Whether or not the United States will remain in the historic Paris climate agreement is a major question surrounding President Donald Trump’s trip to Italy for the G7 Summit. Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, was asked about the decision aboard Air Force One on Thursday, and had some surprising answers.
Cohn told reporters that coal doesn’t “make that much sense anymore,” but that pushing renewables could make America “a manufacturing powerhouse.” The words seem off-message from a White House that has promised repeatedly to bring back coal jobs and just proposed massive cuts to federal investment in clean energy.
Cohn told the press that Trump would achieve fast economic growth while preserving the environment at the same time. “We’re not going to pollute the air to do that. We’re not going to be rampant polluters,” he said.
He then explained that achievement was made possible as a result of the country’s changing energy mix. “Coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock,” Cohn said, whereas natural gas, of which we’ve become an “abundant producer,” is “such a cleaner fuel.”
Trump famously campaigned on restoring coal jobs, but the economic reality makes that a futile effort because the economics of coal no longer make sense and most of the jobs were lost years ago to productivity gains and machinery.
Cohn, director of Trump’s National Economic Council (NEC), appears to be much more informed about the new energy reality than his boss.
“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,” Cohn said.
This is an argument that clean energy advocates have been making for a while. Clearly Cohn’s NEC doesn’t have much influence when it comes to the federal budget, given the devastating cuts in renewable energy Trump proposed this week.
Sadly, Cohn is not equally well-informed about the Paris climate agreement. When asked what specifically European leaders have said to Trump about it, Cohn said they “are pretty much in favor of the Paris accord, but the Europeans as a whole have a much easier standard to abide by than the standard we were left with by the previous administration.”
Cohn argued, “if you look at everyone’s standards are, and what their baseline was, it’s literally to interpret what you have to do to abide it is very difficult. It’s a real un-level playing field.”
This is exactly backwards, as ThinkProgress has explained many times. The Paris agreement is a ridiculously good deal for the U.S., and the pledges we made in Paris “are at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution,” as the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) put it.
President Barack Obama’s pledge requires the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared to 2005 levels, which is “equivalent to 14–17 percent below 1990 levels of GHG emissions.” We can compare that target to the one from the European Union, which is “at least 40 percent domestic greenhouse gas emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2030.”
Still, Cohn deserves kudos for telling the blunt truth about the future prospects of coal versus renewables.