Local activists: Withdrawal from Paris agreement 'failure of leadership'

Staff and wire reports

In a move local environmentalists called a "failure of leadership," President Donald Trump declared Thursday he was withdrawing the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate agreement, striking a major blow to worldwide efforts to combat climate change and distancing the country from many allies abroad.

Trump said the U.S. would try to re-enter, but only if it can get more favorable terms.

Framing his decision as "a reassertion of America's sovereignty," he said, "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris." His decision ended weeks of speculation, some of it fueled by Trump himself and his Cabinet members.

Jon Clark, the mid-Atlantic co-regional coordinator of the Citizens Climate Lobby, said Trump's decision was "unbelievable" to him.

"Basically it's a failure in leadership of epic proportions," he said.

Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. had agreed under the accord to reduce polluting emissions by about 1.6 billion tons by 2025. But the targets were voluntary, meaning the U.S. and the nearly 200 other nations in the agreement could alter their commitments.

President Donald Trump speaks about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Trump said that he would begin negotiations to re-enter the agreement or establish "an entirely new transaction" to get a better deal for the U.S. But he suggested re-entry was hardly a priority. "If we can, great. If we can't, that's fine," he said.

By abandoning the world's chief effort to slow the tide of planetary warming, Trump was fulfilling a top campaign pledge. But he was also breaking from many of America's staunchest allies, who have expressed alarm about the decision. Several of his top aides have opposed the action, too, as has his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump.

Scientists say Earth is likely to reach more dangerous levels of warming sooner as a result of the president's decision because America contributes so much to rising temperatures. Calculations suggest withdrawal could result in emissions of up to 3 billion tons of additional carbon dioxide in the air a year — enough to melt ice sheets faster, raise seas higher and trigger more extreme weather.

Local reaction: The Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network in New Freedom, said the organization was disappointed in Trump's decision.

Hescox said he found Trump's speech as deciding to stay in the past instead of going to the future. Hescox said he wants America to be the "great moral leader of the world."

"I think America can be the world leader in clean energy technology," he said.

Clark, of Lancaster, said the decision will make America look "foolish" to the rest of the world. Clark said the rest of the world will be pursuing clean energy options while Trump seems to be pursuing coal.

“It’s kind of like investing in whale oil," he said.

He said Trump should be retraining the coal industry for clean energy and said clean energy is "where the future is."

Lawmakers: Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., released a statement shortly after Trump announced the withdrawal, in which Casey called the decision a "double-barreled blow" to both Pennsylvania jobs and the environment.

Administration officials -- from left, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Vice President Mike Pence -- applaud as President Donald Trump announces that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate change accord as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Casey said Trump put the state's workers at a disadvantage when it comes to clean energy jobs, and he added that foreign countries will now take the lead in growing an industry that produces jobs with family-sustaining incomes.

Casey also said vulnerable children will be impacted by the lack of action to protect clean air.

"Without action on climate change, more children will suffer from disease like asthma and malnutrition," his statement read in part.

He said climate change requires action, not retreat.

However, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, said in a statement on his Facebook page Thursday that U.S. participation in the climate agreement failed to follow constitutional protocols. He said treaties should be ratified by the Senate and that decisions can't be made unilaterally.

"Our removal from the Paris Climate Agreement is a solid first step to reasserting the role of the U.S. Constitution in international affairs and domestic policies," a portion of his statement read.

Steve Kelly, spokesman for Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., released a statement on Toomey's behalf Thursday night.

"Sen. Toomey supports the withdrawal from the Paris Accord as it would not have protected our environment and would have been particularly harmful to our economy and job creation," Kelly said in the statement.

Global reaction: Trump's decision marked "a sad day for the global community," said Miguel Arias Canete, climate action commissioner for the European Union.

At home in America, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said it strongly opposed the decision and said mayors will continue efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

The group's vice president, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the action "is shortsighted and will be devastating to Americans in the long run." In fact, he said, sea level rise caused by unchecked climate change could mean that cities such as his "will cease to exist."

Trump, however, argued the agreement had disadvantaged the U.S. "to the exclusive benefit of other countries," leaving American businesses and taxpayers to absorb the cost.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, center, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, right, arrive to hear President Donald Trump make a statement about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the agreement. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

"This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States," he said, claiming that other countries have laughed at the U.S. for agreeing to the terms.

Investors seemed pleased, with stock prices, already up for the day, bumping higher as he spoke. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 135 points for the day

As for the mechanics of withdrawal, international treaties have a four-year cooling off period from the time they go into effect. That means it could take another three-and-half years for the U.S. to formally withdraw, though Trump promised to stop implementation immediately.

Major U.S. allies, business leaders and even Pope Francis had urged the U.S. to remain in the deal. The decision drew immediate backlash from climate activists and many business leaders.

The U.S. is the world's second-largest emitter of carbon, following only China. Beijing, however, has reaffirmed its commitment to meeting its targets under the Paris accord, recently canceling construction of about 100 coal-fired power plants and investing billions in massive wind and solar projects.

White House aides have been divided on the question of staying or leaving the accord and had been deliberating on "caveats in the language" as late as Wednesday, one official said. But Trump's statement was clear and direct.

So was opposition from environmental groups, as expected.

"Generations from now, Americans will look back at Donald Trump's decision to leave the Paris Agreement as one of the most ignorant and dangerous actions ever taken by any president," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Staff reporter Christopher Dornblaser contributed to this report.