Friday, June 2, 2017
Though the coal industry may be celebrating, most large American companies are aghast at Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord. They shouldn’t be. It was one of the most basic promises in the GOP presidential campaign platform. Climate change was a “Chinese hoax,” and presidential advisor, Steve Bannon, made sure that the President kept that pledge.
But most big city mayors and large corporations (more below) see this withdrawal costing them billions of dollars of contracts and a comparable number for the jobs that will be lost by foreign buyers unwilling to buy from a company located in a country that officially denies man-induced climate change and that has officially joined with only two other nations (Syria and Nicaragua) against 195 countries that remain committed to the Paris agreement they signed. The world has long since moved in a different direction, one unlikely to change with America’s departure from this initiative.
Simply, Trump lied to the American public, telling us that the Paris accord would mandate restrictions that would stymie competition and cost jobs. This is no such mandate. Oh, and his numbers were wrong even had there been a mandate. “White House officials who were against Trump withdrawing from the deal said they feel the president was presented with out-of-date data that they characterized as ‘erroneous, scientifically dubious, misleading.’” AOLNews.com, June 2nd. Reports suggest that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as well as Jared and Ivanka Kushner were opposed to the President’s decision, but in the wake of containing the Russia-Trump campaign inquiry, alt-right Bannon is the policy Czar.
Elon Musk (Tesla CEO) and Bob Iger (Disney CEO) resigned from presidential advisory boards in protest. Virtually all major American corporations – including more than a few from “big oil” – who published a reaction to the withdrawal were profoundly negative, pointing out the loss of America’s position to lead the job-creating alternative energy surge. These CEOs pledged to follow the Paris guidelines notwithstanding Trump’s denial of that Paris Agreement.
As for “King Coal,” even with the opening of a single new mine (the Acosta Deep Mine in Western Pennsylvania that would create probably no more than 70-100 new jobs), is in the throes of a long-standing death spiral from lack of demand, a global revulsion to uncleanable coal and the availability much cheaper natural gas. China has closed and will continue to close thousands of coal-fired power plants, a trend that has been happening in the U.S. for decades. One that continues into the present day, notwithstanding Trump’s wishes and statements to the contrary. The above statistics, from Forbes/Statista, are self-explanatory.
“On the same day that President Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, environmentalists took consolation in the closure of three large coal-fired power plants — often blamed as big contributors to climate change… The three plants, two in New Jersey and another in Massachusetts, are the latest in a national trend toward phasing out coal-fired power plants in the face of tighter regulations and competition from cheap natural gas.
“‘The timing is kind of ironic. They are closing these plants the same day that Trump is pulling out of Paris. It shows that no matter what the president does, the country is moving towards cleaner sources of energy,’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which was celebrating the closures. ‘This is the future.’…
“All three power plants, built in the 1960s, had been the targets of protests and lawsuits, with environmentalists charging that they killed fish and spewed toxins from their looming smokestacks. In the end, industry officials said they had to close because they were no longer economically viable.” Los Angeles Times, June 2nd. RIP.
Defiance amongst some of the biggest players in the country is solidifying and growing, generating firm commitments to the Paris climate goals notwithstanding America’s departure from those commitments. “Mayors of cities including Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City have signed on — along with Pittsburgh, which Mr. Trump mentioned in his speech announcing the withdrawal — as have Hewlett-Packard, Mars and dozens of other companies.
“Eighty-two presidents and chancellors of universities including Emory & Henry College, Brandeis and Wesleyan are also participating, the organizers [seeking commitments to the Paris accord] said.
“Mr. Trump’s plan to pull out of the Paris agreement was motivating more local and state governments, as well as businesses, to commit to the climate change fight, said Robert C. Orr, one of the architects of the 2015 Paris agreement as the United Nations secretary-general’s lead climate adviser.
“On Thursday [6/1], Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Jerry Brown of California, all Democrats, said they were beginning a separate alliance of states committed to upholding the Paris accord…
“But in a draft letter to António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, [former NYC Mayor Michael] Bloomberg expressed confidence that ‘non-national actors’ could achieve the 2025 goal alone… ‘While the executive branch of the U.S. government speaks on behalf of our nation in matters of foreign affairs, it does not determine many aspects of whether and how the United States takes action on climate change,’ he wrote.
“‘The bulk of the decisions which drive U.S. climate action in the aggregate are made by cities, states, businesses, and civil society,’ he wrote. ‘Collectively, these actors remain committed to the Paris accord.’”” New York Times, June 1st. The U.S. already halfway towards achieving its 2025 greenhouse emissions-reduction target.
But while cities and states can agree to adhere to the Paris plan, what they cannot do is enter into any official treaties with foreign states or treaty associations towards a formal commitment. Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which contains the “Treaty Clause,” gives the President of the United States, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to enter into treaties with foreign governments. States cannot even make formal inter-state agreements among themselves without a federal imprimatur.
But states and cities, along with large corporations (most of which have significant overseas operations), can act… in parallel. “Governor Inslee said that states held significant sway over emissions. Washington, for example, has adopted a cap on carbon pollution, has invested in growing clean energy jobs and subsidizes electric vehicle purchases and charging stations.
“‘Our states will move forward, even if the president wants to go backward,’ he said… America’s biggest corporations have been bracing for the United States to exit from the Paris climate accord, a move executives and analysts say would bring few tangible benefits to businesses — but plenty of backlash.
“Multinational companies will still need to follow ever-stricter emissions laws that other countries are adopting, no matter the location of their headquarters. Automakers like Ford Motor and General Motors would still need to build cars that meet stringent fuel economy and emissions standards in the European Union, Japan and even China, not to mention California.
“American companies also face the wrath of overseas consumers for abandoning what has been a popular global agreement — customers who could buy more Renaults instead of Chevrolets or Reeboks instead of Nikes… ‘Pulling out of Paris would be the worst thing for brand America since Abu Ghraib,’ said Nigel Purvis, a top environmental negotiator in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and the chief executive of Climate Advisers, a consulting firm.”
And then there is this risk, expressed on June 2nd in The Cipher Brief by Admiral James 'Sandy' Winnefeld, Former Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Withdrawing from the Paris accords is shortsighted from a security, business, and, perhaps above all, a leadership perspective. Like dropping the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it pushes our nation further down the slippery trajectory of becoming ‘just another country’ focused on transactional positions, rather than setting the example for the rest of the world. Such a decision is a product of doing the easy wrong things rather than the difficult right things, for which we Americans are known. Here, the environment is an apt metaphor for our leadership position in the family of nations: the costs will not be immediate, but they will accrue rapidly over time, and will be hard to reverse.” Yup. Hard to reverse. Exactly which nations are going to trust a country that can elect a president capable of undoing major international commitments in the first few months of his presidency?
Meanwhile, there will be business that will definitely go elsewhere, probably mostly to China and Germany. Otherwise, we can only hope that international boycotts – de facto or de jure – will not impair our export economy. But we will absolutely experience “plenty of backlash.”
I’m Peter Dekom, and we have a fourth rate President dragging his country down into becoming a second rate economy and a third rate political power.