U.S. Bluntly Rebuffs Queries on Climate

  • Administration touts its pro-jobs agenda in responses to UN
  • U.S. nearing decision on whether it will remain in Paris deal

The Trump administration, responding to skepticism about its commitment to the Paris climate accord from China and other countries, bluntly told them that it is putting American jobs first.

In a formal response to queries filed with the United Nations, the administration President Donald Trump left little doubt that it is taking a different approach in tone and substance from former President Barack Obama. It said its pro-jobs agenda takes priority and that it would continue to roll back environmental regulations aimed at cutting carbon emissions.

"The administration is reviewing existing policies and regulations in the context of a focus on strengthening U.S. economic growth and promoting jobs for American workers and will not support policies or regulations that have adverse effects on energy independence and U.S. competitiveness," the U.S. said.

The U.S. repeated the same answer nearly verbatim three more times, including in response to China’s question about how the it could possibly meet its carbon-cutting commitment while undoing Obama-era climate regulations.

Prior story: China Doubts U.S. Climate Pledge as Trump Mulls Paris Exit

The U.S. answers to questions, which were lodged under a process set up under the Paris accord, were delivered as Trump nears a verdict on whether to keep the country in the climate agreement -- or abide by his previous campaign vows to exit. Trump pledged a "big decision" on the deal within two weeks during an April 29 rally in Pennsylvania while deriding the deal as disadvantaging the U.S.

The U.S., under Obama, pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions at least 26 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels.

Although the administration’s responses did not make Trump’s intentions clear, they suggested little interest in participating in the assessment process so member countries can keep an eye on each others’ progress. The process, designed to ensure transparency, also empowers big greenhouse gas emitters -- such as China, the world’s leader -- to scrutinize other countries’ efforts and highlight any lapses.

The Trump administration flatly rejected the UK’s request for an assessment of how the U.S. government’s latest policy shifts would affect its greenhouse gas emissions: "We do not have updated information."

And when Japan asked about future performance standards for vehicle emissions, the administration noted it was reconsidering the feasibility of the standards governing model year 2022-2026 cars, which "could result in a revision" to those requirements.

The U.S. made sure to note recent declines in greenhouse gas emissions -- now 11.5 percent below 2005 levels, the Paris agreement’s baseline. Some of that has been driven by greater use of natural gas to generate electricity, as utilities retire old coal-burning plants.

Prior story: ‘Charming Betsy’ Doctrine Looms Over Trump Climate Decision

The responses beg the question whether the White House has analyzed the impact that pulling out of the Paris accord would have on job growth, said Alden Meyer, who has followed climate talks for two decades as director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Dismantling the climate action plan will actually harm U.S. competitiveness, impede its ability to compete in clean energy markets and reduce job creation," Meyer said.

The Paris accord -- an assortment of discrete climate pledges from individual nations -- is not legally binding. Although countries may face international pressure for failing to live up to individual carbon-cutting pledges, they do not face sanctions under the pact. 

But administration lawyers are debating how much freedom the U.S. has to scale-back its commitment under the deal. And the White House counsel’s office has cautioned top advisers that there is a potential that remaining in the agreement would be powerful legal ammunition for environmentalists challenging Trump’s regulatory rollbacks.

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