Earth Day 2017: One year of Paris Agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions

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On this day last year, the Paris Agreement, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing global warming, was opened for signatures, eventually going into effect in November.

This week, President Donald Trump was to meet with senior administration officials to discuss the deal — and whether the United States should withdraw from it.

The meeting was postponed indefinitely, and with key Trump advisers divided over the issue, it is still uncertain what Trump will finally do about the accord. But advocates of greater federal regulations to address climate change are already expressing dismay about the administration’s stance.

It’s no secret that Trump has called climate change a “hoax” in the past. Last month, he signed an executive order rolling back Obama-era climate regulations, which will initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan, an effort to cut carbon dioxide emissions that Obama started.

And Trump’s pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has made it clear addressing climate change will not be an urgent priority for the agency under his watch, declining to say after his confirmation whether he would forbid EPA scientists from studying the human connection to the issue.

“We have many priorities at the agency. We must focus on those,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” in February, rattling off other needs, such as improving air quality. He declined to answer repeated questions as to whether he would “allow” climate-change research.

“It’s a shame for us to lose our leadership position,” said Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator during the George W. Bush administration. “We are an extraordinarily innovative, capable nation. We can come up with better ways to provide power to people and still keep jobs. This idea that environmental protection and economic growth are contrary are just wrong, and we’ve proven that over the years as we have reduced the pollutants in the air, increased the population, increased our energy demand and watched our GDP more than double.”

“We’ve seen we can do this,” Whitman continued. “We’ve done it in the past; we can do it again. We can’t have a thriving economy if you don’t have a healthy, clean environment.”

Adam Koniuszewski, project leader of the Gorbachev Climate Change Task Force, a think tank that focuses on global challenges posed by climate change, agreed with Whitman.

“President Trump has an America First policy,” he said. “But in terms of climate leadership, it is exactly the opposite. Promoting a coal- or fossil-fuel-based economy will, in reality, leave America last in terms of a low-carbon economy in the 21st century. China is already taking the lead when it comes to renewable energy — both solar and wind power. America must look forward to and innovate for 21st century solutions. An emphasis on coal and the energy sources that propelled the industrial revolution is like returning to the Stone Age.”

Trump’s executive order also lifts the moratorium on coal mining on federal lands, something that William Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project called a “cruel political stunt” designed to rally the support of coal miners, but which won’t bring back many jobs.

“What we need to do is make sure the transition to clean energy, which is inevitable, is a just and fair transition, one that helps coal-dependent communities and workers make transitions into other kinds of jobs,” Becker said.

“There’s plenty to do out there, including environmental restoration positions,” he said. “Coal jobs are not going to come back. There may be a little surge in them, but not much. It’s technology or mechanization that’s cost most of the jobs this past century in the coal industry. And now, of course, it’s coal’s inability to compete with natural gas on price for power generation. The market conditions are what’s causing the coal industry to decline, and there’s not much the President can do to reverse that trend.”

Trump has proposed massive cuts at the EPA, which Whitman believes is going to imperil its mission going forward.

“The EPA can’t survive with 31% cuts to the budget,” she said. “That’s going to really make it impossible for the agency to continue its mission, which is to protect public health and the environment.”

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