The Trump administration is either having a robust internal debate on its climate positions or floundering incoherently as various interests vie for the president's attention.
Its intentions for the Paris Climate Agreement that the U.S. signed last year remain entirely unclear.
On Monday, Trump's EPA administrator Scott Pruitt reportedly asked a powerful coal lobbying group to request that the U.S. pull out of the Paris pact.
The head of the agency charged with protecting the U.S. from air, land, and water pollution reportedly met with the executive committee of the National Mining Association.
According to a report by Politico, a source said Pruitt asked the group to press Trump to pull the U.S. out of the accord.
The report was "strongly denied" by a National Mining Association spokesman, the report said, "despite a source telling Politico that he did." Politico has stood by its story.
Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, 2014
Whether or not the request was made, the committee reportedly voted 26 to 5 to ask the president to leave the Paris accord. Some members abstained from voting.
The request "raises the stakes" in the administration's internal battles over its position on the treaty. It also underscores a rift among coal producers themselves.
Some would accept U.S. participation if the administration works to boost research into carbon capture, or so-called "clean coal" technology, that could allow coal to continue as a fuel burned to generate electricity.
Other coal companies, including Murray Energy—run by wealthy Trump backer Robert Murray—are adamant in their opposition to any carbon-reduction efforts, and indeed to climate science as a whole.
As numerous journalists have reported, President Trump and many of his appointed agency and department heads deny the science of climate change.
On the campaign trail, the president called the very idea that climate change exists a plot by China to hurt the U.S. and referred to climate science as bovine excrement.
Coal trains by Flickr user Kimon Berlin (Used under CC License)
He also promised to "bring back coal."
And the Environmental Protection Agency is now run by a man who sued the EPA more than a dozen times to prevent it from enforcing emission rules against fossil-fuel producers in his home state of Oklahoma.
State Department memo muddies water
To add to the ongoing confusion, a recent memo by the U.S. State Department (now run by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, previously CEO of ExxonMobil) issued a memo that analyzed the Paris pact and its effect on the U.S.
A three-page draft of the memo, according to a Bloomberg report late Tuesday, is now circulating in advance of a meeting today among Administration officials to try to hash out policy on the climate treaty.
It says that while the agreement contains some legal obligations on the U.S., its binding provisions are "relatively few and ... generally process-oriented."
The U.S. cannot formally exit the Paris Climate Agreement until 2019 in any case, three years after it signed the treaty.
Eiffel Tower in Paris, France (photo by Rijin, via Wikimedia Commons)
Reporting requirements under the pact begin only in 2021—by which time renewable energy will be cheaper, more coal power plants will have closed, and the U.S. carbon footprint seems likely to have decreased to some degree.
While Trump vowed during his campaign to exit the pact and effectively eradicate President Obama's entire legacy of efforts to address climate change, his administration appears deeply divided on whether it should officially withdraw from the pact.
The matter will likely have to come to a head before a Group of Seven leaders summit to be held late next month in Italy.
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