No News From Trump on Climate Pact Is Good News, Backers Say

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By Dean Scott

No news may have been good news for backers of the Paris climate pact as President Donald Trump steered clear of the climate change issue in his first speech to Congress—including whether he still believes the U.S. should withdraw from the global deal.

Trump vowed during the campaign to “cancel” U.S. participation in the 2015 deal and complained that it would make the U.S. less competitive. But the president was silent on those plans Feb. 28 and didn’t make any sweeping pledges on the environment beyond a vow to “promote clean air and clear water.”

Had the president said anything about the UN climate deal, “he probably would have said things that would have been counterproductive” to efforts by other nations to convince Trump to stay in the deal, said Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Cardin told Bloomberg BNA after Trump’s address that there were signals earlier in the day—inaccurate as it turns out—that the president would make some reference to climate, perhaps to reiterate his opposition to the Paris Agreement.

“We had heard some rumors that he had some mentions of climate change in there [earlier] but that they came out of the speech,” Cardin said. If so, he said, “that was a positive sign for those of us who believe it’s important for the U.S. to be in the agreement.”

If climate were mentioned, “he probably would have said things that would have been counterproductive,” Cardin said. “Okay, that’s a low-bar standard” for backers of the deal to celebrate, he acknowledged, “but that’s where we are.”

Hopeful Signs for Some

Others, including Jim Connaughton, who chaired the White House Council for Environmental Quality for President George W. Bush, said they were heartened by Trump’s “clean air and clear” water reference, noting he made similar pledges during the presidential campaign.

“The president restated his commitment to clean air and clean water,” which was consistent with “where the vast swatch of public opinion is on environmental priorities,” Connaughton said in an email to Bloomberg BNA.

And some coal state Democrats, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, were elated that Trump embraced coal miners in his address, a reference to the rollback of a stream protection rule that got a pronounced, early mention in the hourlong speech. Manchin, along with most Senate Republicans, railed against the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate the industry, including power plant carbon pollution limits, which the Trump administration plans to pull back in what could be a lengthy battle ahead.

“I liked it, I liked it,” Manchin told reporters, referring to Trump’s coal miner reference. “We need help.”

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) was less sanguine to reporters when asked about Trump’s highlight of coal in the speech. “Once again, he [Trump] did not give us any details—how is he going to save coal jobs in America in the face of what is a natural gas, wind and solar revolution that is moving at a rapid pace,” Markey said.

What Trump didn’t mention, Markey said, “is just how deeply he is going to cut into the EPA budget, the Department of Energy’s innovation budget, in order to fulfill his promises to the coal industry. But I suspect those cuts will be deep—and they are going to be very controversial once they are publicly announced.”

Uphill Battle for Clean Energy?

Several Republican senators said it was no surprise to them that Trump skirted the climate issue, given the nature of such speeches, which after all are intended to highlight a new president’s broad policy agenda.

Also, they noted, Trump’s views on the climate issue are well-known. The president has called climate change a “hoax” perpetuated by China, and since the election has vowed to look at the Paris deal “very closely” before acting.

Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he welcomes Trump’s “all-of-the-above” approach to energy, which wouldn’t seek to bolster clean energy, for example, over fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.

“I myself, as are most Republicans, am an all-of-the-above” proponent, Boozman told Bloomberg BNA, adding that the U.S. should seek a balanced approach in promoting all energy sources “that the Lord has blessed us with.”

“We’re blessed with hydropower, blessed with geothermal—the list goes on and on,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would deny there has been a real war on coal the last eight years.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said Trump had plenty to say about energy, though in truth, he didn’t actually say the word in his speech. But Trump did boast of his action to promote the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and talked of coal, which are in fact energy projects, Wicker said.

“Now, I don’t think you can expect a president to cite chapter and verse the entire party platform” in such speeches, Wicker told Bloomberg BNA. “But then, I’m an all-of-the-above energy Republican and I think most people are.”

Perhaps, Wicker said, Trump’s speech simply marked the end of what Republicans view as unfair “attacks” on coal by Obama, not a shot across the bow at renewable sources. “Clean energy hasn’t been under attack,” Wicker said. “But coal—coal has been under attack.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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