STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump may decide soon if he wants to withdraw the United States from an agreement on climate change. The Paris accord, as it's called, commits many nations to do what they can to reduce carbon emissions. Interest groups and businesses are intensely lobbying as the Trump administration considers what to do. NPR's Jeff Brady is here to talk about what's at stake. Hi, Jeff.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Has the president specifically promised what to do?
BRADY: Well, you know, during the campaign, he vowed to cancel U.S. involvement in the Paris climate agreement. There was a big policy speech in North Dakota where he said that he was going to pull the United States out of that agreement. He seems to have toned down the language a bit since then. In Harrisburg, Pa., last month for that 100 day speech, he mentioned a decision was coming soon, but he didn't say exactly what that decision is going to be. What he has said all along is that it's a bad deal for the U.S.
He thinks it hurts the economy, and he believes it gives foreign leaders and bureaucrats a say over what fuels the U.S. uses. And he doesn't want that to happen.
INSKEEP: Does it actually give foreign leaders a say, because I thought the agreement was everybody chose voluntarily what they could do about climate change?
BRADY: Yeah, no, it doesn't, really. Each country is deciding how it's going to meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gases under the Paris Climate Agreement. And the U.S., a centerpiece of that is the Clean Power Plan, which was put in place during the Obama administration. And that is how the U.S. is pretty much going to meet much of its obligation. And that was a big hit to the coal industry because coal power plants, they're responsible for much of the carbon dioxide from that sector.
INSKEEP: So the Clean Power Plan pushes the United States toward cleaner energy sources. The president doesn't like that. In practical terms, what does President Trump want out of an energy policy?
BRADY: Well, jobs, especially in those places where people really depended on the coal industry. And that was a popular refrain on the campaign trail from President Trump. A lot of people liked that he was out there saying, you know, we've been moving away from coal in this country for a long time. And now we're going to bring those coal jobs back, and we're going to put miners back to work.
INSKEEP: Just to be really clear before we move on here, aren't coal jobs going away anyway?
BRADY: They are. And it's doesn't have much to do with the climate deal. Coal has had a difficult time competing with natural gas in the U.S. Natural gas - companies that are used to burning coal are switching to natural gas just because there's a better business case for it, at least right now.
INSKEEP: OK, thanks. That's NPR's Jeff Brady. Let's bring another voice into the conversation, someone who's been advising the White House, Scott Segal. He's a lawyer and lobbyist who represents a range of energy companies, and he wants the United States to stay in the Paris deal. Welcome to the program, sir.
SCOTT SEGAL: Good to be here.
INSKEEP: What's the case for staying in?
SEGAL: Well, the case for staying in, really, is one of international civic engagement. You know, reasonable minds can differ about whether the Paris Agreement, as negotiated previously, is a good deal or a bad deal. But of all the reasons why you would get out of the Paris Agreement, fear that it would stay the hand of the current administration on regulatory reform just wouldn't be one of those reasons. No court would accept that.
INSKEEP: You're saying that if President Trump wants to scrap the Clean Power Plan or change some kind of energy rule, he can do that whether the U.S. is in the deal or not?
SEGAL: Oh, absolutely. In fact, you know, if you read the four corners of this agreement, of the Paris accord, you won't find any mention of a Clean Power Plan. You won't find any mention of any particular finding under the Clean Air Act. In fact, I'll let you in on a little secret. You won't even find any mention of the Clean Air Act itself. So the point is the mechanism by which forward momentum is made under the Paris accord is totally up to the individual nation state. It's called a nationally determined reduction in emissions.
That is, the voluntary commitment that is made by each of the signatories. And those two words are important - nationally determined. The nation determines what the nature of the commitment is, not some international body.
INSKEEP: OK, that sounds good if you're Steve Bannon, Trump adviser who says he's a nationalist. It may sound good if you're President Trump. But if you're going to follow the spirit of this agreement, would you not, if you're still in it, still have to reduce emissions in some way that the president would be concerned would cost jobs?
SEGAL: Well, the good news is here in the United States, even without a Clean Power Plan, we are reducing emissions and we are making a lot of forward progress toward our international climate goals. I mean, you know, as the last - as your reporter indicated, we've had a high degree of substitution, for example, of natural gas for traditional coal in baseload power production. And that's continued for market reasons. I mean, I remember when Gina McCarthy was asked, doesn't the Clean Power Plan really harm the coal industry?
She said, not really, in her great Boston brogue. She said, not really because it doesn't really require substantial reductions. I mean, that was the whole point. The Clean Power Plan was a line in the sand.
INSKEEP: Maybe better identify who Gina McCarthy is.
SEGAL: Oh, yes, yes. She's the former administrator of EPA under the Obama administration.
INSKEEP: Of course. OK, so really doesn't seem to matter for the issues that are important to the president. So you mentioned, though, that staying in the agreement keeps the United States at the table.
INSKEEP: Why does it matter if the United States is at the table?
SEGAL: Well, look, this administration has made much of the fact that the president is sort of the negotiator in chief, that if given the right circumstances and the ability to engage our international partners, he can produce better deals. And I think that what happened with the North American Free Trade Agreement is sort of instructive on that. At the beginning of the president's analysis on NAFTA, that trade agreement, neither the Canadians nor the Mexicans really were too keen on the idea of sitting down and renegotiating NAFTA.
After the president said he was contemplating leaving NAFTA, though, within 24 hours, there were discussions had to set up the four corners of a negotiation to talk about NAFTA. And in the same way, really the agreement in Paris allows each nation state to chart their own course toward making that forward progress that Paris looks to. If the president were to say there's something wrong with the mechanism, there's something wrong with the secretariat, there's something wrong with the - literally the four corners of the deal, well, the president is in a good position to exercise tremendous leverage from the United States to negotiate a better deal.
INSKEEP: If he's at the table, OK.
SEGAL: I say to conservatives and friends of mine...
INSKEEP: Scott Segal, I've got to stop you right there.
SEGAL: Oh, OK, yeah.
INSKEEP: But thank you very much. Really enjoyed talking with you. He's a partner at Bracewell LLP. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.