Don’t Wimp Out on Climate

If Trump doesn’t dump the Paris accord, his economic agenda is in jeopardy.


President Trump with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Feb. 1.

President Trump with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Feb. 1. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

President Trump will soon turn his attention to another major campaign promise—rolling back the Obama climate agenda—and according to one quoted administration source his executive orders on that topic will “suck the air out of the room.” That’s good, but only if Team Trump finishes the job by casting into that vacuum the Paris climate accord.

That’s no longer a certainty, which ought to alarm anyone who voted for Mr. Trump in hopes of economic change. Candidate Trump correctly noted that the accord gave “foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use,” and he seemed to understand it risked undermining all his other plans. He unequivocally promised to “cancel” the deal, which the international community rushed to put into effect before the election. The Trump transition even went to work on plans to short-circuit the supposed four-year process for getting out. 

That was three months ago—or approximately 93 years in Trump time. Word is that some in the White House are now aggressively pushing a wimpier approach. A pro-Paris contingent claims that quick withdrawal would cause too much international uproar. Some say leaving isn’t even necessary because the accord isn’t “binding.”

Then there’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who in his confirmation hearing said: “I think it’s important that the United States maintain its seat at the table on the conversations around how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response.” Those are not the words of an official intent on bold action, but of a harassed oil CEO who succumbed years ago to the left’s climate protests.

Here’s the terrible risk of the wimpy approach: If the environmental left has learned anything over the past 20 years, it’s that the judicial branch is full of reliable friends. Republicans don’t share the green agenda, and the Democratic administrations that do are hampered by laws and procedures. But judges get things done. Need a snail added to the endangered species list? Want to shut down a dam? File a lawsuit with a friendly court and get immediate, binding results.

Lawsuits are already proving the main tool of the anti-Trump “resistance.” CNN reported that 11 days into his tenure, Mr. Trump had already been named in 42 new federal lawsuits. John Walke, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told NPR that his group will litigate any Trump efforts to roll back environmental regulations. He boasted about green groups’ winning track record at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which Mr. Obama and Harry Reid packed with liberal judges.

It is certain that among the lawsuits will be one aimed at making the Paris accord enforceable. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell says judges could instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the deal. “If President Trump doesn’t withdraw Obama’s signature, and Congress doesn’t challenge it,” he says, “then the environmentalists stand a good chance of getting a court to rule that our Paris commitments are binding and direct EPA to make it happen.”

Think that’s impossible? Instead, think Justice Anthony Kennedy, who in 2007 cast the deciding vote to declare carbon dioxide a pollutant, and who in September defended his habit of looking for guidance to international law. And consider that a few years back, CEI’s Chris Horner unearthed a legal memo from the New York attorney general’s office that laid out a strategy to get courts to force C0 2 cuts under international treaties.

Even with the Obama administration’s economy-crushing climate program, the U.S. is about 45% short of meeting its Paris obligations. If Mr. Trump rolls back the Obama regulations, the U.S. would fall about 70% short. If Mr. Trump would like to see short work made of his economic agenda, let Paris stand, and let a court decree the proper way to implement it. Bye-bye fracking. Bye-bye offshore drilling. Bye-bye Continental Resources and Keystone.


Paris was the capstone of a unilateral Obama climate agenda that ignored the law, the will of Congress, and the people. Mr. Trump ought to shred it on those grounds alone. There’s also the point that he made a rock-solid campaign pledge to both end the Paris accord and completely defund United Nations climate programs—promises that rallied many blue-collar workers to his cause.

A withdrawal from Paris is a perfect way to reset—overnight—the international climate debate, and to position Mr. Tillerson’s State Department to lead on economic growth and international security. Paris is a distraction from—if not an outright hindrance to—both. If Mr. Trump cares to succeed with the rest of his pro-growth agenda, he needs to follow through: Au revoir, Paris.

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