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Nov. 22 — Donald Trump Nov. 22 softened his opposition to the blockbuster international climate agreement, even as he has continued to staff his transition team with opponents of regulating greenhouse gases.
Environmentalists were modestly encouraged by Trump’s Paris statement. Many remained skeptical of his broader climate change approach; however, some saw glimmers of hope.
“Is it a silver lining? Is it grasping at fleeting hopes? Yeah,” James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform, told Bloomberg BNA. “But we’re looking at a Trump administration that we don’t know what they’d do on climate, and anything they’d do would be backsliding and bad.”
Key transition team member and agency appointments such as those related to the Environmental Protection Agency are still up in the air. The next scheduled update by the Trump team to the press on transition activities and appointments, which have been daily, is Nov. 23.
The Heritage Foundation and the American Energy Alliance didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s messages requesting comment for this article. The Competitive Enterprise Institute declined to comment.
Trump told New York Times reporters Nov. 22 that he has an open mind toward keeping the U.S. in the Paris climate agreement.
“I’m looking at it very closely,” Trump said, according to the Times. “I have an open mind to it.”
Trump also in the interview told reporters he is considering how much climate change is impacting businesses and American competitiveness.
The statement would be a stark change in position from Trump’s repeated promises on the campaign trail to withdraw the U.S. from the international agreement.
Trump had previously reversed during the general election debate his campaign rhetoric—where he called climate change a Chinese hoax intended to make the U.S. less competitive—stating that human actions contribute to climate change, but it isn’t clear by how much.
As Trump seemingly shifted his policy approach from a clear exit from the Paris climate agreement to a neutral “we shall see” approach, his recent energy and environment appointments seemed to move in the other direction.
Trump’s EPA team is being led by Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Ebell, who has doubted the science of climate change in the past, recently told the Daily Signal that he believes in climate change but disagrees in terming it a crisis and with the action that has been taken by the Obama administration. That includes the administration’s Clean Power Plan that sets carbon dioxide limits on power plants.
Meanwhile, Ronald Tenpas, part of the Trump transition team for the Department of Justice, is a former assistant attorney general in charge of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department. President George W. Bush appointed him in 2007, and he served until 2009.
Tenpas, a partner at Morgan Lewis, is one of the attorneys involved in the legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan. He represents Minnesota Power, which filed a legal challenge in December. Trump has pledged to pull back the rule.
And his energy picks appear to favor fossil fuels over renewable energy.
Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative energy policy advocacy organization, will head its Energy Department transition team. Pyle has a history of lobbying for the oil industry, having worked as a lobbyist for Koch Industries Inc. He also served as a policy analyst for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), a former House majority whip.
“As president of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), he has overseen a crackerjack team of experts on energy from upstream oil and gas to coal to renewables to everything in between. He’s in a good position to help guide the transition in productive ways regarding energy,” Scott Segal, a partner at Bracewell LLP, which represents energy companies, told Bloomberg BNA.
Trump’s Interior Department transition team also has selected Doug Demenech, director of the Fueling Freedom Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative energy think tank based in Austin.
The Fueling Freedom Project that Demenech oversees works to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” for the foundation. He previously worked as secretary of natural resources in the commonwealth of Virginia, overseeing energy development projects ranging from renewables to coal.
“Doug brings an understanding of the importance of limited government,” Robert Henneke, general counsel for Texas Public Policy Foundation, told Bloomberg BNA.
Environmentalists were cautiously optimistic about Trump’s change in climate rhetoric.
Goodwin and Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, saw the language as a potential opening for some climate discussion—if not the precise climate action put in place by President Barack Obama such as the Clean Power Plan or the Paris Agreement.
One avenue could be to pursue climate adaptation through infrastructure improvements, Goodwin said. Trump has called infrastructure spending a priority.
“Any time you accept the science argument, then that pushes you into this realm of possibility on policy,” Goodwin said. “That’s always been the big tripping point for doing anything on climate change. You couldn’t even agree on the same set of facts. Now we can talk seriously on policy.”
But others remained unconvinced given his transition team’s actions that these comments represented a game-changer to his climate policy. Jamie Henn, a spokesman for 350.org, put the comments into context—“the Trump rollercoaster”—adding in comments to Bloomberg BNA that actions speak louder than words.
“He’s saying … now that he has the weight of the presidency, he’ll take a closer look,” David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg BNA. “I don’t think he’s said anything beyond that.”
Environmentalists told Bloomberg BNA they will be watching closely for additional statements by Trump and announcements about his transition team. However, they will be most concerned about who Trump picks to head the EPA.
“The transition team appointments have not sent positive signals to the climate community or the environmental community at large. There’s a lot of concern about what’s going to happen,” Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School, told Bloomberg BNA.
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