Week 15: Trump Brainstorms Ways to Weasel Out of Paris Climate Treaty

And hires a fossil fuel lover to run the DOE’s renewable energy office.

May 05, 2017

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.


We’ll Always Have Paris . . .Won’t We?

The smoke signals emanating from the White House this week suggest that the president is now leaning toward withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord. Apparently the many, many lawyers in the executive branch don’t agree on the legal implications of remaining in the international agreement that seeks to limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. The State Department believes the United States is allowed to reduce its emissions goals while remaining in the Paris fold, while White House counsel Don McGahn thinks the only way to get out of the Obama carbon commitments is by making a full withdrawal. We should have a decision by . . . nobody knows.

Either way, the situation is distressing to the 64 percent of Americans worried about global warming. Rather than discussing how to protect our children, coastlines, crops, and health from the dangers of climate change, our leaders are debating the best way to shirk our obligations.

Did He Read the Job Description?

The following is the mission statement of the U.S.Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy:

The mission of EERE is to create and sustain American leadership in the transition to a global clean energy economy. Its vision is a strong and prosperous America powered by clean, affordable, and secure energy.

Solar panels being installed on Littlestown Veterinary Hospital, Pennsylvania

Julie Holland/Flickr

And here are some quotes from Daniel Simmons, the man Donald Trump has just appointed to run the EERE.

On keeping climate change within the 2-degree Celsius threshold: “The economic damages incurred achieving that goal would be greater than the damage caused by a warming world.”

On the green energy economy: “Renewable jobs are expensive jobs.”

On federal support to help farmers install solar panels: “The last thing we need is the federal government injecting itself into the system.”

On California, which gets 27 percent of its electricity from renewables: “This situation show[s] how little actual value wind, solar, and other politically correct renewables have in the real-world work of supplying people with electricity when they need and want it.”

In addition to making wrongheaded statements about climate change and renewable energy, Simmons is perhaps best known as an itinerant witness against clean energy at public hearings. His favorite trope is bringing up a thoroughly debunked study that suggested at least two jobs were destroyed in Spain for every job created in green energy. Simmons and his allies touted the study so aggressively that the government of Spain took the extraordinary step of writing to the U.S. Congress to explain why the study was flawed and to point out that other studies showed the enormous economic benefits of Spain’s green economy.

This is the guy to lead us into a green energy future? Creo que no.

Good News. No, Really.

A budget cut to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency isn’t typically something to celebrate, but the agency suffered only a 1 percent loss in this week’s congressional funding deal, rather than the enormous 31 percent reduction that President Trump’s skinny budget envisioned. The budget also preserved, and in some cases enlarged, critical priorities like the advanced research program, which develops next-generation ideas for green energy and other technologies.

The best indication that the budget deal is good for the environment? The Koch brothers aren’t happy. Through a spokeswoman, les frères fossiles criticized the budget as “an extension of the status quo.”

There’s a reason that promoting renewable energy is the status quo. Nearly three-quarters of Americans support the shift to renewable energy, a number that has been rising steadily over the past four years. Even among Republicans, support for alternative energy has crossed the 50 percent mark. And more than 60 percent of Americans want the EPA’s powers to safeguard environmental health preserved or strengthened.

The broader significance of the budget deal is that it provides a blueprint for how congressional dealmakers can sideline our bloviating commander-in-chief and continue to serve their constituents. “We were sort of a united front, Republicans and Democrats, opposed to Trump,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York told The New York Times.

“What Congress is quickly learning,” budget analyst and PR executive Stan Collender told Bloomberg, “is let the president talk as much as he wants, but ultimately we are going to present him with a bill he is either going to veto or not.”

The image of Donald Trump as a sort of Statler-and-Waldorf character—impotently cracking lame jokes from a private box while the real show goes on in Congress—warms my heart.

Not Listening with Bears Ears

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has until June 10 to decide whether his boss should revoke President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. (Spoiler alert: The president doesn’t have that power, regardless of what Zinke recommends.) As part of Zinke’s review and information gathering process, he’s meeting with all kinds of people—that is, all kinds of people who oppose the monument.

WildEarth Guardians/Flickr

On Tuesday, Zinke spoke with a delegation of Utah officials who want the monument designation revoked. Meanwhile, a coalition of tribal leaders who consider the monument sacred ground say Zinke isn’t returning their calls.

If Zinke can keep his phone turned off for another month or so, he can honestly report that he didn’t hear from a single person who supports the Bears Ears National Monument. Decisions are so much easier when you hear only one side!

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

onEarth Story

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President Trump pulling us out of the Paris climate agreement.

Francois Mori/AP
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Negotiators in Paris have signed a historic and comprehensive deal to address climate change.

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The latest executive order takes aim at iconic public places that store carbon, protect ecosystems, and keep fossil fuels in the ground.

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