Trump aide: US withdrawal from Paris Agreement ‘could happen any day’

Donald Trump has promised to take the United States out of the Paris Agreement. [Julia DeSantis/Flickr]

The US will initiate all of Donald Trump’s major climate change policy changes – including highly controversial moves to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – in the next few months, a key aide of the president told EURACTIV’s media partner edie.net.

Myron Ebell, a renowned climate-sceptic who led Trump’s EPA transition team, also believes it is possible that other countries will follow the US of out the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming “well below 2°C”.

“I do expect him to keep every one of his campaign commitments that he made that is possible,” Ebell said. “I don’t think he’s going to start fudging and start saying ‘I didn’t really mean it’. It seems to me the one thing I’ve learned from watching him in the campaign is that he made very specific promises to people who voted for him and he’s going to keep them.

“Some of these promises could be delivered right away, and one of these could be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. I think it could happen any day, but whether it’s today or a sunny day in June, I have no idea.”

Trump used his campaign trail to set out his intentions to effectively dismantle Barack Obama’s climate policies, which have been broadly seen as positive. The new president has promised to “cancel” the recently ratified Paris Agreement signed by 195 countries, including the US.

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It remains unclear how easily an individual country can withdraw from the legally-binding accord after ratifying it, although reports suggest an executive order could be issued that would allow Trump to pull the US out of the deal. Ebell is confident that the president will maintain his pledge and defund America’s support of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

EPA devolution

During a visit to the UK this week, Ebell described the environmental movement as “the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world”. Although no longer part of the Trump team, Ebell played an influential advisory role to the White House in the election build-up – among his key proposals was a strategy to drastically reduce the departmental functions of the EPA, which he says has suffered from “regulatory overspill”.

Ebell confirmed to edie.net that the president will attempt to abolish the EPA – a move Ebell deems “an aspirational goal” due to such widespread opposition within Congress. A more realistic aim would be to transfer the majority of the EPA’s activities over to US states, Ebell said.

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Many powers have already been devolved to the states, and that’s worked well, so I don’t see why we can’t devolve more. In four years, it would be nice to see the EPA have fewer employees and less authority and some of that authority transferred to the states – that’s  kind of a big thing. That’s going to be hard to achieve because Congress spends the money.”

Ebell has previously claimed that as much as two-thirds of the EPA’s 15,000 engineers, scientists and researchers could be cut. Since Trump’s inauguration last month, the president’s team has reportedly directed the EPA to remove the climate change page from its website and replace with a fossil-fuel based policy. Meanwhile, Trump’s nominee to run the department is Scott Pruitt, a climate-sceptic who has sued the agency he is now set to lead on 14 occasions.

Clean Power Plan

On his thoughts about the timeframe for the implementation of the Trump’s key climate policies, Ebell said: “I think he will initiate doing most of his commitments in the next few months, but some of them will actually take a while to achieve.”

Indeed, a difficult repeal process will be required for the Clean Power Plan – an effort by the Obama administration to curb the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. Efforts to modify or entirely scrap the Plan would involve “regulatory hoops” which could take several years to settle, according to Ebell.

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Ebell’s own company, the Competitive Enterprise Institute – an anti-regulation think-tank – is one of more than 100 plaintiffs filing a lawsuit over the implementation of the Plan, and Ebell suggests a similar number of organisations would enter a legal battle to overturn the rule. However, Ebell is assured that most procedures will be enacted with little complications.

“My view is that I will be extremely happy if within the next four years President Trump keeps his major promises on energy and climate. There may be some that don’t quite work out and he will have to abandon, but I think out of the specific climate pledges, most are achievable.”

According to recent legal documents obtained from CRS Reports, Trump could effectively rescind many of Obama’s executive actions with the “stroke of a pen”.

Future of renewables

Many observers note that, through these punitive changes, the US risks ceding its global leadership on climate policy to China, which pledged in January to invest $360bn in renewable energy by 2020.

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Fresh evidence highlights that the majority of new US electrical generation came from renewable energy sources last year, and Ebell sees no reason why the rapid growth of technologies such as solar and wind will should not continue on an upward trajectory. He did, however, give a stark warning to renewables companies with reliance on Government subsidies.

“For those people whose companies are dependent on mandates and subsidies, I really think that part of the economy is going to shrink, and it could shrink very rapidly,” he added. “When Congress renewed the wind and solar subsidies in 2015, it put them on a declining path. Each year, it put them a step down.

“For the renewables industry to come back and try to get those subsidies restored will be a huge fight. I know they will spend a tremendous amount of money to do that to protect their handouts, but I would bet against them succeeding.”

Downing Street visit

Ebell was speaking to edie.net a day after his trip to Downing Street – a meeting which was condemned by Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas as “deeply alarming”. Ebell refused to be drawn into revealing the subject matter of his “private discussions”, although reports suggest that climate change was not on the agenda.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “[Ebell] was in for a meeting with advisers in his capacity as director of the think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“This was part of regular engagement between Number 10 with various different think tanks and others. He was there in that capacity, it was a meeting between him and staff in Number 10, it wasn’t with the PM.”