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Businesses pressure Trump to stay in Paris climate deal

By: Devin Henry, The Hill
April 12, 2017

Businesses that support the Paris climate deal are pressuring President Trump to keep the United States in the accord.

They argue that by staying involved in the international talks, the U.S. can discourage policies that could hurt the oil, gas and coal industries.

Coal companies, oil giants Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips, renewable energy groups, and major American manufacturers such as General Electric are among those arguing that the United States should stay in the deal.

The White House has promised that Trump will decide on the United States’ involvement in the Paris deal before next month, a high-stakes decision with major diplomatic and economic implications.

Trump vigorously opposed the Paris agreement during his presidential campaign, calling it an unfair deal for the U.S. because other high-polluting countries were not scaling back their emissions quickly enough.

But he has softened his position on the deal since, and there is a debate inside the administration about the value of staying in it.

Many expect Trump to at least set aside former President Obama’s commitments to the Paris deal and block future funding for international climate change adaptation work.

Some opponents of the climate accord say he should go further and leave the underlying United Nations climate treaty altogether.

Robert Murray, the head of Murray Energy, one of the country’s largest coal companies, has called the Paris deal “illegal” and said it should come off the books.

The longtime Trump supporter hosted a fundraiser during the campaign and attended a bill signing in February. Trump is reportedly considering Murray Energy lobbyist Andrew Wheeler for the No. 2 position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Those coal companies advocating to remain in the Paris climate accord are doing so for reasons other than the welfare of the American coal industry and our miners,” the company said in a statement. “Further, they are squandering the one opportunity we have to ensure reliable low-cost electricity in America and the world.”

Officials with several U.S. energy firms have met with the White House in recent weeks to discuss their backing for the Paris deal, and some are speaking out publicly to make their case.

“U.S. leadership could take the world into a new era of global economic prosperity that also addresses concerns about climate and emissions,” Colin Marshall, the president of coal firm Cloud Peak Energy, wrote in a letter to Trump last week.

“By remaining in the Paris agreement, albeit with a much different pledge on emissions, you can help shape a more rational international approach to climate policy.”

ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance said last month, “It would be good for the U.S. to stay in the climate agreement.”

Exxon argues that cleaner-burning natural gas can help countries reach their emissions goals, including the U.S.

“We believe that the United States is well positioned to compete within the framework of the Paris agreement, with abundant low-carbon resources such as natural gas and innovative private industries, including the oil, gas and petrochemical chemical sectors,” Peter Trelenberg, the company’s environmental policy and planning manager, wrote in a March letter to the White House.

The World Coal Association has endorsed the deal as one that gives countries the chance to prioritize technology that could make coal-fired power less environmentally damaging.

The Business Council For Sustainable Energy, which represents sustainability, natural gas and green energy trade groups, is sending a letter to the State Department on Wednesday calling for Trump to stay in the agreement.

Firms outside of the energy sector have put pressure on Trump as well, including a group of more than 360 companies that wrote him an open letter in November saying they support the agreement and “want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy.”

Signatories included tech giants such as eBay, Lyft and HP Inc., food suppliers General Mills and Kellogg, and clean-energy manufactures SolarCity and Tesla, whose CEO, Elon Musk, has served as an informal economic adviser for Trump.

Trump’s recent energy executive order aimed to undo so much of the previous administration’s climate agenda that it will be hard for the U.S. to meet Obama’s Paris goal of a 26 percent to 28 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

But energy industry observers and lobbyists say that order alone doesn’t diminish the U.S.’s ability to be involved in international climate change discussions going forward.

There are divisions within the administration over how to proceed with the agreement.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said he doesn’t want the U.S. to give up its “seat at the table” in climate negotiations, while EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt calls the accord a “bad deal.”

Major trade associations have often seen climate policies divide their memberships.

The Chamber of Commerce and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF), an oil industry-funded group, put out a report last month detailing the economic impact of Obama’s goals under the deal, saying it could dramatically cut American gross domestic product and reduce employment in industrial sectors.

Neither group is lobbying to leave or stay in the accord. But they said the administration needs to consider the costs of climate change efforts before deciding on the pact’s long-term status.

“What we do see from the data is that there is going to be an economic cost to covering that gap and it’s going to come from the manufacturing and industrial sectors,” Robert Dillon, the ACCF’s vice president for communications, said. “Those are the things that we want policymakers to consider.”

Climate diplomacy experts say business support for Paris provides Trump with cover if he decides to stay in the deal.

It’s also an acknowledgement that the rest of the world is moving ahead with Paris regardless of what he decides.

“There is a clear recognition that the Paris agreement is here to stay, and they’re going to have to figure out a way to situate their reputations within it,” said Paul Bledsoe, a lecturer at American University and former climate official in the Clinton White House.

“That’s true for the coal, oil and gas industries, and that’s true for the Trump administration as well.”