Pruitt opts out of U.N. climate talks, sends staff

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 6, 2017

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt won’t be attending the U.N. climate talks that start Monday in Bonn, Germany, the Trump administration confirmed today.

The meeting was on Pruitt’s schedule last summer, worrying negotiators and advocates that the administration’s most vocal foe of the Paris climate accord would distract from this year’s task of negotiating the deal’s implementation.

The former Oklahoma attorney general came out swinging against U.S. participation in Paris long before President Trump announced his intention to withdraw in June. In television appearances, Pruitt dismissed the 2015 agreement by nearly 200 countries as “a bad deal for America,” and “an America second, third or fourth kind of approach.”

The U.S. delegation in Bonn will comprise career officials from the State Department and other agencies, with some Democratic governors and senators arriving separately to emphasize that some U.S. officials still see climate action as a priority. The National Security Council’s international energy adviser George David Banks will also attend to host a fossil fuels and nuclear event.

While Bloomberg News first reported Pruitt wouldn’t go to Germany, E&E News has learned some of his top political aides would attend. EPA senior policy adviser Mandy Gunasekara, who attended climate summits as a staffer for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), will make the trip with Brittany Bolen, deputy associate administrator in EPA’s policy office. Vice President Mike Pence may also have a staffer at the talks.

The U.S. presence in the former West German Parliament building is expected to be muted compared to the days of the Obama administration.

“The U.S. used to be so much at the center of the conversation, and now it’s going to be like, ‘So wait, they’re even still here?'” said Jake Schmidt, international climate director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a leader of the Trump transition effort at EPA said the low-key U.S. participation in Bonn shows Trump is serious about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement by fall 2020.

“Sending only career civil servants to lead the U.S. delegation should signal loud and clear to the world that President Trump is not interested in the Paris process or in negotiating a new deal,” he said.

He added, “I hope all the Democrats going to Bonn get to enjoy some unseasonably warm weather.”