Resetting US Climate Debate

President Declares Sovereignty, Economy at Stake in Pulling out of Paris Agreement

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt both reiterated the U.S. would continue to be a leader in reducing emissions and overall environmental stewardship while still growing the U.S. economy. (Power plant photo courtesy of EPA; DTN photo of wind turbine by Emily Unglesbee)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Declaring that he was looking out for the country's economic interests and reasserting American sovereignty, President Donald Trump said Thursday that the U.S. will walk away from the international climate-change agreement reached less than two years ago.

"The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord," Trump said, drawing cheers from the crowd gathered at the White House Rose Garden.

The move effectively puts the U.S. on the other side of the negotiating table from most other developed economies in the world when it comes to action on climate change. Still, Trump made it clear the decision was in line with his "America first" agenda.

"I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," Trump said.

Under the agreement, it takes three years before a country can formally start the process to withdraw. The president still said his administration will cease all implementation of rules agreed to in the Paris accord and end "draconian economic and financial burdens" that would be imposed on the U.S. Trump said he is intent on renegotiating, but he also was ambivalent about the outcome.

"If we can, that's great, and if we can't, that's fine," Trump said.

The action keeps with promises Trump made during last year's campaign to cut regulations and bring jobs and manufacturing back to the U.S. The president said those things are starting to happen, but the Paris climate agreement would hamstring such efforts.

"I don't want anything to get in our way," the president said.

Trump said the Paris deal transferred coal jobs out of the U.S. to other countries and allowed countries such as China and India to continue building more coal plants and spew higher emissions years into the future.

"The agreement is a massive redistribution of American wealth to other countries," Trump said.

Further, the climate agreement would effectively lock away abundant U.S. natural resources that can be used to grow high-paying U.S. jobs in the fossil fuels industries, the president said.

Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt both reiterated the U.S. would continue to be a leader in reducing emissions and overall environmental stewardship while still growing the U.S. economy.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. agreed in a non-binding deal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions up to 28% by 2025. The U.S. has lowered total greenhouse gas emissions at least 7% since 2005, putting the U.S. at about one-quarter of the Paris goal.

Regarding carbon dioxide emissions from energy sources -- coal, natural gas and petroleum -- those emissions are 14% lower than 2005, indicating the U.S. has been moving the needle steadily lower, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

White House advisers told reporters after the president's announcement that the U.S. is a leader in emission reductions and would continue to be a leader. The White House advisers, who spoke on background, declined to indicate what kind of changes Trump would like to see in any renegotiation of the climate deal.

As the president has indicated since he began running for the White House, Trump said other foreign leaders had negotiated a bad deal for the U.S.

"We don't want leaders of other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be," Trump said.

Trump announced his withdrawal after massive lobbying from groups and industries on both sides of the battle over climate change.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the president was correct that the climate agreement was not in the best interests of the U.S. Perdue reiterated some of the president's statements on the costs versus the benefits of the climate pact.

"In addition to costing our economy trillions of dollars and millions of jobs, the accord also represented a willful and voluntary ceding of our national sovereignty," Perdue said in a statement. "The agreement would have had negligible impact on world temperatures, especially since other countries and major

Perdue also deflected the scientific argument about human involvement in climate change, pointing more to natural phenomenon. Yet the secretary said USDA science and programs would help manage through a changing climate.

"The Earth's climate has been changing since the planet was formed -- on this there is no disagreement," Perdue stated. "At USDA, we rely on sound science and we remain firmly committed to digging ever deeper into research to develop better methods of agricultural production in that changing climate. Floods, droughts, and natural disasters are a fact of life for farmers, ranchers, and foresters. They have persevered in the past, and they will adapt in the future -- with the assistance of the scientists and experts at USDA. To be effective, our research and programs need to be focused on finding solutions and providing state-of-the-art technologies to improve management decisions on farm and on forest lands."

Institutional reports have cited the risks to agriculture globally over the century as temperatures rise while global population also increases. A group of business leaders in 2015 started issuing regional U.S. reports on the risks of climate change. Among the findings were that farmers in the Midwest were among the industries best equipped to handle the risks, though crop production will continue to shift northward over time.

"However, this shift could put individual Midwest farmers and farm communities at risk if production moves to cooler climates," the Risky Business report stated.

The same report noted the Southeast parts of the U.S. will be most dramatically affected by higher temperatures, which would actually lower agricultural productivity in the region. Over the next five to 25 years, the Southeast will likely see losses in corn yields of up to 21%, and in soybean yields of up to 14%. (…)

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the U.S. is abdicating leadership on climate change, despite the impacts and risks to agriculture.

"This is really bad news for all of us, for agriculture, for the country, for the planet. It is really a repudiation, a rejection, a denial of the science and climate change," Johnson told DTN in an interview.

Still, Johnson also noted there was little stomach among most farm organizations right now in Washington to focus on climate policies. For more than a decade, agricultural groups got together to discuss climate policies that work for farmers, but that conversation has largely died out.

"It's hard for folks to say 'follow the science, follow the science, follow the science' on everything else, but then ignore the science on climate change," Johnson said. "It's a really strange situation. I can't speak for them, but I can speak for us, and this is a low point for this country and our standing in the world."

Cargill CEO David MacLennan called Trump's decision "extremely disappointing," Dow Jones reported on Thursday.

"Exiting international accords like the Paris Agreement will negatively impact trade, economic vitality, the state of our environment, and relationships amongst the world community," MacLennan told Dow Jones.

MacLennan said despite the move, Cargill will continue its own efforts to address climate change and emissions, Dow Jones reported.

Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. can continue to lead the world on clean energy development even if the U.S. is not part of the Paris agreement.

"Our industry will continue to innovate, grow and fight climate change regardless of whether the U.S. is party to the Paris agreement," Dinneen said.

Former President Barack Obama issued a statement saying that the Trump administration "joins a small handful of nations that reject the future," but Obama added he is confident states, cities and businesses will lead the way for the U.S. "and help protect for future generations the one planet we've got."

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Chris Clayton