Trump Administration to Brief Officials on Emissions Goals

The Wall Street Journal The Wall Street Journal

New York event follows meeting that raised foreign officials’ hopes the administration would revisit Paris agreement

President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser is expected to outline the administration’s proposals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while restating that its stance on the Paris climate accord has not changed, White House officials said, following signals over the weekend that the U.S. was exploring ways to remain in the 2015 pact.

White House economic chief Gary Cohn’s planned breakfast discussion on energy and climate matters in New York follows a similar meeting led by Canada, China and the European Union in Montreal on Saturday, when U.S. officials broached revising Washington’s goals under the Paris accord to avoid pulling out of it, according to officials at the event.

Mr. Cohn, who is leading the White House’s stance toward the 197-party accord, is set to discuss how the U.S. can continue to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions without sacrificing its re-emergence as a leading energy producer, according to a White House official. The initiative to hold an informal meeting in New York materialized shortly before the Montreal event, according to an invitation letter from Mr. Cohn, and it was interpreted by some U.S. partners as a harbinger of a policy shift.

Trump administration officials on Sunday confirmed the president remained open to revising U.S. commitments under the Paris accord rather than quitting the pact.

The White House has said such a position isn’t a shift: Mr. Trump said in June that the U.S. would withdraw from the pact “but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an…entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States.”

But Mr. Trump has repeatedly boasted of withdrawing from what he has called a “job-killing” deal and hasn’t emphasized revising the country’s participation in the pact.

Asked Sunday by ABC News whether the U.S. could remain in the Paris pact, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said: “If there’s an agreement that benefits the American people, certainly.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CBS News: “The president is open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged.”

Remarks by the top U.S. national-security official and diplomat reflected the message offered by the U.S. delegation, led by White House senior adviser Everett Eissenstat, to representatives from 34 governments in Montreal Saturday, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Trump’s envoy, who is deputy director of the National Economic Council, the White House office led by Mr. Cohn, said the U.S. couldn’t carry forward with targets set by the Obama administration. Mr. Eissenstat said the White House continued its review of those commitments, the person said. In the meantime, the U.S. said it would participate in climate talks, remain active and be constructive, the person said.

Participants at the Montreal gathering said Mr. Eissenstat’s remarks fueled optimism among proponents of the Paris deal. Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration in January, officials from China, the EU and Canada have tried to convince his administration that fighting climate change could also prove an economic boon.

Businesses mostly declined to discuss the administration’s position, while indicating it wouldn’t affect clean-energy investments.

“Until we know more about the administration’s thoughts and plans, FirstEnergy doesn’t have anything to add,” a spokeswoman for the Ohio-based electricity company said. Since the president’s June announcement, companies have showed few signs of changing long-term strategies in the capital-intensive industries with decade-long planning horizons.

Many firms are shifting to less carbon-intensive fuels and renewable energy to satisfy customer preferences, and because these fuels have become less expensive and more competitive. Most also operate in multiple countries, including in jurisdictions still pursuing ambitious climate regulations.

White House official Gary Cohn plans a discussion on energy and climate matters in New York.

“Reducing emissions cost effectively remains an important part of our strategy,” said Neil Nissan , a spokesman for North Carolina-based power company Duke Energy , which plans to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

America’s international partners will be looking for clarification during Mr. Cohn’s briefing in New York, as world leaders arrive in the city for the United Nations General Assembly.

The Paris deal, brokered under a U.N. framework, is on the agenda as countries seek to meet their commitment to limit the global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial levels. The U.S. wants to use the annual U.N. gathering to present its “softer vision” on the sidelines, according to one official who participated in the Montreal event.

Mr. Cohn is planning to exchange views on the path ahead, a White House official said, underlining that the U.S. was focused on reducing emissions by pursuing clean energy and other technological improvements. Mr. Cohn would point to areas where the U.S. had made such strides without sacrificing economic growth or energy security, the official said. Mr. Cohn had argued in favor of remaining party to the Paris deal before the president’s June decision, though he remains committed to Mr. Trump’s policies, the official said.

“The plan is for Director Cohn to consider other ways in which we can work with partners in the Paris climate accord,” Mr. Tillerson said Sunday on CBS. “We want to be productive. We want to be helpful.”

The U.S. delegation joined the Montreal discussions on climate change and clean energy, which spurred optimism around the table about American engagement, one participant said. At the meeting Mr. Eissenstat appeared to juggle the Trump administration’s competing policy priorities on the Paris agreement, according to participants in the Montreal meeting.

On the one hand, the U.S. delegate sought to reaffirm that Washington is ultimately committed to the accord, and on the other he sought an opening to deliver on the president’s promise to clinch more favorable terms.

“I was in the meeting, and effectively, the negotiator didn’t close the door to remaining in the agreement, and in addition ruled out looking for a new agreement,” Chilean Environment Minister Marcelo Mena said late Saturday in a tweet from Montreal.

Yet some of the representatives were more measured in their enthusiasm of Mr. Eissenstat’s position.

The American envoy “did not imply that the U.S. would reconsider its decision to withdraw” from the Paris deal, German State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth said.

“This is obviously a misunderstanding,” he said. “However, the Montreal talks were constructive and showed that the U.S. administration does not want to cut all ties with the international climate community.”

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), who has urged Mr. Trump to renegotiate U.S. commitments under the Paris accord, said Sunday that the White House told him the president’s “position hasn’t changed—he still plans to withdraw unless we find more suitable terms.” Still, Mr. Trump’s position allows for flexibility, he said.