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Trump Removes U.S. from Paris Accord, Defying Exxon and Other Energy Giants

Texas-based oil companies told Trump they hoped to keep their seats at the table.

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An American and Exxon flags hang at an Exxon Station July 31, 2008 in Miami, Florida.
Eric Thayer/Getty

President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that the U.S. is leaving the Paris climate accord. “In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the U.S., its businesses, its workers, its taxpayers,” Trump said in a speech Thursday afternoon at the White House Rose Garden. “So we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate and see if we can make a deal that’s fair. If we can, that’s great, and if we can’t, that’s fine.”

The day before Trump’s announcement, two of the world’s top energy companies, Dallas-based ExxonMobil and Houston-based ConocoPhillips, urged the president not to exit the agreement. The oil giants said that they continued to support the agreement because, as Bloomberg put it, the U.S. is “better off with a seat at the table.” If the U.S. were to stay, the companies would be front and center when nations in the agreement work to reduce carbon emissions largely produced by big oil.

Wednesday wasn’t the first time that Texas-based Exxon voiced its support for staying in the Paris agreement. Peter Trelenberg, Exxon’s manager for environmental policy and planning, penned a letter to Trump’s special assistant for international energy and the environment in March, arguing that the Paris accord is “an effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change,” according to the Financial Times. “It is prudent that the United States remain a party to the Paris agreement to ensure a level playing field, so that global energy markets remain as free and competitive as possible,” Trelenberg wrote. Exxon CEO Darren Woods followed up with a second letter to Trump in early May, writing that the U.S. is “well positioned to compete” within the accord because of its “abundant low-carbon resources such as natural gas” and “innovative private industries including the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors,” according to the TimesOn Wednesday, Exxon shareholders in Dallas approved a non-binding proposal calling for the company to back the Paris climate accord.

ConocoPhillips offered a similar show of support for the U.S. to stay in the accord. “It gives the U.S. the ability to participate in future climate discussions to safeguard its economic and environmental best interests,” spokesman Daren Beaudo wrote in an email to Bloomberg on Wednesday. The Texas oil producers join a host of other powerful companies who wanted to stay in the Paris accord, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Nike.

Former Exxon CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was among those in Trump’s inner circle in favor of staying. When asked about the Paris agreement during his confirmation hearing before the Senate in January, Tillerson said the U.S. would be “better served by being at that table than leaving that table.” In May, Tillerson met with seven foreign ministers from Arctic nations in Fairbanks, Alaska, and signed a declaration “noting the entry into force of the Paris agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.” But Tillerson was non-committal when asked about the Trump administration’s stance on the Paris accord. “We are taking time to understand your concerns, but we’re not going to rush,” he told the council, according to the New York Times. “We’re going to work to make the right decision for the United States.” A State Department official later downplayed the significance of Tillerson signing the declaration, telling CNN that “the Fairbanks Declaration notes what Paris claims to be, it does not obligate the United States to enforce it.” Trump was reportedly scheduled to meet with Tillerson on Wednesday.

Ex-Texas governor and current U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry also called for Trump to stay in the agreement. “I’m not going to tell the president of the United States to walk away from the Paris accord,” Perry said at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York in April. “I will say that we need to renegotiate it.” A handful of Senate Republicans and more than a dozen House Republicans wanted the U.S. also wanted to stay in the agreement, according to the New York Times, joining Democrats, environmentalist groups, and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

Both of Texas’ senators pushed Trump to leave the accord. Ted Cruz penned an op-ed for CNN on Wednesday, writing that Trump “should act on—and keep—his campaign promise” and pull out as soon as possible, calling the requirements of the Paris accord “unfair and economically devastating.” Last week, both Cruz and John Cornyn signed a letter along with twenty other senators urging Trump to “make a clean exit.”

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