White House officials are leaning toward taking the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, people familiar with the deliberations say.
While some in the Trump administration have warmed in recent days to the idea of staying in the non-binding pact while potentially changing the United States’ commitment, top officials are now leaning the other way, sources said Tuesday.
Trump could announce as soon as next week his plans to pull out. The Huffington Post and New York Times reported on the developments earlier Tuesday.
Central to the administration’s debate is whether the U.S. could reduce its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases for the 2015 pact without running afoul of it.
The agreement states that a country “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition,” which sources say concerns White House Counsel Don McGahn and his staff.
If Trump wanted to ratchet down former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaUS-Israel relationship: More critical than ever Overnight Energy: Ethanol fight holds up drilling rule repeal Overnight Regulation: Groups brace for Trump’s religious liberty order | Greens sue over offshore drilling MORE’s promise of a 26 percent to 28 percent emissions cut by 2025, the agreement may prevent it.
The administration is also worried that staying in the accord would give environmentalists a legal argument to prevent Trump from repealing climate regulations like the Clean Power Plan.
In litigation over that rule in 2015, the Justice Department told the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that stopping the regulation would hurt the U.S. diplomatically.
That court declined to halt the rule, but on appeal, the Supreme Court did pause it. Trump is now working to repeal the regulation.
Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and White House strategist Stephen Bannon have been leading the charge for Trump to fulfill his campaign promise and exit the pact.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, have led the charge to stay in, arguing that it’s better diplomatically while keeping the U.S. in international discussions regarding climate policy.
At a Saturday rally, Trump blasted the agreement as “one-sided” and cited it as an example of a pact in which “the United States pays the costs and bears the burdens while other countries get the benefit and pay nothing.” He said it would cause a big hit to the economy and spur factories to close.
Attorneys from various government agencies met Monday to discuss the legal implications of staying in the deal, and the White House counsel’s office took Pruitt’s side, the Times reported.
Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute who worked on climate negotiations at the State Department under Obama and who helped negotiate the Paris pact, dismissed the legal concerns over staying in the agreement, saying that since the emissions cuts aren’t binding, there is no legal problem.
“If the targets aren’t legally binding, and there’s not an enforcement decision, then after it’s just that different people are going to interpret different parts of the agreement in different ways,” Light said.
“Revising downward is definitely not in the spirit of the agreement … but the fact of the matter is that the targets are not legally binding. So we can all object, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”