Who’s Behind the Virginia Resistance to Trump Climate Policy?

On June 1 of this year, President Donald Trump announced that he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The next day, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney posted on Facebook that he stood with the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, committing to cut CO2 emissions and support “binding federal and global-level policymaking.”

Two days later, Governor Terry McAuliffe denounced Trump’s action and committed Virginia to a group of states pledging to carry out the principles of the Paris accord.

The same day Attorney General Mark Herring joined 18 other attorneys general in dedicating themselves to support the principles of the Paris climate-change accord. In short order, they were joined by the mayors of Charlottesville, Roanoke and the Town of Blacksburg.

Some people began wondering how the anti-Trump forces mobilized so quickly, Matt Hardin, an attorney with the Alexandria-based Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, recounted today at the Tuesday Morning Club. Speaking before a confab of Virginia conservative and libertarian activists, he said he suspected that Charlottesville and Blacksburg politicians would be at the epicenter of the controversial actions.

But the responses to FOIA requests, Hardin says, indicates that the City of Los Angeles had taken the lead in recruiting Virginia mayors. The FOIA emails also revealed that Roanoke Mayor Sherman P. Lea, Sr., was in the thick of things. Whoever would have thought Roanoke as a center of the “resistance”?

If anyone is interested in perusing them, the FOIA responses for Charlottesville, Roanoke, Blacksburg and the attorney general’s office can be found on the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute website under the “‘We Are Still In’ Campaign” headline.

Hardin tried to make the case to the Tuesday Morning Group that the mayors’ resistance to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement might be illegal under Virginia law. Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that local governments possess only those powers specifically delegated to them by the General Assembly — and joining international agreements is not one of them. Indeed, joining international agreements is a prerogative limited to the U.S. government. Virginia cities, said Hardin, are participating in United Nations initiatives and spending taxpayer money to do so.

By contrast, said Hardin, McAuliffe has not yet issued an executive order backing up his tough talk. Perhaps he recognizes the constitutional limits of his power, even if the mayors do not.

Bacon’s bottom line: Personally, I can’t get exercised about Trump yanking the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. Former President Obama never submitted the accord as a treaty to Congress, knowing that Congress would never approve it, and therefore it does not have the force of law. At the same time, I can’t get agitated about the Global Warming zealots either. Signing up to take part in a U.N. initiative is not the same as negotiating your own treaty.

The mayors are engaged in leftist virtue signaling, which might be annoying but, the last time I looked, was not illegal. If the mayors want to commit their jurisdictions to reduce their carbon footprints by 30%, that’s their business. They don’t need a Paris climate accord to do it. Frankly, there are a lot worse ways for mayors to spend their money. At least their cities will have lower energy bills at the end of the day. That’s more than you can say about a lot of things mayors spend their money on.

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18 responses to “Who’s Behind the Virginia Resistance to Trump Climate Policy?

  1. Another very interesting exposure of how things really happen.

    In your research did you find anything to indicate that Richmond’s mayor and Virginia’s Governor actually understood what the U.S. had obligated itself to should we have remained in the agreement and in fact what their declarations of support would actually entail in state expenditures and regulatory reach and cost should they be successful?

    And Dillon rule aside isn’t this executive overreach on a pretty large scale.? Aren’t these kinds of positions and decisions the purview of the legislature?

    • Musings, I have not dug deeply into this. I’m just reporting what Hardin said, and pointed readers to the emails to dig through themselves. I think the behind-the-scenes story is interesting, but I’m not persuaded on the basis of the evidence offered so far, that there’s much here.

      If there’s an executive overreach, it’s an issue of mayors committing to policies without approval of their city/town councils. On the other hand, given the composition of the councils, that’s probably a formality.

      If these guys want to spend tax dollars on renewable and energy-efficiency initiatives, that’s their choice. I don’t see that as an overreach of power. One could argue that it’s an unwise expenditure of public funds, but compared to all the other ways they could waste money, investing in projects that reduce power consumption and lower utility bills isn’t so bad.

  2. Most of the responses to Paris would actually save money- not cost more. No overreach involved if done right. It is returning to old outmoded ways that involves force and manipulation. The market wants to go in the direction of more choice and lower costs. Cleaner comes along for free.

  3. I am simply gob-smacked at this entire line of reasoning. I thought the Friends of Jim *liked* having governmental power limited, and as close to the people locally affected as appropriate?

    First, to Dillon Rule: Local government – counties, cities, and towns – do indeed have powers even in Dillon Rule states. They have the powers given them in the Virginia constitution (as way too frequently amended), and they have the powers in their charters.

