Governors face pressure to distance themselves from Trump

Source: Benjamin Storrow and Emily Holden, E&E News reporters • Posted: Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Six states announced they will join the climate pact organized by California, New York and Washington state in response to President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The move followed growing calls for states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of Trump’s announcement and illustrated the extent to which the president’s decision has roiled local politics in some parts of the country.

Republican governors in blue and purple states found themselves confronting a gulf between a president of their own party and voters frustrated with his decision to shelve the global carbon-cutting deal. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, both Republicans in deep blue states, face re-election in 2018. The pair said their states would join the so-called U.S. Climate Alliance.

“Our administration looks forward to continued, bipartisan collaboration with other states to protect the environment, grow the economy and deliver a brighter future to the next generation,” Baker said in a statement. Baker has been outspoken about his opposition to Trump and wants to cut the Bay State’s emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Democratic Govs. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, David Ige of Hawaii and Kate Brown of Oregon also announced their states would join.

Trump’s decision on Paris also introduced a wrinkle to gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, where Democrats are vying in contested primaries to be the party’s nominee.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who are in a fight for the Democratic nod, pledged to join the Climate Alliance. Phil Murphy, a Democrat and the front-runner to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey, promised the same and said he would go one step further, promising to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Christie left years ago.

“New Jersey’s future is at risk because of climate change, and President Trump’s nonsensical call to withdraw from the Paris Accord puts us in danger unless we take action for ourselves and lead,” Murphy said in a statement.

It’s unclear what exactly the burgeoning coalition could do on any formal front to represent the United States in international efforts. Mark Muro, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, explained in a blog post that states and cities can register their commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions under the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action. But he said he wondered if the backlash would “provoke truly significant new compensatory actions among states and cities.”

The details of the pact remained hazy over the weekend. State officials said the terms were still taking shape. They listed regulatory policy and support for renewables as possible areas for broader state collaboration.

Richard Kauffman, New York’s energy czar, said the governors were in active conversations with other states that might join. Governors in Colorado and Minnesota said they were weighing invitations.

“There is a lot more that will be rolled out in the weeks and months to come,” Kauffman said. “Certainly the states have committed to uphold the objectives and the targets for the Paris Agreement, and have agreed to work on harmonizing policies between states where these policies make sense.”

Analysts noted that it would be hard for liberal states to fill the United States’ Paris pledges without enlisting conservative ones. Texas, for example, produces almost double the carbon dioxide emissions of the country’s next largest contributor, California.

Plus, even the greenest states might not want to pick up the slack for big emitters.

Colorado state Sen. Matt Jones (D) said he would lobby Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) to join the pact, noting that Colorado has worked to ramp up renewable energy and is familiar with climate change’s consequences, including forest fires.

Jones said exiting Paris has “emboldened states and cities … just because people know this is important, and now it’s on us.”

At the same time, he said Colorado would do its part and more, but “to say we’re going to make up for a state that’s not moving, that’s not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to clean our energy supply up as fast as we can.”

‘Count me in’

At the White House, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer downplayed the alliance, saying, “If a mayor or a governor wants to enact a policy on a range of issues, they are accountable to their own voters, and that’s what they should do. We believe in states’ rights, so if a locality, a municipality or a state wants to enact a policy, that their voters or American citizens believe in, then that’s what they should do.

“But I would say with respect to elected officials, there was, I think, a large contingent of officials at every level of government who were very pleased with the president’s decision yesterday and applauded him for that,” he added.

It’s clear Democrats are looking to use the moment to elevate climate change as an issue in American political debate. State lawmakers and officials were already working to raise the issue at home.

In Pennsylvania, state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D) said she would be talking with members of a bipartisan climate caucus as soon as the sessions gavel in today to figure out how to get Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to join.

“If it’s something that he could do via executive order, then I would urge him to do it,” she said, noting that “right now, anything that requires legislative action in Pennsylvania seems to have us moving backward on climate issues.”

She stressed that Democratic lawmakers are already “fighting urgent fires on many fronts,” barely defeating a measure that she said could have expanded plastic bag use and trying to enact methane standards for the oil and gas industry.

In Nevada, Democratic Assemblyman and clean energy advocate Chris Brooks tweeted that “if anyone’s looking for a NV elected official to join, count me in.” Nevada state Sen. Pat Spearman (D) seconded him.

In Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat running against Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), tweeted that he should “stand up for Illinois and defy the president’s dangerous & misguided decision.” Chicago’s mayor touted the city’s continued climate work.

The pressure was especially intense in Massachusetts and Maryland, dark-blue states with popular Republican governors who are up for re-election in 2018. Maryland lawmakers said they intended to push Gov. Larry Hogan to play a proactive role in partnering with other states.

“I will join with colleagues and advocacy groups to go to the U.N. or international bodies to say we’re not satisfied,” said state Sen. Paul Pinsky (D).

Hogan has a mixed record on environmental issues. He signed a bill calling for a reduction of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and a moratorium on fracking, but vetoed an increase in Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard. Maryland lawmakers later overturned the veto.

Hannah Marr, a Hogan spokeswoman, said the governor was “still learning” about the Climate Alliance.

In Massachusetts, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh held a press conference with roughly a dozen city officials in anticipation of Trump’s announcement last Wednesday, saying the city would not be deterred and pledging to go carbon-neutral by 2050. State senators and the Democratic attorney general on Friday clamored for Baker to join the pact until he made an announcement in the afternoon.

“The governor has already indicated that he is willing to stay the course,” said Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D). “I’m totally open to going to work with other states. The more, the merrier.”

Reporter Niina Heikkinen contributed.