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Will Trump Finally Pull the Plug on the Paris Climate Treaty?

On Tuesday, January 30th, President Trump will give his first state of the union speech. He has a lot to crow about. As Investor’s Business Daily points out, stock indexes are at record highs, economic growth has been at 3 percent or higher for the past three quarters, and the economy in 2017 added 2.2 million jobs, with minority unemployment in December hitting the lowest level in 45 years.

Of course, policymaking is a team sport, and other factors besides U.S. government policy influence the nation’s economic performance. Nonetheless, Trump deserves much of the credit for the economic turnaround. Just having a president who champions growth via tax cuts and deregulation helps boost investor and consumer confidence.

Moreover, Trump gets results. He ended the Obama administration’s war on coal, slashed regulations, and delivered a $1.5 trillion tax cut. Thanks to the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” enacted in late December, multinational companies like Apple are already repatriating billions of dollars in capital parked overseas, and 200-plus companies have announced salary and wage hikes, bonuses, or bigger 401(k) contributions for their employees.

Investor’s Business Daily also lauds Trump’s announced plan to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We are still in the climate pact for the time being, however, and that status continues to imperil the era of U.S. energy dominance Mr. Trump aims to secure.  

In his June 1st Rose Garden speech on the Paris treaty, Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw was provisional. His objection was not to the Agreement per se, but to the “bad deal” negotiated by the previous administration. President Obama pledged to start implementing tough emission reductions immediately whereas China and India “committed” to follow their current emission trajectories until 2030. Trump vowed to withdraw from the Agreement—unless he negotiates a “better deal” that is “fair” to America.

Note, too, that Mr. Trump’s preferred withdrawal option (the Agreement’s Article 28 procedure) would not actually take effect until November 4, 2020, one day after the next presidential election. Paris proponents at home and abroad would have years to wheedle and cajole and pressure Trump to reverse course.

My big hope for the the president’s upcoming state of the union address is that he will finally reject the Paris Agreement, explain his reasons, and announce a plan to get us out by year’s end. He should do so for three main reasons.

First, remaining in the Agreement endangers the Constitution’s treaty-making process.

The Paris Agreement is a treaty by virtue of its potential costs to the nation as a whole, dependence on subsequent legislation by Congress, and other traditional treaty criteria. The political and economic consequences of the pact are potentially so large that nearly all other parties, including non-democratic regimes like China, ratified the Agreement through their legislatures.

Yet President Obama joined the Agreement without submitting it for the Senate’s review as required by Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. He did so because he knew that even when Democrats were in the majority, the Senate would not approve new international climate commitments. Obama “colluded” with foreign elites to adopt an unpopular treaty by deeming it not a treaty. That ruse becomes a constitutionally-damaging precedent unless President Trump overturns it.

Second, although Paris treaty emission reduction pledges are “non-binding” under international law, such ostensibly voluntary commitments would be economically harmless only if elected officials never cave under political pressure, or always put the interests of the American people first. Of course, neither is the case.

The Paris Agreement is designed to mobilize a permanent, global campaign to “name and shame” policymakers who fail to rig energy markets against fossil fuels. Paris parties are expected to honor their non-binding commitments by turning them into binding laws and regulations. Especially when the party is a promise-keeping country like the United States, “non-binding” is a distinction without a difference. As a GEICO ad might put it, “When you are the United States, you keep your promises; it’s what you do.”

In short, the Paris Agreement effectively demands the suppression of America’s surging oil and gas production—a major source of new jobs, geopolitical strength, consumer savings, and competitive advantage. Why would any sensible person stay in a club organized to browbeat her into acting against her best interests and better judgment?

Third, even non-binding commitments can create legal liabilities. America cannot remain in the pact without endorsing its underlying narrative of planetary peril and its core agenda of fossil-energy suppression. Continuing membership in the Agreement will encourage courts to demand that U.S. leaders match words with deeds. Activist judges will be even more likely to rule in favor of regulatory and tort litigation on behalf of alleged climate victims.

What it all adds up to is a loss of political independence for the American people. Over years of negotiations premised on the alleged climate “crisis,” U.S. leaders are bound to become more responsive to foreign elites and less accountable to the electorate. The Agreement’s expectation of increasingly “ambitious” climate policies will leave less and less political space for pro-growth energy policies. Regardless of public opinion, candidates and voters who support Trump-style energy policy will be marginalized.

Thus, no revision of Obama’s emission-reduction pledge can make the Paris Agreement safe for America. However, merely following the Agreement’s four-year withdrawal procedure would allow a new President to rejoin in 2021 and pick up where Obama left off. It would also leave intact the precedential force of Obama’s breach of the treaty process.

Mr. Trump should instead send the Agreement to the Senate for a ratification vote, with a recommendation that it be rejected. There is virtually no chance the requisite “two thirds of the Senators present” would approve the treaty.

After the Agreement dies in the Senate, it is also unlikely a future executive would attempt to rejoin it unilaterally on the pretense that the “most ambitious” climate pact in history is not a treaty.