Local governments step up fight with Trump on climate

Source: By Timothy Cama, The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Puerto Rico, a dozen states and hundreds of municipalities have stepped up to fight climate change in response to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

Through formal and informal initiatives, the non-federal government bodies are seeking to work directly with foreign governments to reduce emissions. They see Trump’s decision to abandon the climate pact as an opportunity to play their part on global warming while seeking new opportunities in clean energy.

The efforts, led mostly by Democrats, are bringing forth more aggressive localized climate action plans than likely would have happened if the United States had stayed with the Paris pact.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the states and cities will make real pledges that go beyond political statements. Even supporters concede that they cannot replace the strong federal actions that Trump is unwilling to take.Nonetheless, they see the non-federal commitments as a way to keep the anti-Trump, pro-climate momentum going.

“It’s the silver lining from what happened last week. It’s really encouraging, and it may be that, ironically, the decision to vacate Paris energizes the pro-climate movement,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told The Hill.

“I don’t think it’s a substitute for international policy. But to get more renewable energy online is mostly a local decision. It’s made by public utility commissions, it’s made by governors and mayors and utility companies, and so, the fight goes local.”

Hawaii was one of the more aggressive actors last week on climate policy. Spurred by Trump’s election and his decision on Paris, Gov. David Ige (D) signed legislation into law that formally aligns Hawaii with the goals of the Paris agreement.

Like many of the states and localities rolling out new climate initiatives, Hawaii has been at the forefront of fighting global warming. It previously committed to getting 100 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2045.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has also taken a high-profile role.

He went to China days after Trump’s announcement and used the trip to highlight California’s independence on climate change.

“President Trump’s announced withdrawal [from the accord] has heightened the focus on this fundamental existential threat called global warming, called habitat destruction, called species extinction,” Brown said in a speech in Beijing, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We have to wake up our countrymen — in fact, the world.”

Chinese officials were uncharacteristically candid during Brown’s visit about their displeasure with Trump’s decision.

“I am so deeply disappointed at the announcement of President Trump,” said Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead climate negotiator, according to the Times.

David Hart, a professor of policy and government at George Mason University, said the state and local climate pledges can be an important caveat to Trump’s Paris pullout.

“I think it can make a difference,” Hart said, adding that the commitments “can help send a message of reassurance to the rest of the world, especially if it can be done in a concerted, organized way.”

Hart said he’s keeping an eye on an effort being led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to organize non-federal climate commitments — including those by businesses and universities — into a new submission to the Paris agreement.

It would act as an alternative to Trump’s position. But the United Nations currently has no mechanism for a contribution from entities other than a nation’s national government.

“Americans don’t need Washington to meet our Paris commitments, and Americans are not going to let Washington stand in the way of fulfilling it,” Bloomberg said this week in France after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, two strong proponents of the agreement.

“I want the world to know that the U.S. will meet its Paris commitments and that through partnerships among cities, states and businesses we will seek to remain part of the Paris agreement process,” Bloomberg said.

Nick Loris, a fellow at the right-wing Heritage Foundation who pushed for Trump to exit the pact, questioned the usefulness of the state and local pledges.

“States and cities committing to climate plans that regulate affordable, dependable power sources out of existence or subsidize uncompetitive energy technologies is a harmful to families, businesses and taxpayers in those respective areas,” he said, referring to fossil fuels.

But at the same time, conservatives’ main request was that the federal government get out of Paris, and they got their wish.

If states and cities want to buck that, they’re free to do so, Loris said, even if he doesn’t think it’s smart.

“States are laboratories of democracy. As expensive and ineffective as the regulations may be, it’s their right to do it,” he said. “Voters and businesses suffering the consequences of these policies will ultimately determine the fate of the politicians championing these policies.”