One of the central themes of President Donald Trump’s campaign was the need to extricate the United States from international agreements that hurt American jobs and unfairly disadvantage American companies versus foreign competitors. Another major theme was the promise to reverse Obama’s regulatory power grabs that dramatically expanded government control over our lives without the approval of Congress. Those two themes came together in a very concrete promise when Trump said: “We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.”
So why hasn’t it happened yet? Public reports indicate that there is an ongoing pitched battle between the president’s top advisers on whether he should keep his campaign promise or abandon it. And my own private sources in the administration believe the promise-breakers may be gaining the upper hand.
Their argument is that America can remain in the agreement while revising its draconian emissions reduction goals in order to “keep a seat at the table.” Bad idea.
The Paris treaty effectively bans coal-fired power plants in the United States while China has 368 coal plants under construction and over 800 in the planning stage. India's coal production under the deal is allowed to double by 2020 – and they are likely to have emissions much higher than what they promised. Even Europe is allowed to build coal plants. It forces Americans to endure painful cuts while the rest of the world continues with business as usual.
Even worse, American taxpayers will be forced to cough up $100 billion in climate-related foreign aid by 2020, with the promise of much more to follow.
As Trump observed on the stump:
“President Obama entered the United States into the Paris Climate Accords – unilaterally, and without the permission of Congress. This agreement gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use right here in America.”
The idea that we could adjust how draconian the cuts are and remain in the agreement depends on a dicey matter of legal interpretation.
Article 4.11 of the Paris treaty says “A Party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.”
Is easing off the energy rationing by allowing higher emissions enhancing ambition? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Moreover, with the EPA undertaking an effort to reverse Obama-era regulations designed to make electricity prices “necessary skyrocket” via draconian emissions cuts, accepting the validity of the Paris agreement will hand environmentalist groups and state attorneys general a powerful weapon that could derail the entire deregulatory effort. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, for instance, almost certainly has the issue fully briefed.
State Department lawyers insist these concerns can be ignored. White House Counsel Don McGahn reportedly disagrees and sees these as very real vulnerabilities – and who can doubt that the environmentalists and liberal state AGs are likely to find the most anti-Trump judges they can to see things their way?
Even if the agreement could be reconfigured to lessen the burden of its cuts to American energy use, it would be a huge mistake to accept the legal legitimacy of Obama’s move to enter the United States into a treaty regime identical in form and structure to previous global warming treaties without the constitutionally required advice and consent of the Senate.
Phil Kerpen is head of American Commitment and a leading free-market policy analyst and advocate in Washington. Kerpen was the principal policy and legislative strategist at Americans for Prosperity for over five years. He previously worked at the Free Enterprise Fund, the Club for Growth, and the Cato Institute.