Nov 16, 2017

Top Trump energy adviser talks solar and climate

Trump aide George David Banks speaks at climate event in Bonn, Germany, on Nov. 13. Photo: Lukas Schulze / Getty Images.

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.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 649,904 — Total deaths: 30,249 — Total recoveries: 137,319.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 116,505 — Total deaths: 1,891 — Total recoveries: 921.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump is considering a quarantine on New York, parts of New Jersey and Connecticut. He signed a $2 trillion stimulus bill to give businesses and U.S. workers financial relief.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters that supported Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are now balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson return to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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The big picture: With 112,000 people infected, the U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, exceeding China and Italy, per data from Johns Hopkins. A second wave of American cities, including Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia, are reporting influxes of cases.

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