    The difference between Dillon Rule states and, non, is that, in Dillon Rule states, all powers not explicitly set forth in the State constitution(s) and local government charters revert to the states, and additional powers must be explicitly requested and granted by the state. Where in non-Dillon Rule states, all powers not explicitly set forth in the State constitution(s) and local government charters revert to the local government – more aligned with our national constititution’s Tenth Amendment. (For an interesting discussion of the limited power of gov. in re the Tenth Amendment:

    So no, being a Dillon Rule state does not mean Virginia local government has no powers. Indeed, having worked for local government for over 30 years, I can attest that local government has been at the forefront of a lot of environmental initiatives. New York City, for example was the first (I think) to pass a Clean Air Law…(outlawing among other things, those apartment building furnaces that Fred used to tend in I Love Lucy, and resulting in an explosion of trash sent to landfills, with some interesting consequences down the road…but I digress).

    Second, it is laughable to represent that Virginia local government was just sitting around staring into space until Tom Steyer and his fellow Californians brainwashed them into acting on climate to oppose arriviste Trump. Virginia local (and under Democratic governors, state, but we’re talking local here) governments have been champions of a number of clean energy initiatives, and they can continue to do so. Since climate change is a global issue and, unlike acting on ground-level “conventional” pollution, does not immediately benefit us locally, they’re also having the good sense to protect themselves and undertake “resiliency” initiatives to mitigate against the effects of climate change.

    Actions local government take to fight climate change range from clean energy initiatives such as integrated land use and transportation planning (something old-Jim used to care about), to good procurement practices minimizing waste. “Paris” has simply become short-hand for being constantly mindful of a healthy earth, and yes, these local government leaders raising their red fists into the air and crying “Paris!” is largely symbolic–but their daily actions are not.

    Us humans can fight climate change in all aspects of our lives – as consumers, voters, employees and employers, parents and children, members of faith-based groups and civic associations (the equivalent of Churchill’s “we shall fight them on the beaches” speech). Each of us is, then, a citizen of a local government; a state (except for residents of DC); and a country. And we can expect our elected representatives to be responsive to the signals we give them in the election booth.

    ‘…We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.’

    • Kimberly, I guess I didn’t make it clear enough that Hardin’s Dillon Rule argument doesn’t appear to hold up. I’ve invited Hardin to submit an op-ed, so he might present a stronger argument. But it’s not clear to me what powers the mayors are asserting that their local governments do not possess. It’s not like they’re actually signing treaties. Local governments join various leagues and associations to pursue common goals all the time. That’s why I can’t get exercised about this — although, as I note above, it is interesting to see how these things work behind the scenes.

  4. “Virtue signaling” – what a useful phrase. Virtue signaling is a bipartisan vice, isn’t it? On this issue among so many others. It just overpowers actual evidence, thought and debate – stops them cold.

  5. no..no.. don’t believe I ever heard of right wing “virtue signaling”.. gotta be one of the leftist things… and I thank Jim for further educating me…

    or perhaps this another one of those posts that got auto-collected before thoughts fully collected?


    So if the POTUS decrees that Climate Change is a hoax and we are all to cease and desist efforts to deal with it… we’re all supposed to sit down and shut up?

    geeze.. sounds a bit authoritarian to me… I suppose at some point we will be directed to use the phrase Dear Leader when speaking of this idiot?

  6. In the first place, the United States was not bound by the Paris Accord. The Constitution provides that agreements between the United States and other nations are treaties that must be ratified by a 2/3 majority vote in the Senate. Obama did not refer the agreement to the Senate. Ergo, any successor has the authority to cancel the agreement.

    Second, the withdrawal does not stop anyone in the private sector from moving to renewable energy, energy efficiency and other measures to reduce carbon emissions. States are generally free to pass laws and take similar actions.

    Third, neither China nor India was bound by the same restrictions on the use of coal as the United States. Hence, we could have the same or more coal-based emissions.

    Fourth, despite running massive deficits, the United States was obligated to transfer billions of dollars to smaller nations. Why doesn’t the California billionaire crowd start making these payments? Wasn’t Andrew Carnegie who said it was evil for a very rich man to die that way?

  7. Virginia is a purple state.
    But we manage to have extreme right wing and left wing sides, which when in power in the Gov office, take extreme positions on behalf of the state, left or right, which are not representative of the average voter. If we went by the average voter, we would be at a stand-still because we have no consensus. Maybe we need more standing still though…all the activism is killing us.

