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I never imagined a White House 'right of Exxon' on climate, says Larry Summers

  • The former Clinton Treasury secretary says the U.S. would benefit economically and on the world stage by staying in the Paris climate accord.
  • President Trump is expected to announce plans to pull out of the agreement involving nearly 200 countries.

Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers told CNBC on Thursday the U.S. would benefit economically and on the world stage by staying in the Paris climate accord.

Summers said on "Squawk Box" he "never imagined" an administration that's "way to the right of Exxon on a fossil fuel issue."

The oil giant has reiterated its support of the Paris deal ahead of President Donald Trump's expected announcement Thursday afternoon to pull out of the climate agreement.

Secretary of State and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson has advocated staying in the agreement, which involves nearly 200 countries. Only Syria and Nicaragua are not part of the accord.

"How can it be the right thing for the United States to create a world where there are two clubs: Everybody else and the United States, Syria, and Nicaragua?" Summers asked.

"I never could have imagined we'd have a U.S. administration that would be getting itself positioned way to the right of Exxon on a fossil fuel issue." -Larry Summers, Former Clinton Treasury Secretary

During the 2016 presidential race, Trump had campaigned against the accord, which was fashioned under Barack Obama's administration. The former president committed the U.S. to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and pledged $3 billion to a fund to help developing nations meet their Paris agreement goals.

Summers, a former Obama economic advisor, said the Paris deal is not perfect. "It's not the agreement I would have written." He said he favors "more emphasis on just raising the price of carbon and less emphasis on command and control regulation."

He said he would support amending the deal, but abandoning it without anything in its place would put the U.S. in the position to just "take our chances with the climate lottery."

"That seems to me to be profoundly irresponsible," he said.

"The right way to understand the Paris agreement is that it's not the once-and-for-all resolution forever," Summers said. "This is the first stage in a process to global commitment to address what the vast majority of scientists think is one of the most pressing security problems facing mankind."

In addition to political pressure, more than two dozen CEOs signed a letter that appeared in full-page ads Thursday in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

On CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Thursday, Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, a signatory on the letter, said leaving the Paris agreement would put the United States behind in jobs in the future. The tech billionaire, who ran an unsuccessful 2010 GOP gubernatorial bid in California, ended up supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in the 2016 election.

Another signatory, Salesforce co-founder and Clinton supporter Marc Benioff tweeted out the letter on Wednesday evening.

Tesla co-founder Elon Musk didn't sign the letter but threatened on Wednesday to stop advising Trump if he were to announce a withdrawal. Musk, founder of SpaceX, is on Trump's manufacturing jobs council, strategic and policy forum and infrastructure council.

The White House was not immediately available to respond to CNBC's request for comment.

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