A cursory Google search doesn’t reveal whether or not Donald Trump is a fan of “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” a durable 1982 hit by the British punk band The Clash.
Either way, the song might serve as a peppy soundtrack to Trump’s current situation involving the pollution-cutting Paris Climate Agreement. He’s been getting a lot of advice recently about whether to pull the United States out of the pact, as he promised to do in his campaign, or stay in, as he has since said he might decide to do.
Prominent Texas Republicans, for instance, have been giving him an earful from both sides of the question, though it was just pro-Paris voices that Trump heard on his just-completed international trip.
Pope Francis, subsequently echoed by an array of world leaders, told Trump it’s extremely important for the U.S. to remain part of the Paris agreement. Francis presented Trump with a copy of his 2015 encyclical on the environment, which declares that “climate change is a global problem with grave implications.”
American officials at the later G7 summit in Italy reportedly pressed for concessions from other nations that would let the U.S. lower the pledge to cut climate-warming carbon pollution that the Obama administration made in the Paris pact.
Based on his past statements alone, it can perhaps be hard to see why Trump would renege on his campaign promise and stay in the Paris pact – he has called manmade global warming, the phenomenon it is designed to combat – “a hoax” and “bullshit.”
One U.S. official told reporters at the G7 meeting that Trump’s views on climate were “evolving” after he heard the other national leaders’ unanimous arguments that the U.S. should remain in the Paris pact. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, however, that the climate talks were “very unsatisfying,” with “no indications whether the United States will stay in the Paris Agreement or not.”
Trump said Saturday on Twitter that he would finally make his repeatedly postponed decision – stay or go – next week. Later in the day, the Axios news site reported that he had privately told confidants, including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, a Paris pact opponent, that he has already decided to withdraw.
In contrast with the uniformly pro-Paris advice that he received on his international trip, Trump has been targeted at home with a growing array of messages on both sides.
There hasn’t been a clean ideological or partisan split. Competing recommendations by prominent Texas Republicans offered continuing evidence that American conservatives are no longer as overwhelmingly hostile to the Paris pact and to climate action in general as some hard-right punditry, pronouncements by free-market think tanks and science-denying comments on social media might suggest.
On the anti-Paris side, Texas’ two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, joined 20 other GOP members of the Senate this week in signing a letter to Trump that argued staying in the agreement might mean “significant litigation risk” for Trump’s in-process erasure of the Obama administration’s regulatory Clean Power Plan. The administrative plan, introduced after Republicans and some Democrats blocked an emission-reduction plan in Congress, is a set of regulations designed to move U.S. electricity production away from the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel in terms of both climate-disrupting and health-threatening emissions. (Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told InsideClimate News that the GOP senators’ “legal arguments are fundamentally wrong,” and said they wrote the letter “to frighten the administration with the prospect of litigation.”)
Apart from the legal debate, it was predictable that Cornyn and Cruz would sign the letter, considering their varying but still anti-regulatory stances on climate. What may have been surprising, however, was that 30 of the 52 Republicans now in the Senate didn’t add their names to the anti-Paris letter, underscoring poll results and other recent indications that Republican opposition to climate action may be eroding, at least a little.
The two Texan Republicans who serve in Trump’s cabinet – Energy Secretary Rick Perry (the former Texas governor) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (former CEO of Texas-based Exxon-Mobil) – both have advised the president that the U.S. should stay in the Paris agreement.
Both are also examples of Republican (and in Tillerson’s case, corporate) movement on climate. Perry was once about as dismissive of climate science as Trump, alleging when he was governor that scientists were guilty of fudging climate-change data to keep their research grants flowing. Exxon, under Tillerson’s leadership, shifted its public climate stance away from years of strong skepticism about climate science and climate action. Now, the company endorses the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change (that it’s happening, hazardous and mainly manmade) and supports of the Paris agreement’s emission-cutting blueprint.
Darren Wood, Tillerson’s successor as Exxon CEO, wrote to Trump earlier this month, reiterating the company’s support for the United States to continue as an active party to the Paris agreement, which he called “an effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change.”
Other major oil and gas companies have taken similar positions, and Axios reported this week that “most major corporations” taking sides on the Paris agreement are in favor of continuing U.S. participation.
One prominent Texas Republican with longstanding ties to the oil and gas industry and a long record of climate-action support, former Secretary of State James Baker of Houston, has not spoken out explicitly either for or against U.S. remaining in the Paris agreement.
But Baker has been active recently in promoting a Republican-led effort to replace the Clean Power Plan with a revenue-neutral tax on carbon dioxide pollution as the main tool for achieving the United States’ pledged emission reductions in the Paris pact.
His fellow Republican elder George P. Shultz, the former Reagan-Bush administration secretary of state who has teamed with Baker as leaders in that carbon-tax initiative, co-signed an opinion piece in the New York Times this month, which urged Trump to stay in the Paris agreement and cited its broad corporate support:
“American business leaders understand that remaining in the agreement would spur new investment, strengthen American competitiveness, create jobs, ensure American access to global markets and help reduce future business risks associated with the changing climate. Leaving Paris would yield the opposite.”
Bill Dawson is the editor of Texas Climate News.