By Andrew Restuccia
President Donald Trump’s abrupt turnaround on U.S. climate policy is fueling tension with several of America’s closest allies, which are resisting the administration’s demands that they support a bigger role for nuclear power and fossil fuels in the world’s energy supply.
The dispute blew up at [the] meeting of G-7 energy ministers [in early April], at which Trump administration officials pushed to include stronger pro-coal, pro-nuclear language in a proposed joint statement on energy policy. The fight had been simmering behind the scenes for weeks as the White House, Energy Department and State Department clashed with negotiators from other G-7 countries over the statement, according to an internal document obtained by POLITICO and interviews with diplomats.
After a tense back-and-forth at the meeting in Rome on Monday, [April 10], the G-7 energy ministers — including representatives from Canada, Great Britain and several European Union countries — wound up scuttling the statement altogether.
The feud comes as Trump, who often touts his “America first” approach to foreign policy, is considering whether to pull the United States out of the climate change accord that the Obama administration and leaders of nearly 200 other nations negotiated in Paris in 2015. Some Trump advisers have suggested that he should remain in the deal — but in return, should demand concessions to aid the fossil fuel sector.
G-7 officials, led by the Europeans, refused to agree to stronger language touting fossil fuels without assurances from the United States that it would stay in the Paris climate change agreement, according to officials briefed on the discussions.
The U.S. emphasis on coal “was seen as an issue for all of us,” one G-7 country negotiator told POLITICO, noting that Canada, Europe and Japan all expressed frustration about the Trump administration’s position. The United States’ refusal to discuss or mention the Paris agreement in the joint statement was EU’s “biggest” red line during the meeting, the negotiator added.
The meeting underscored the increasingly wide gulf between the Trump administration and its allies over climate change. The leaders of the other G-7 nations have all called for a shift away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. Meanwhile, Trump has dismissed climate change as a Chinese hoax and sought to revive the ailing U.S. coal industry.
Trump’s Energy Policy Priorities on Full Display
The draft joint statement obtained by POLITICO, which is dated March 31 and is labeled as a “second draft,” provides an unfiltered look at the Trump administration’s energy policy priorities.
In one instance, the U.S. rewrote part of the statement to stress that fossil fuels “including coal and natural gas will remain part of the global energy mix for the foreseeable future,” striking vaguer language from an earlier draft that said countries would rely on fossil fuels for “some time, as countries progressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions of their energy system.”
In another section, the U.S. added a mention of fossil fuels and nuclear power to a line calling on countries to “work together on policies to deploy clean, reliable and affordable energy.”
The U.S. also proposed completely eliminating a line stating that since renewable energy will help cut carbon dioxide emissions, the G-7 nations would “take the lead in tackling the challenges of electricity systems with high shares of variable renewable energy and in addressing the resilience of the electricity system” as the energy industry transitions to cleaner sources.
And U.S. officials added a section promoting nuclear power that reads in part, “We note the importance of civil nuclear energy for providing reliable and clean baseload energy.”
While the U.S. appeared to back language calling for phasing out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that lead to wasteful consumption” over the medium term, it proposed striking a line calling on G-7 countries to “increase efforts to phase them out by 2025.”
Ultimately, the Trump administration’s demands proved too difficult to overcome, and the G-7 nations scuttled the joint statement. Carlo Calenda, Italy’s economic development minister and the chair of the summit, instead released a written summary of the meeting, which noted that the delegation heads of every country but the United States reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris deal.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who led the U.S. delegation to the meeting, said the Trump administration “is in the process of reviewing many of its policies and reserves its position on this issue,” according to the summary.
At Odds with International Opinion on Other Fronts
It’s not the first time the U.S. has been the odd country out in an international meeting since Trump took over. During a March G-20 meeting of finance ministers in Germany, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pushed for the removal of language calling on countries to help finance efforts to tackle climate change.
In the run-up to the G-7 meeting, Trump administration officials had asked foreign officials not to pack the joint statement with mentions of renewable energy and climate change, noting that they wouldn’t be able to sign off on the text because the White House was still weighing its stance on the Paris deal, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
But sure enough, early drafts of the joint statement included frequent mentions of climate change. And U.S. officials sought to revise the drafts, sparking a fierce round of edits between representatives of the G-7 nations ahead of this week’s meeting. One diplomat who worked on the text called it a “slow and complicated process.”
At one point during the gathering, tempers flared so high that a European official accused a U.S. official of trying to “internationalize” the Trump administration’s focus on fossil fuels, according to one person briefed on the exchange.
“America First” — Fossil Fuels Still Reign
Indeed, Trump administration officials have adopted the president’s “America first” approach in making the case to industry lobbyists that remaining in the Paris agreement is the best choice for the country, arguing it gives the U.S. leverage to win broader support for technologies to slash emissions from fossil fuels.
During a recent meeting on the Paris agreement, George David Banks, a top White House international energy adviser, pointed to a map of the United States in his office and said, “That’s the only thing that matters to me,” according to an industry official who attended.
Banks, an advocate of staying in the Paris deal, has been meeting with industry officials for weeks to discuss their views on the agreement. The meetings have had some success: Several coal companies recently endorsed remaining in the pact.
But it remains to be seen whether Trump will ultimately decide to keep the U.S. in the agreement. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, is said to be opposed to remaining in the deal, while the president’s daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are said to be supportive of staying.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer has said Trump will make a final decision by late May, when he and other world leaders will travel to Italy for a G-7 summit.
Asked for comment, a White House official said Trump “has emphasized the value of the U.S. energy sector as a strategic tool in U.S. foreign policy.” The official added: “All U.S. energy resources and technologies, including coal and nuclear, should play an important role in achieving universal access to affordable and reliable energy.”Φ
Andrew Restuccia is a senior policy reporter at POLITICO. Prior to joining POLITICO, Restuccia covered energy and environmental politics and policy at The Hill. He also reported on energy policy for The Washington Independent and Inside Washington Publishers. Kalina Oroschakoff contributed to this report.