question of America’s obligations under the 2015 deal as well as whether remaining in the agreement would make it more difficult for the administration to legally defend the changes it was making to the federal government’s existing climate policies, but it did not reach a final decision.
Pruitt, who is spearheading the effort to rewrite several Obama-era rules aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, has argued that exiting the agreement will make it easier to fend off the numerous legal lawsuits he will face in the months ahead.
At a rally with supporters Saturday, Trump said he would make a “big decision” on Paris within the next two weeks and vowed to end “a broken system of global plunder at American expense.”
Administration advisers on both sides of the political spectrum, however, emphasized that the president himself would decide what path to pursue when it came to the climate agreement.
The Centuries-Old Legal Doctrine Looming Over Trump’s Paris Climate Decision
Jennifer A Dlouhy
If the U.S. withdraws from the Paris climate accord — an option gaining favor among top White House advisers — Charming Betsy may be partly to blame.
Or, more specifically, the Charming Betsy doctrine. That’s a legal principle stemming from a 213-year-old case involving a schooner of the same name. It says that federal policies should be interpreted, when possible, so they don’t conflict with international laws.
The doctrine has emerged as a major point of contention in White House debates over continued membership in the international climate pact. At issue is whether staying in the accord could legally oblige President Donald Trump to preserve carbon-cutting policies that he is moving to jettison.
The White House counsel’s office warned Trump administration officials in a meeting Thursday and in a separate memo that if the U.S. stays in the global accord, it could arm environmentalists with legal ammunition for lawsuits challenging the president’s domestic regulatory rollbacks.
Those concerns were amplified in a meeting of White House staff and administration lawyers on Monday, as officials also expressed skepticism about whether the U.S. has authority to dial back its Paris pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
The debates were detailed by three people familiar with the meetings who asked not to be identified describing internal discussions.
Even though concerns with remaining in the Paris accord have dominated the two most recent White House meetings on the subject, the final decision rests with Trump, who has shown himself to be unpredictable in carrying out past campaign vows.
While running for president, Trump promised the U.S. would leave the deal, taking aim at the cornerstone of former President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. Under Obama, the U.S. played a leading role driving the global accord, which culminated with the support of nearly 200 countries in December 2015. The U.S. pledged to cut its carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
Trump promised during a rally Saturday in Pennsylvania to make a “big decision” on the Paris accord over the next two weeks. He derided the agreement as a “one-sided” deal that threatens U.S. economic output and will spur the closing of factories and plants nationwide.
“We are not going to let other countries take advantage of us anymore, because, from now on, it’s going to be America first,” Trump told the crowd in Harrisburg.
Top administration officials have been divided over whether the president should make good on his campaign pledge and get out. A State Department memo circulated last week asserts the Paris agreement imposes few obligations on the U.S.
Meanwhile, under questioning from White House chief strategist Steve Bannon at Thursday’s meeting of top aides on the issue, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said remaining in the agreement imperils his effort to undo Obama’s Clean Power Plan paring greenhouse gas emissions from electricity, the people familiar with the session said.
Supporters of the deal, including environmentalists, a handful of coal companies and some oil producers, warn that U.S. exports, including natural gas and clean energy technology, could face economic sanctions if the country abandons the pact.
“Using the flexibility of the Paris agreement to reduce our commitment, or even going so far as to pull us out, would be a disaster for the United States because it would provoke international blowback, harm our global leadership role, and threaten the health and safety of all families in this country,” Sierra Club Global Climate Policy Director John Coequyt said in an emailed statement.
Mike McKenna, a Republican energy consultant pushing for an exit, argues there’s just too much legal risk to stay in.
“With the exception of those State Department lawyers who abetted in the original unwise decision to sign onto the Paris agreement, the lawyers all seem to agree that the right answer is to exit the agreement swiftly, decisively and cleanly,” McKenna said. The alternative is “UN bureaucrats and fellow travelers having a say in how Americans produce and consume energy.”
But supporters say the U.S. has wide latitude to rewrite a scaled-back pledge or ignore its existing commitment altogether. To lure international support for the agreement, negotiators built flexibility in the deal, encouraging countries to make highly tailored, individual pledges known as “nationally determined commitments,” rather than agree to a universal greenhouse gas target.
h/t to The GWPF