Who Wins if Donald Trump Exits the Paris Climate Accord?

Read time: 6 mins

A handful of anonymous senior White House officials have begun telling the press that President Donald Trump plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Accord climate deal, adding fuel to rumors that have circulated for months that he would follow through with his campaign promise.

A “small team including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt” has begun drafting up a detailed plan to orchestrate America's withdrawal, according to Axios, which reported that Trump's mind was made up. Shortly after that report, Trump tweeted he would soon be announcing his decision. Several commentators noted Trump has repeatedly seemed to reverse course just before making a policy announcement.

If Trump does decide to back away from Paris, he'll be taking the U.S. down a path decried by an unusually broad cast of political players, including oil and gas giants, coal companies, the pope and even, by some polls, 50 percent of Republican voters.

“The decision, which will be announced this week, would put the US at odds with nearly every other nation on earth,” CNN reported, adding that the December 2015 Paris accord has been signed by every country in the word except two: war-torn Syria and Nicaragua, which had urged even tougher climate controls. (147 of the 195 signers have ratified the accord as of May).

Conservatives have — for a variety of reasons — urged Trump to stay in Paris. Leaving “would be a colossal mistake,” Nick Burns, under secretary of state during George W. Bush's administration, told CNN. Shortly after the election, former Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly (recently ousted) had pushed Trump to drop his opposition to Paris, arguing that “[i]t doesn’t really amount to much anyway.” A sizeable majority – 58 percent – of Republicans surveyed after the Paris Accord was reached indicated their approval of America's efforts to combat climate change.

Corporate Support?

Over 300 major U.S. corporations — including Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical Co., General Electric and more — threw their weight behind the Accord. Tesla CEO Elon Musk threatened to drop out of White House advisory councils if Trump drops out of Paris.

In a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal, Musk and roughly thirty other CEOs of major American companies, including the heads of major Wall Street firms like Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan, made their conclusions clear. “Based on our vast experience doing business all over the world, we believe there is strong potential for negative trade implications if the United States exits from the Paris Agreement,” they wrote.

U.S. newspapers have also backed remaining in Paris, with the editorial boards of The Washington Post, the LA Times and USA Today all coming to similar conclusions.

Oil and gas giants — perhaps drawn by the prospect of replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas-based electricity — also called on Trump to remain in the Paris Accord. Pulling out “would be unhelpful on a number of fronts,” Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told the Financial Times. ExxonMobil's CEO Darren Woods — who replaced U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillersonpenned a letter to Mr. Trump in May, arguing that staying in Paris gives the U.S. “a seat at the negotiating table”.

Even some coal mining companies have backed the Paris Accord, with Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and Cloud Peak Energy, all indicating at least tepid support for a U.S. role — especially if it comes with funding for so-called “clean coal” projects.

Who Wants What?

All this begs the question: if even fossil fuel giants are urging Trump to remain in the Paris Accord, who is pressing the President to renege on America's commitments, reached under the Obama administration?

In part, the movement to ditch the Accord has drawn support from Washington D.C. insiders. Those include Trump's Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt (the former Oklahoma attorney general who allowed shale drilling companies like Devon Energy to write letters that he then signed). A group of 22 Republican Senators signed onto a two-page letter sent in May to Trump that urged a “clean break” from Paris — a relatively small group representing less than half of the Senate's Republicans. Steve Bannon, Trump's advisor and a founder of Breitbart news, also has reportedly lobbied strongly for leaving Paris.

Ten state attorneys general have also backed a departure. “The Paris Agreement is a symbol of the Obama administration’s ‘Washington knows best’ approach to governing,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wrote in a May 23 letter to the President.

The Heartland Institute — a think-tank backed by the Koch Brothers and staffed by climate science deniers — triumphantly reacted to the rumors that Trump might withdraw.

““Adieu Paris!,” Bette Grande, an Energy Policy Research Fellow at The Heartland Institute, wrote : “Angela Merkel and what is left of the E.U. are not happy (itself a victory), but fake science and globalism would take a big hit with this move.”

(Worth noting: Climate science is broadly accepted by the scientific community — according to NASA, “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree.” Climate science is also accepted as real by the vast majority of the world's public. “In fact, by some measures, there is as deep a consensus about human-caused climate change as there is about gravity,” Penn State University Professor Michael E. Mann recently testified before Congress. The term “globalism” is often used by publications like Breitbart and Infowars, and, The New York Times wrote last year, it often serves as “a 'dog whistle' for racist, anti-Semitic and antigovernment conspiracy theorists.”)

Koch-backed Lobbying

In fact, one of the strongest behind-the-scenes players urging Trump to withdraw from Paris might be the Koch Brothers, whose network of think-tanks has campaigned hard for withdrawal, a DeSmog investigation found.

“Analysis carried out by DeSmog and the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) shows many of the groups signing the letter have taken multi-million dollar donations from groups tied to the Koch brothers, who own Koch Industries,” DeSmog's Graham Readfearn reported. “Several of the groups have accepted cash from oil giant ExxonMobil while many also deny the basic science linking fossil fuel burning to dangerous climate change.”

Some climate change deniers have suggested that the U.S. could go past leaving the Paris Accord and exit the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change all together. That 25-year old treaty, signed by then-President George H.W. Bush, became part of the U.S. legal code when it was adopted by the Senate, meaning that Trump would need the backing of Congress to escape that agreement.

For their part, environmental groups reacted to the rumors about Trump's upcoming decision by calling for stronger leadership on climate at the state and local level, regardless of how the President handles America's international commitments.

“The Paris accord falls far short of the bold, decisive action needed to avert the most serious impacts of impending climate chaos – but it is certainly better than nothing,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “Mr. Trump’s foolish, belligerent decision to abdicate responsibility at the federal level now makes real action on climate at the state and local levels even more critical.”

Photo Credit: Trump speech at shale drilling conference, © 2016 Laura Evangelisto.

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