Fact-checking the energy claims in Trump's Paris Agreement speech

Fact-checking the energy claims in Trump's Paris agreement speech
Fact-checking the energy claims in Trump's Paris agreement speech

President Donald Trump on Thursday said pulling the country out of the Paris Agreement would protect American workers from devastating economic impacts.

CNBC fact-checked some of the reasons the president presented for why the United States should abandon the international accord, which aims to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The Paris Agreement would force the United States to put its abundant energy reserves under lock and key.

That statement contradicts the latest long-term forecast by the U.S. Department of Energy.

U.S. energy production will continue to grow through 2040 in a scenario where Obama-era energy regulations are implemented, the department's Energy Information Administration projected in January.

Natural gas would surge and account for 40 percent of U.S. energy production. Oil output would continue to grow but level off in 2025 as drillers move into less-productive areas. Renewable energy generation would grow as it becomes cheaper and state and federal subsidies continue to support solar and wind energy.

In that scenario, EIA would see coal production falling because of lower exports and Obama-era regulations that discourage new coal-fired plants — rules that Trump is currently trying to kill. The agency also sees nuclear power generation declining "modestly" as new facilities and upgrades offset plant retirements.

The Paris Agreement blocks the development of 'clean coal' in the United States.

When people refer to "clean coal," they typically mean technology that captures carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, which are either stored underground or sold for use in industrial processes.

This technology is very young and used in few commercial operations because it's extremely expensive. Tougher emissions standards — such as those encouraged by the Paris Agreement — would typically create an incentive to invest in the technology. Lax standards would dissuade investment.

Trump often uses the term "clean coal," but it's uncertain whether he's referring to so-called carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technology.

The United States is not allowed to build coal plants under the Paris Agreement, but other countries can.

There is nothing in the commitments made by the Obama administration that spells out what type of power plants the United States can and cannot build. Instead, the United States has simply vowed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

It is true that some climate change initiatives and energy regulations created by the Obama administration expedited the retirement of coal-fired plants, especially old and inefficient ones.

However, the United States could attempt to reach its Paris Agreement goals by investing in clean coal technology that would allow plants to reduce emissions. But again, that technology is still emerging and likely wouldn't be able to immediately contribute to the country's targets.

The Paris Agreement lets China do whatever it wants for the next 13 years.

China has committed to reaching peak carbon emissions levels by 2030, but will try to reach that point sooner — and there is evidence Beijing is making progress.

China's CO2 emissions may have already peaked, a full decade ahead of its Paris Agreement commitment, thanks in large part to falling coal consumption, according to the Climate Action Tracker, a scientific analysis produced by three research organizations.

To be sure, more than 110 gigawatts of coal-fired plants are under construction in China, but the country's coal use likely peaked in 2013, according to the International Energy Agency.

"Utilisation rates of coal-fired power plants in China are falling rapidly, as new plants enter an electricity system in which renewables have expanded fast and demand has slowed markedly," IEA wrote in its 2016 World Energy Outlook.

Complying with U.S. commitments to the Paris Agreement could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025 and shave trillions off the economy.

The economic impact of climate change initiatives is a subject of debate, but it's worth considering where Trump is getting his information.

The statistics Trump used in his speech came from a report on the economic impacts of greenhouse gas regulations prepared for the American Council for Capital Formation, a conservative think tank whose board includes prominent Republicans and representatives from industry trade groups.

The report, prepared by NERA Economic Consulting, does not take into account potential benefits from emissions reductions or future technology that could influence costs over the long term.

CEOs of some of the largest U.S.-based companies say the Paris Agreement gives them a level playing field to compete with foreign rivals and would grow the economy and create jobs by encouraging investment in new technology. Oil and gas producers like Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell also support it.