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White House Debate on Paris Climate Treaty Heats Up

Senior members of the Trump Administration met on Thursday afternoon to try to agree on a recommendation to President Trump on whether and how to withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty. Very few leaks of what happened at the meeting have surfaced as of Friday afternoon. Evan Lehmann and Jean Chemnick reported in Climate Wire on April 28th that a source told them, “We’re gonna have to do the same meeting again with the President, I think.”

It is known that Vice President Mike Pence, White House adviser Steve Bannon, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt favor keeping President Trump’s campaign promise to withdraw from Paris, with the exact route to do so still undetermined. It is known that White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Chairman of the National Economic Council and former head of Goldman Sachs Gary Cohn, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry support breaking President Trump’s campaign promise.

Secretary Perry said on April 25th at the Bloomberg Future of Energy Summit in New York City that he favored staying in Paris and re-negotiating it.  This raises the question of how it can be re-negotiated.  In my view, Article 4 of the treaty makes it clear that parties can submit a revised Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) at any time and must do so at least every five years, but the new NDC must be more ambitious—that is, commit to deeper reductions in greenhouse gas emissions—than the existing NDC.    

Here is the relevant language from Article 4:

2. Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.

3. Each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

9. Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision 1/CP.21 and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement and be informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14.

11. A Party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition, in accordance with guidance adopted by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement.

I have heard more than one rumor suggesting that White House Counsel Don McGahn has reversed his initial opinion and concluded that Paris does not allow for the U. S. to withdraw its NDC and submit a less ambitious one. I don’t know who briefed Secretary Perry on this issue, but if it was career lawyers at Energy or State, perhaps the Secretary needs to ask for a briefing from Mr. McGahn.

There has also been a lot of outside skirmishing on Paris this week. The National Mining Association voted 26 to 5 to support withdrawal from Paris. It was reported that the votes to stay in came from four global hardrock mining companies and Cloud Peak Energy, the Wyoming coal producer. NMA has sent a letter to the White House, but I haven’t seen a copy.       

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial headlined, “Springtime Out of Paris: Staying in Obama’s climate accord risks Trump’s energy plans.”  Ross McKitrick published an opinion piece on the Cato Institute’s blog on The Case for Pulling Out

Twenty Members of the European Parliament from six countries, led by my friend Roger Helmer (MEP from the UK), have sent a letter to President Trump urging him to pull out of Paris. The letter states: “We also believe that an early decision by your Administration to pull out of the Paris agreement will effectively neuter it, to the benefit of us all. At the same time, we would urge you to take action to withdraw the carbon dioxide endangerment finding, which has no sound basis in science, but which provides a pretext for damaging and extreme environmental policies.”   

CEI released a second 45-second video urging the President not to listen to the Swamp and to keep his promise to cancel Paris. The video, like the first, asks viewers to sign a petition. A memo to the White House on the issue by my CEI colleagues Chris Horner and Marlo Lewis was featured in a front-page article in the Washington Times by Stephen Dinan. And here’s a short CEI blog on five reasons to withdraw from Paris.      

On the other side, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions sponsored a letter signed by a bunch of big companies urging the President to break his promise. The signers include big foreign oil companies BP and Shell, plus Apple, Google, Walmart, Rio Tinto, Intel, Microsoft, PG&E, Dupont, Novartis, National Grid, General Mills, BHP Billiton, Unilever, and Schneider Electric.   

Representative Kevin Cramer (R-ND) finally released a letter that he had circulated among House Republicans for several weeks. He and eight colleagues urge the President to break his promise and instead “present a new pledge that does no harm to our economy.”  The other signers are Mike Kelly (PA), Virginia Foxx (NC), Larry Bucshon (IN), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Chris Collins (NY), Billy Long (MO), Gregg Harper (MS), and Buddy Carter (GA).  As with Secretary Perry, I think they need a better briefing on the relevant provisions in the Paris Climate Treaty.