Senior advisers to Donald Trump were divided over the Paris climate accord in a meeting Thursday, as Cabinet members and staffers considered whether staying in the pact could legally jeopardize the president’s regulatory rollbacks, according to people familiar with the high-level gathering.
The split means Trump’s staff could end up giving the president dueling advice, with one camp of advisers urging the U.S. to stay in the treaty and another urging an exit. The White House has said a decision on whether to remain in the pact will be made by the end of next month, when world leaders gather for the Group of Seven summit in Italy.
The question has divided top administration officials. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the U.S. should keep its seat at the table, while EPA chief Scott Pruitt wants the U.S. to get out. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says the U.S. should remain in the deal, but renegotiate.
All three were in the roughly hour-long meeting at the White House on Thursday, that also included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; White House advisers Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon and Ivanka Trump; and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to administration officials.
Under the accord, signed by more than 190 countries, the U.S. set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels. It’s one of former President Barack Obama’s signature achievements on climate change, but Trump vowed on the campaign trail he would seek to end U.S. involvement in it, calling it a bad deal.
A draft three-page internal State Department memo circulated in advance of the meeting said the accord imposes few obligations on the U.S., noting that “legal obligations are relatively few and are generally process-oriented.”
That was the one area of emerging consensus Thursday, according to people familiar with the meeting, who declined to be identified because it was an internal discussion. The top-level officials seemed to agree that there is no legal mechanism for the United Nations to punish the U.S. for flouting its commitment.
But there are potential domestic legal implications of staying in the deal anyway, representatives from the White House counsel’s office told the group. There is some risk that if the U.S. stays in the agreement and doesn’t take actions to cut emissions, it could surface in legal challenges to Trump’s moves to roll back environmental regulations, they said.