  8. I believe we do have a consensus:

    In Virginia – it’s going to boil down to what the urban areas – and Mayors support versus what the rural areas want.

    is that “extreme” ?

    • Once upon a time what you say — “In Virginia – it’s going to boil down to what the urban areas – and Mayors support versus what the rural areas want” — was the accepted orthodoxy. Today, not so sure. The Dillon Rule itself, and transportation and schools funding, all are testimony to the continuing power of rural political forces in Virginia.

  9. I enjoyed reading the blog this morning. Love Kay’s quotes …
    “yes, these local government leaders raising their red fists into the air and crying ‘Paris!’ is largely symbolic–but their daily actions are not.” … “we shall never surrender.”
    In fact, the U.S Conference of Mayors voted to support, 100% Renewable Energy, quick electrification of vehicles and urged Congress to back the Clean Power Plan and Paris climate agreement. And a coalition, called America’s Pledge — which now includes 227 cities and counties, nine states and about 1,650 businesses and investors — is moving to uphold the United States’ commitments under the Paris deal. So much for Trump’s planned withdrawal.

    And “Dear Leader”. And to add to Larry’s stats about voter opinions…from a recent NYT: “In every congressional district, a majority of adults supports limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. “ The disconnect occurs because a majority of the country doesn’t believe Climate Change will hurt them.

    There is a nice article in the Guardian that says “feeling hopeless about a situation is cognitively associated with inaction and predicts decreased goal-directed behavior. … so instead of presenting narratives of helpless victims and an inevitable future of defeat, climate advocates should instead report on the climate change heroes.” Makes sense to me and helps explain the continuing success of American Petroleum Institute’s ‘narrative of doubt,’ even as the earth’s ice sheet is disappearing at a net rate of 200 gigatonnes per year.

    However, TMT … Delayed restrictions or not China and India are stepping up like the Mayors. “Greenhouse gas emissions from both countries are growing more slowly than they predicted just a year ago, and the difference is substantial—roughly 2 to 3 billion tons annually by the year 2030.”

    In January of this year, China announced that it plans to spend more than $360 billion through 2020 on renewable energy sources and is canceling plans to build more than 100 coal-fired power plants. Last year, India announced that it plans to get 57 percent of its total electricity capacity from renewable sources by 2027 and launch a $2 billion equity fund to boost renewable energy development.

    World’s Biggest Coal Company Closes 37 Mines as Solar Prices Plummet
    India’s energy market is undergoing a rapid transformation as it moves away from fossil fuels. Last month, the country cancelled plans to build nearly 14 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations.

    So here is my ‘happy’ story … The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh set a new Guinness World Record on Sunday after 1.5 million volunteers planted more than 66 million tree saplings in just 12 hours along the Narmada river.

    • CA&W. I think what China and India are doing is just fine. As I posted, it’s good to look at and adopt renewable energy sources simply because there is a limit to non-renewable sources. But the bottom line remains, Obama took a risk, an arrogant one, because he figured that, since he was so great, his anointed successor, Hillary Clinton, would win and carry on as if Congress had ratified the Paris Accord. He figured wrong.

  10. As cited by CleanAirandWater – For more on what people, organizations, and governments at all levels are doing off on their merry own – https://www.americaspledgeonclimate.com/?utm_source=States+Continue+to+Demonstrate+Climate+Leadership&utm_campaign=States+Continue+Climate+Leadership&utm_medium=email

  11. Thanks for the cite … These two men certainly know how to get things done.

    Maybe the media will turn their attention to things like addressing the patently false facts about adopting clean energy that the President is actually saying out loud. A couple of days ago it was … fossil fuel is saving us money. YIKES!

  12. Another question. I believe the Natural Resources Defense Fund(?) estimated the total cost to the United States in 2100 from climate change would be around 2.7% of GDP. Accepting arguendo this figure, how do we ensure that we don’t pay more than the present value of that amount in combatting climate change? Isn’t this just good risk management?

  13. Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute has new studies …

    “The researchers, who examined the economic consequences of climate change for the country, conclude that for every 1-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures, the U.S. economy stands to lose about 0.7 percent of its Gross Domestic Product, with each degree of warming costing more than the last.”
    The results vary across different areas of the country with the poorest third of US counties potentially sustaining up to 20% of their income if climate change continues unabated.

    Bloomberg, Paulson and Steyer have 2 reports that are solid too… “Risky Business”.

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