Trump administration officials have told lobbyists and European diplomats that the U.S. won’t stay in the nearly 200-nation Paris climate change agreement unless it can secure wins for the fossil fuel industry, according to three people familiar with the discussions.
In a series of recent conversations with industry groups and European officials, Trump advisers have said the White House decision on the Paris deal could hinge on international willingness to come up with a strategy to commercialize and deploy technologies that will reduce emissions from fossil fuels.
That may not sit well with Democrats and environmental groups, who have long argued against spending billions of dollars to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants when the same money could help speed the transition to wind and solar power. But such a deal could avoid the enormous disruption that would result if the United States, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, walked away from the most comprehensive international agreement ever crafted on global warming.
Administration officials who want to stay in the 2015 Paris agreement believe that creating a future pathway for fuels like coal is the only way to win support from conservative and industry groups that want the U.S. to withdraw from the accord. And some fossil fuel supporters are beginning to come around, despite their overall skepticism toward the climate pact.
“If the world can’t go on without us in the Paris accord — that’s a bit of an overstatement, but to illustrate my point — then perhaps we ought to be in it,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a pro-oil lawmaker who advised the Trump campaign on energy issues. “And if we have that much influence, perhaps we have enough influence to moderate it.”
In recent weeks, administration officials have met with many of the country’s major energy companies and trade groups. Those who have talked to the administration include representatives from the American Petroleum Institute, as well as the Independent Petroleum Association of America, ConocoPhillips and coal company Peabody Energy, among others, according to people familiar with the meetings.
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the administration did not yet have any announcements to make regarding the Paris agreement.
Whether the United States will pull out of the Paris agreement remains an open question in the White House, despite Trump’s campaign pledge to pull out of the deal.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Trump’s daughter Ivanka are said to advocate staying in the agreement, and several Trump administration officials are pushing a plan that would have the U.S. remain in the pact while weakening former President Barack Obama’s targets for reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also said to support staying in the agreement, though much of the internal discussion about the issue has so far been among midlevel aides at the White House.
White House strategist Steve Bannon is seen as Trump World’s biggest opponent of the Paris deal, but officials said he has not yet engaged on the issue at a granular level. Bannon and other opponents of the agreement could kill the simmering effort to stay in the Paris deal, making the ongoing conversations with diplomats and lobbyists moot.
Republicans and some Democrats have long advocated policies to support developing technology to capture carbon emissions from coal and other fossil fuels. And Cramer said the U.S. has leverage to “moderate” the Paris agreement by winning greater support for technology to slash emissions from coal.
“If you don’t remove fuels, if you don’t dismiss certain technologies, if you let the innovators work in a more open environment and we set realistic standards, they’ll meet them,” he said in an interview.
But so far, those methods to capture carbon from coal have proved to be expensive and difficult to commercialize on a wide scale.
Environmental activists are also likely to view the administration’s discussions about Paris with deep suspicion, pointing to the president’s vocal skepticism of climate science and his proposal to gut funding for climate programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department.
European officials say they are keeping an open mind about the administration’s desire to boost technology to reduce emissions from fossil fuels — in part because they’re eager to keep the United States in the Paris agreement. The European Commission favors carbon-capture technology, but, as in the United States, the technology has so far struggled to take off in Europe.
But Trump’s efforts to undo Obama’s climate policies, such as an executive order expected next week to begin the process of rewriting landmark regulations for power plants, worry many international officials.
Some foreign officials are already questioning the value of negotiating with United States to stay in Paris if Trump isn’t committed to addressing climate change at home.
Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s vice president for energy, met earlier this month in Washington with several Trump administration officials, including National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn; Kenneth Juster, an international economic affairs adviser to the president; and George David Banks, a White House adviser on international energy and environmental issues.
“They are looking at ways to bring the business aspects to the assessment of climate change policies, with an accent on technological advancement,” Sefcovic told reporters after returning to Brussels, adding that technology to catch and store or use carbon emissions will probably be a priority for the U.S.
Nick Juliano and Sara Stefanini contributed to this report.
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