Bitter Reaction as Trump Bails on Climate Accord

257 U.S. Mayors Beg to Differ

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Posted: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 5:54 pm

The sustainability community erupted with nearly universal dismay, outrage and resolve in the face of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement late last week. But few were really surprised.

After all, Trump was merely making good on another campaign promise, pitting his administration against the 71 percent of U.S. citizens who believe climate change is a clear and present danger, and joining only the countries of Syria and Nicaragua in defiance of the accord, which was signed by nearly 200 nations.

The administration’s official website at claims the Paris deal “created a taxpayer funded U.N. climate slush fund,” an idea made popular by conspiracy theorists who believe the United Nations’ effort to combat climate change is a veiled attempt to erode American sovereignty. Citing disputed facts about the cost in jobs and the “negligible” environmental benefits of the pact, Trump said the Paris accord was “negotiated badly” by the Obama administration and imposed unrealistic carbon reductions on the U.S. “while giving countries like China a free pass for years to come.”

In justifying his decision, Trump famously said, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” That statement ignored two important facts: 1) In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton won 75 percent of the vote in the city of Pittsburgh; and 2) Pittsburgh and Paris are actually on the same planet, which is really what the Paris accord was all about.

“Donald Trump said he was elected by the voters of Pittsburgh, but his misguided decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement does not reflect the values of our city,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat. “Pittsburgh will not only heed the guidelines of the Paris agreement, we will work to move towards 100 percent clean and renewable energy for our future, our economy, and our people.”

Peduto was not alone. In fact, on the day of Trump’s announcement, 246 U.S. mayors pledged to uphold the emission standards agreed to in the Paris accord. As of today, the total number of mayors endorsing the pledge has increased to 257, representing cities with a combined population of 59 million Americans.

“We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target (for maximum average global temperature increase), and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy,” the mayors announced in a joint press release.

“We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks,” the statement continued.

The National League of Cities supported the Paris agreement and led the largest delegation of city leaders at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where the accord was adopted. NLC President Matt Zone, a councilmember from Cleveland, released a statement calling Trump's decision “a flagrant disregard for the safety and prosperity of American cities who are already dealing with the devastating effects of climate change.

“With or without federal support,” Zone said, “…cities will continue to advocate for ambitious policies that address this global crisis, and will lead by example at the local level.”

The global urgency to mitigate the worst effects of climate change is gradually becoming less of a partisan issue. A recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found 71 percent of Americans – 57 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents – favored the country’s participation in the Paris accord.

Meanwhile, other developed nations are quickly stepping in to take leadership roles in fighting climate change. China, the European Union, even India, have expressed their commitments to the pact, despite the U.S. exit. The Guardian reported that China and the EU have formed a new alliance in response to Trump’s decision, quoting EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete as saying the two nations “are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy.”

Within the U.S., many of the organizations that supported the Paris accord feel cheated.

“Trump just confirmed his total contempt for our planet’s future,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump’s foreign policy seems aimed strictly at appeasing coal companies and the oil industry.”

“With our world speeding toward a climate catastrophe, Trump just stepped on the gas,” Suckling said. “But the rest of America will keep fighting global warming and this reckless president. We’ll battle his dangerous agenda in the courts, in the streets and at the state and local level across the country. We won’t let corporate power and this corrupt administration condemn our planet to disaster.”

The Nature Conservancy’s CEO and President Mark Tercek called Trump’s decision “short-sighted.”

“For decades, the U.S. has demonstrated leadership on international environmental issues from President Reagan’s efforts to create the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer through President Obama’s efforts to advance the Paris agreement and drive it to enter into force,” Tercek said. “That U.S. leadership has been essential to stimulate the necessary actions by all countries to solve these global challenges.”

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said Trump’s decision “will live in infamy” as a course of action that “defies logic, ignores overwhelming scientific evidence, and disregards the advice of more than 1,000 business leaders who urged him to stand up for climate action and our clean energy economy."

Among the businesses that urged Trump to stay in the agreement were some of the nation’s most prominent, including 3M, Apple, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Pacific Gas and Electric, Disney, Google and Intel. CEO’s of 30 major companies wrote an open letter to Trump, published in a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, urging him to stay in the accord.

Even some of America’s largest oil companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron backed the Paris deal, if only to make sure the U.S. was positioned to influence the global response and stay competitive in the world’s energy market. ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods sent a letter to Trump in April calling the Paris agreement “an effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change.”

Ken Berlin, president and CEO of The Climate Reality Project, released a statement saying, in part, “the amazing progress we’ve made cannot and will not be bulldozed by one man sitting in the Oval Office. States, cities, towns, and businesses are moving forward at full speed on the transition to clean energy.”

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Trump’s decision “a grave and grievous mistake that hurts our country.”

“Trump’s extremism has isolated us from the global coalition we helped to create — with China, Germany, India, Japan and 190 other countries — to fight the central environmental challenge of our time,” Suh wrote in a June 1 statement. “He’s sidelined American workers in the clean energy boom that's remaking the global economy. And he’s abandoned our children to climate catastrophe.”

Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, decried Trump’s plan as “shamefully reneging on our nation’s commitment to join with the world community of nations in fighting climate change.”

“The Paris agreement’s long-term objective is to limit the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That is a temperature target above which the risks of severe and potentially irreversible impacts from rising seas and more extreme weather increase dramatically,” Frumhoff wrote.

Not surprisingly, environmental activist groups were outraged. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called Trump's withdrawal from the pact “one of the most ignorant and dangerous actions of any president.” Jonathan Church, a lawyer for ClientEarth, called it “global environmental vandalism,” and Susann Scherbarth, climate justice and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said, “The fossil fuel industry and climate change deniers have set up shop in the White House, and they’re putting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people on the line.”

Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. chapter of the Climate Action Network, said, “Trump has no mandate from the U.S. public to weaken the Paris agreement, and should not be making big decisions while under investigation. This cowardly failure to lead will only make us stronger as a movement as we push harder for just and equitable climate action.”

Trump did receive at least one ringing endorsement: Energy Secretary Rick Perry praised his boss for backing out of the agreement, releasing a statement that said, "President Trump’s decision will prove to be the right course of action and one I fully support."

Since his inauguration, Trump has been dedicated to rolling back the country's advances toward clean energy, reductions in carbon emissions, social equity and resilience to climate change. From appointing administrators who are hostile to the missions of their agencies, to rescinding executive orders on environmental protections made by previous administrations, Trump has made it very clear where his loyalties lie.

In March, as promised throughout his campaign and in the early months of his administration, Trump’s first budget proposal to Congress marked a dramatic shift in national priorities.

Citing his convictions that America is under siege by illegal immigrants and foreign terror groups, riddled with violent crime, and treated unfairly by its global trade partners, Trump said he instructed his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, “to craft a budget that emphasizes national security and public safety.”

The blueprint calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending and more investment in immigration enforcement, the border wall, and criminal justice programs, while balancing the books with deep cuts to sustainability, climate action, environmental protection, public transportation, domestic social programs and aid to foreign nations. The cuts are intended to keep federal debt in check while significantly shrinking the size of the federal government, reducing regulations on businesses and shifting financial responsibility for many social programs to the states, local governments and the private sector.

“The American people elected me to fight for their priorities in Washington, D.C. and deliver on my promise to protect our Nation,” the president wrote in the budget’s introduction. “I fully intend to keep that promise.”

The proposal entitled “America First – A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” calls for a $2.6 billion cut in money allocated to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, eliminating 3,200 employees and slashing its budget by 31 percent. Additional cuts would gut environmental and social equity programs in the departments of Agriculture (-21%), Commerce (-16%), Education (-13%), Energy (-5.6%), Health & Human Services (-17.9%), Housing and Urban Development (-13.2%), Interior (-12%), Justice (-3.8%), Labor (-21%), State (-28%), and Transportation (-13%).

On March 28, Trump issued a sweeping executive order to reverse course on the federal government's response to climate change, rescinding numerous environmental protections implemented by the Obama administration.

Trump framed the order as actions intended to promote U.S. energy independence and economic growth. Key among the policies targeted were Obama's climate action plan, clean power plan and restrictions on the fossil fuel industry.

He ordered every agency in his administration to review and report on any actions it could take to remove policies and regulations that "potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources." The order specifically defines the word "burden" to mean any regulation that might "unnecessarily obstruct, delay, curtail, or otherwise impose significant costs on the siting, permitting, production, utilization, transmission, or delivery of energy resources."

Presidential and regulatory actions rescinded include:

  • Obama's 2013 order "Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change."
  • A 2013 presidential memorandum "Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards."
  • A 2015 memorandum "Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment."
  • A 2016 memorandum "Climate Change and National Security."
  • Obama's 2013 report "The President's Climate Action Plan."
  • A 2014 report "Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions."
  • A Council on Environmental Quality guidance entitled "Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews."

Trump's executive order calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately review its "Clean Power Plan" and related regulations to determine whether to revise or withdraw them. Applicable rules include:

  • Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.
  • Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.
  • Federal Plan Requirements for Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Electric Utility Generating Units Constructed on or Before January 8, 2014.
  • Legal Memorandum Accompanying Clean Power Plan for Certain Issues.
  • Estimates of the Social Cost of Carbon, Nitrous Oxide, and Methane for Regulatory Impact Analysis.

The president also disbanded the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases and pronounced that six of its documents "shall be withdrawn as no longer representative of governmental policy." He also specified that when estimating the monetary impact of changes in greenhouse gas emissions, agencies use cost-benefit formulas developed in 2003, seven years before the U.S. government published its first estimates of the benefits of reducing CO2 emissions.

Trump's order also called for the lifting of a moratorium on using federal land for coal mining, a review of regulations related to emission standards in oil and gas development, and the possible relaxing of rules regulating hydraulic fracturing.

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