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Friday, February 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

U.S. surrenders leadership on climate

When Washington’s governor tries to enact climate-change policies, the response, including from us, is that it would be better to have a national solution to ensure a level playing field. But Congress refuses to act, and the president just announced the country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Don’t be surprised to see state and local governments increase their activity in response.

In 2009, Donald Trump was one of many business leaders who heralded the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen, signing onto a full-page ad that ran in the New York Times. On Thursday, he removed the United States from its leadership role.

The Paris Agreement is hardly onerous. Participation is voluntary, and the United States picked its own targets. Countries agree to report their progress, or lack thereof. No penalties are assessed.

But climate change, like so many issues today, has succumbed to tribal politics, and the Republican tribe remains unwilling to take action. U.S. Rep, Cathy McMorris Rodgers supports Trump’s decision.

In his statement Thursday, Trump suggested American jobs were his concern. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto replied on Twitter, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”

In Pennsylvania, more people work in the renewable energy industry than in fossil fuels. Many economists have said the agreement would create as many jobs as it loses. Plus, the damage to the environment creates its own economic disruptions.

“The potential number of jobs you can create in fossil fuels is limited, while the potential number of jobs in green technologies – in principle the sky is the limit,” says Bart van Ark, chief economist at the Conference Board, a business research group.

Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, recently said, “Coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock. Natural gas … is such a cleaner fuel … If you think about how solar and how much wind power we’ve created in the United States, we can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly.”

American business leaders from such companies as Exxon, Conoco, Dutch Royal Shell, General Electric, Walmart, Apple and Microsoft urged Trump to stay with the Paris Agreement. By withdrawing, the United States gives up its leadership role.

As that 2009 ad from business leaders stated: “We recognize the key role that American innovation and leadership play in stimulating the worldwide economy. Investing in a Clean Energy Economy will drive a state-of-the-art technologies that will spur economic growth . …”

Businessman Trump was right. Politician Trump is wrong.

The good news is that withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a lengthy process. Perhaps by then the private sector will render the issue moot, causing political opponents to slink over to the right side of history.

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