Bonn, Germany – A top adviser to President Trump on international energy issues, George David Banks, sat down with a small group of reporters at the United Nations climate conference here Wednesday. Here are the highlights — and reality checks:
On what Banks says the administration is doing to mitigate climate change, which he says is a priority, despite actions and rhetoric indicating otherwise:
- Remaining a party to the United Nations' underlying climate treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, despite President Trump's announcement he intends to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate deal.Reality check: This is technically true, but a negative — not withdrawing from this treaty — does not equate a positive — prioritizing climate change.
- Promoting exports of liquified natural gas, which burns 50% fewer carbon emissions than coal.Reality check: This is true. President Obama laid the groundwork.
- Promoting research and development in the budget.Reality check: Along with most budgets save for the Pentagon, the administration is proposing to slash the Energy Department's R&D budget across the energy spectrum.
- Banks wouldn't comment on what matters most: whether the Environmental Protection Agency will not just repeal but replace regulations addressing climate change. He deferred questions to EPA, which has said only generally it acknowledges current law requires it to address carbon emissions somehow. Reality check: Whatever happens, it won't be much.
On a pending trade case, where two U.S.-based solar manufacturers are asking Trump to impose remedies on a flood of cheap imports.
- "The United States has been helping finance the deployment of renewable energy technologies, but it's essentially a jobs program for China and other countries ... I think where we have been involved from an energy policy perspective, first of all, is asking the question, is having a vibrant solar manufacturing industry in the U.S. national interest? I think we would say yes, is in national interest."Reality check: We reported back in September the administration was likely to issue tariffs, and that remains as true today as ever, much to the chagrin of most of the U.S. solar industry that's benefiting from cheap solar imports.
On progress of the actual negotiations at the climate conference, which are hashing out boring but important details of the Paris deal that Trump said in June the U.S. will withdraw from, citing Obama's pledge being unfair compared to other commitments.
- "We've got the best negotiating team in the world … My guess is the pledge was created and invented in the Obama White House." Reality check: Just like this White House, Obama's executive team had discretion. The negotiations are moving along mostly as normal, according to multiple sources, creating a sometimes awkward but cordial relationship between America and the rest of the world here.
On the circumstances the administration would decide to stay in the Paris deal:
- "That's yet to be determined."Reality check: No effort is being made here on behalf of the administration. The rhetoric remains empty.
On the emphasis that the impacts of climate change have dire impacts on migration and public health issues.
- "There is a much more direct link between energy access and these issues." Reality check: That's true, but it doesn't make the climate impacts any less relevant. They're intertwined problems.
On the World Bank's restrictions funding new coal-fired power plants.
- "I would say the World Bank guidance should be changed," adding that the administration will work toward that outcome. Reality check: The U.S. alone can't make this happen, but it's certainly be influential.
On how many times he has met with the president himself on this issue:
- "No comment." Reality check: The non-answer — the only one of the nearly 40-minute briefing — indicates the answer is probably no, or at least almost no.