Inside the Coal Industry’s Split Over The Paris Agreement

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Members of the mining industry’s largest lobbying group voted in late April against staying in the Paris climate accord, sending a signal to the Trump administration that miners don’t support the global warming agreement.

The National Mining Association (NMA) vote also highlighted the sharp divide among miners on the Paris agreement: U.S.-based, privately-held coal companies opposed Paris, while multinational hardrock mining corporations supported staying in the deal.

“It was by no means unanimous to ‘exit’ – not all NMA members are coal companies and many of these that are not either abstained or voted against the resolution to leave, for various reasons,” a source familiar with the vote told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

President Donald Trump promised to withdraw from the Paris agreement while on the campaign trail, but after taking office a whole host of interests have petitioned the president to go back on his promise and remain party to Paris.

Multinational corporations have largely supported staying in the Paris agreement, joined by big oil companies, including ExxonMobil. But NMA’s vote shows that most U.S.-based coal miners aren’t backing Paris.

NMA members voted 26-5 in late April to support withdrawal from the Paris agreement, according to a source. The vote came after Cloud Peak Energy, an NMA member, sent a letter to the White House, urging the administration to remain in the Paris agreement and push for clean coal subsidies.

Cloud Peak was one of the “no votes” at NMA, with the other four being multinational hardrock mining companies, a source said.

“But at the proverbial ‘end of the day’ the great majority of small and big privately-held coal companies, joined by some mineral companies, voted in favor of the resolution to exit the accord,” the source told TheDCNF.

The source indicated that multinational mining corporations either supported remaining in the Paris agreement or abstained from voting.

Each company has its own reasons for supporting or opposing the Paris agreement, but Cloud Peak — the only major one to publicly state its support — sees this as a chance to alter how future climate agreements are made, potentially securing a place for coal “low-carbon” energy.

“While amending the US pledge on CO2 emissions to undo the economic harm it would have imposed, remain in the Paris Agreement and use US influence to ensure that fossil energy remains a driver of global prosperity for the foreseeable future while addressing climate concerns,” Cloud Peak’s Colin Marshall wrote in his letter to Trump.

Cloud Peak is the first major U.S. coal company to come out in favor of staying in the Paris agreement signed onto by the Obama administration last year, committing the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025.

Cloud Peak supports a proposal pushed by North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer to stay in the Paris agreement, but with weakened targets. The U.S. would use its position in Paris to push for more domestic and international support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for coal plants.

Cloud Peak specifically called for increasing subsidies for CCS under a program created in legislation to bail out Wall Street banks in 2008. The tax credit program for CCS pay companies $10 per ton of CO2 that goes towards enhanced oil recovery, and $20 per ton of CO2 stored and not used for oil operations.

Cloud Peak did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

Paris agreement critics said it’s a clear case of rent-seeking.

“What you’re hearing are voices from the swamp,” Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, told TheDCNF.

CEI has been one of the leading voices for pulling out of the Paris agreement. The libertarian think tank has launched two ad campaigns urging Trump to pull out of the deal. Lewis and his colleague Chris Horner will release a paper Wednesday laying out arguments for why staying in the Paris agreement could be unconstitutional.

“Rent-seekers will say anything,” Lewis said. “Their real game is to persuade Congress to increase subsidies for CCS and enhanced oil recovery.”

“NMA does not believe the Paris Accord allows the U.S. to ensure that affordable energy will be made accessible to all while fostering innovation and economic growth,” an NMA spokesman told TheDCNF, but did not go into the details of the vote.

Corporations from ExxonMobil to Starbucks have lobbied the Trump administration to remain in the deal to maintain diplomatic leverage on the future of the global warming agreement. They say it’s a legally non-binding treaty the U.S. could stay in with little to no consequences.

Kramer and eight other Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the White House Thursday to keep a “seat at the Paris table to defend and promote our commercial interest, including our manufacturing and fossil fuel sectors,” Reuters reported.

Four other Republicans signed onto a letter with Democrats to stay in the Paris agreement, but 12 Republican lawmakers signed a letter urging Trump to ditch the Paris agreement.

White House officials met twice in the last week to discuss whether or not to keep Trump’s promise to pull out of the Paris agreement.

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt support withdrawal from Paris. Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Energy Secretary Rick Perry support remaining in the Paris agreement.

Those officials met Thursday to hash out an official position on Paris, and administration lawyers met Monday to discuss the legal implications of remaining in the Paris agreement. The meeting was convened at the insistence of Ivanka Trump, Politico reported.

It’s unclear which way Trump is leaning in terms of Paris. He told Reuters the U.S. was being treated “unfairly” in the deal, but did not say if he would live up to his campaign pledge. Industry sources suggested to media outlets the president is leaning towards staying.

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