Mich. environmentalists blast pullout from climate deal

Leonard N. Fleming, and Melissa Burden
DetroitNews

Michigan environmentalists howled Thursday at President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the historic Paris climate pact, while defenders countered that the environment won’t be harmed by the move.

Trump cited a National Economic Research Associates estimate that Paris Accord restrictions could kill as many as an estimated 2.7 million U.S. jobs by 2025.

“This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs — not what we need — believe me, this is not what we need — including automobile jobs, and the further decimation of vital American industries on which countless communities rely,” the president said in a White House Rose Garden speech.

“...It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country before Paris, France.”

The biggest fury came from environmentalists, who argued Trump’s decision would harm the state and curtail more sustained job growth. They are disappointed Trump won’t abide by an agreement that would force the United States to move toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.

Climate change has already hit Michigan and the agricultural industry with one unseasonably warm February that resulted in major damage to the state’s apple and cherry crops, plus one drought that hit crops such as corn in other parts of the state, said Mike Berkowitz, legislative and political director of the Lansing-based Sierra Club Michigan chapter.

“I think we’ve have been disproportionately disadvantaged because of climate change,” Berkowitz said. “For the past few years, we’ve had major disruption to apple crops, our cherry crops, which are huge industries in Michigan. And climate change is making weather patterns more extreme and causing more issues with our crops and affecting our tourism, natural resources and our agriculture industry.”

Trump’s decision will hurt renewable energy jobs that are the wave of the future, Berkowitz said. Solar and wind energy jobs are growing 12 times faster than the U.S. economy, according to an Environmental Defense Fund report, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects wind turbine service technicians will be a fast-growing growing occupation in the country through 2024.

“On top of that, these jobs also protect the planet,” he said. “It’s a win-win on all aspects.”

The announcement had reverberations in the auto industry. Electric carmaker Tesla Inc. founder and CEO Elon Musk said he would quit forums advising Trump.

But General Motors Co. Chairman and CEO Mary Barra will continue to serve as part of the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum. GM said in a Thursday statement it provides the company “a seat at an important table to contribute to a constructive dialogue about key policy issues.”

Former Ford Motor Co. CEO and President Mark Fields was part of Trump’s manufacturing council, but is no longer serving amid Ford’s recent management changes. It’s unclear what the White House will do with the spot and if Ford will keep the seat with a new representative.

GM and Ford also said they remain committed to the environment.

“We believe climate change is real, and remain deeply committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our vehicles and our facilities,” Ford said in its statement. “Our commitment to sustainability is why we’re investing so heavily in electrification and adding 13 new electrified vehicles to our line-up.”

GM said it won’t waiver from its environmental commitments.

“International agreements aside, we remain committed to creating a better environment. We publicly advocate for climate action and awareness and remain the only automaker to have signed the Ceres Climate Declaration and one of the first companies to sign the American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” the Detroit-based automaker said in a statement.

Trump said he decided to withdraw from the accord by 2020 because it is “in America’s best interests” and “won’t matter much to the environment” since the agreement was only projected to reduce the planet’s temperature by two-tenths of a degree Celsius by 2100.

“This is the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries,” Trump said, “leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuddered factories and vastly diminished economic reduction.”

The MIT programmer who wrote the report says the administration is citing an outdated version, taken out of context. Jake Jacoby said the actual global impact of meeting accord targets would curb rising temperatures by 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy for the free-market-oriented Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, said he would have preferred that the president submit the Paris accord for an up-or-down vote in the Senate because it is a binding treaty, not a mere agreement as former President Barack Obama argued. But withdrawing from the according is the right move, he said.

Despite concerns from critics, Trump’s decision won’t hurt the environment, Hayes said. An Environmental Protection Agency report earlier this year found the United States had reduced greenhouse gas emissions 9 percent from 2005 to 2014 — much of it by moving to the use of natural gas, he said.

“We were achieving reductions without imposing a treaty on ourselves,” Hayes said.

By contrast, the Paris Accord committed the United States to specific cuts in greenhouse gases and increased the reductions every five years. This reduced America’s ability to use cleaner-coal technology that emits pollutants at the same lower levels as natural gas, Hayes said.

The accord would have forced the country to move toward adopting more toward solar and wind energy, whose higher costs are mostly reduced through heavy government subsidies, he said.

But Trump is contradicting the wishes of most Americans and an agreement signed by more than 190 nations in 2015, said Kate Madigan, energy and climate policy specialist for the Michigan Environmental Council.

“Moving toward renewable energy and moving off of fossil fuels are good for Michigan, are good for jobs,” Madigan said. “Leaving the climate agreement will weaken the fight against climate change and will threaten Michigan’s tourism industry.”

“The fact that he is backing out of that agreement sends a really sad signal to the rest of the world about where our country is and how seriously we take these kinds of agreements,” she said.