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  May 15, 2017

Trump Continues to Waffle on whether US will Adhere to Paris Climate Agreement

Trump pledged on the campaign trail to pull out of the Paris Accords, but now that announcement will be delayed until after the G-7 summit. Janet Redman of Oil Change International says US participation is crucial
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Kim Brown: Welcome back to part two of our conversation with Janet Redman, policy director from Oil Change International. We're talking about the potential effects not only to relationships between the United States and its allies, but what could happen globally should the US decide to pull out of the Paris Agreement. This a decision that the Trump administration has punted. They have decided to wait to make their announcement until after the G7 meeting in Italy. Janet, I wanted to ask you because meetings have been taking place in Bonn this week to discuss the technicalities of implementing the Paris Accord. What could happen if the US formally pulls out of the agreement? I understand that there's talk of implementation of export tariffs on American goods, perhaps as a bit of punitive punishment, if the Trump administration decides to go this route.

Janet Redman: I think we will see ... As I mentioned in our last segment, the US is part of a number of different international tables, both in terms of trade, economics, other treaties that have to do with maritime issues. I think there are multiple ways that other countries are going to put the screws to the United States if we threaten to pull out. I think there's very little appetite internationally for the United States to leave the Paris Accord. At the same time, it's important to many countries that if the US stays in, we actually honor our commitments. Again, those are domestic commitments, are commitments we made internally in our domestic energy policy. But those are things that other countries are looking to to say in good faith the US is acting on climate.

I know there is conversation about how other countries can incentivize the United States to continue its commitments. It's unclear to me how binding those will be, in the same way that the Paris Agreement is only binding in the national context. I think we'll have to see out of the Bonn conversation, and, in fact, moving forward to the UN Climate Summit at the end of this year, what exactly other countries can do to incentivize the US to take action. To stay in the Paris Agreement, but while staying in the Paris Agreement, actually honor their commitments to reduce emissions from the fossil fuel sector.

Kim Brown: Could these tariffs also be implemented if Trump and Congress continue to push for rollbacks of environmental regulations and expand offshore drilling in the Gulf, in the Atlantic, and in the Arctic, which is considered most vulnerable to oil spills?

Janet Redman: I think the problem is, as the Paris Agreement has laid out how to reduce emissions, there's nothing specifically saying that the US can't open offshore drilling. That is, of course, absolutely not in line with our commitment to reduce emissions and it's certainly not in line with the five-year offshore drilling plan that was just released at the beginning of this year. The problem, of course, is that Trump has said that he wants to review that plan. We're expecting that he will make attempts to revise that plan.

That will take a couple of years. It's not a fast process. It does look like, at the federal level, we are trying to open up new fossil fuel fronts. This is part of the concern about staying in the Paris Accord. Many people's nervousness that, in fact, we'll be trying to negotiate ways to play both sides to both expand fossil fuels but bring into that Accord incentives for technologies like carbon capture and storage that actually say they can capture the carbon emissions from expanded fossil fuel production, but of course are unproven technologies, are very expensive, and are still very experimental.

Kim Brown: Talk a little bit about the cost of not acting on climate change or the delayed action. Again, what we hear from the Trump administration, what we hear from big business and oil and gas corporations is that trying to come in line with environmental regulations and protections are killing jobs, they cost too much money, and they are grossly unnecessary. If we don't do action, if we don't take action, rather, the costs could be a lot greater than it would ... There's a lot more cost in the cure than it is in prevention, is it not?

Janet Redman: Absolutely. We've seen from the World Bank a number of year ago, I think, a really interesting dollar figure. For every one dollar that we decide not to spend on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, we actually spend $7.00 cleaning up the disaster in extreme weather-related disasters, storms, and other impacts from climate change. An investment now would mean saving money later. I think, also, it's important for us to recognize that there are more jobs, job expansion in the United States energy sector right now is in renewable energy. Renewable energy is a more job-dense sector than the fossil fuel industry, but also it's just the largest-growing job sector in the United States anyway.

Right now, the job that has seen the most growth in the last year, according to the Department of Labor, is wind turbine servicing. That has nothing to do with the fossil fuel industry. Regulations can be expensive, but cleanup is also expensive. In fact, right now the US taxpayer is paying about $20.5 billion a year incentivizing the fossil fuel industry. That's far and away what we're spending to incentivize the renewable energy industry. If you took those $20 billion dollars away, I don't think you would see the fossil fuel industry looking as revenue-generating as it is. It is incredibly highly subsidized. So that number hides a bunch of taxpayer handouts that are happening at this point.

Kim Brown: As you know, Janet, here in the State of Maryland there was a ban on fracking that was passed by the Maryland State Legislature and signed into law by a republican governor, Larry Hogan. Now a lot of the opponents who were against this fracking ban claimed that it was going to cost the state jobs, particularly out west where the Marcellus shale is where the fracking would have taken place in western Maryland, which politically is overwhelmingly red. That is absolutely Trump country out there. However, the biggest resistance to this fracking effort came from those people. Those people that understood that fracking was going to be harmful not only to the environment, to their drinking water, to their tourism. Western Maryland depends on a lot of people leaving the metropolitan areas of Washington and Baltimore and heading out west to the country to enjoy the country. It showed that environmentalists can come from different political stripes. But overwhelmingly when we look at Trump supporters they are clamoring for this return to coal and this going back in time to 20th Century forms of energy. So what can we do in terms of imaging to make red state America understand that climate change is an issue effecting them and perhaps the quality of their air and water might supersede their desire for old technology, fossil fuel industry jobs?

Janet Redman: I think a part of it is the focus on the health impacts of the fossil fuel industry. I think everyone, no matter what your political stripes are wants to breathe clean air, drink clean water, make sure their kids are safe and healthy. Make sure their homes are safe and healthy. I think an important piece also is we are talking about a new American legacy. The clean energy sector, as I said, is growing in leaps and bounds. The numbers are much higher than projected. Every year we revise our numbers up in looking at how solar and wind is expanding across this country. So I think one of the things we need to think about is what what is the US energy legacy. What does it mean to be a patriotic American right now in terms of who works in the energy sector. The traditional jobs in manufacturing and construction, those are clean energy jobs as well. Those are making wind turbines. Those are rolling steel for wind turbines. We don't have to think about just the coal sector when we think about traditional jobs. The traditional jobs that Americans across the country and across the political spectrum have had. So I think a piece of it is really understanding that this is a growth sector. This is actually where the jobs are. This is what makes America competitive.

If we want to talk about making American great again on the international stage, this is where we are going to see some interesting economic growth. It is not just political. This is where the markets are heading even while we are seeing signals from the administration that are trying to put the brakes on this part of the industry.

Kim Brown: We have been speaking with Janet Redman. She is a policy director at Oil Change International. Janet, always a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you very much for joining us.

Janet Redman: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

Kim Brown: And thank you for watching and supporting News Network.


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