A noted Missouri based expert in environmental law takes issue with President Trump’s recent exit from the Paris agreement.

Maxine Lipeles – senior lecturer in law at Washington University, St. Louis (Photo courtesy of Washington University)

In announcing the country’s withdrawal from the accord, Trump said the deal placed “draconian” financial burdens on the American people.  He framed the pact as a disgraceful defeat for American workers and claimed it gave an unfair advantage to foreign countries.

Maxine Lipeles, a lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis, contends the President’s move cannot be justified on his grounds that it’s a bad deal for the U.S.

“It was hard to understand how he could call this unfair, because each country sets their own target” said Lipeles.  “President Obama set a target which was based on policies as well as market trends that were already in place.”

Under Obama’s benchmarks set in the 2015 Paris agreement, The U.S. had vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025.  The Paris accord is also a non-binding arrangement.

Lipeles notes American emissions are on the decline, and have been that way for a number of years, because coal is being replaced by much cleaner burning natural gas and renewables for electricity.  “The market is moving us in the direction of meeting our Paris agreement whether we’re a party to the agreement or not.”

Some critics of the Paris agreement point to a study by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.  Its research shows that adhering to the Paris accord would destroy 400,000 American jobs and forfeit $2.5 trillion in lost productivity by 2035 – lowering average family earnings by about $20,000.

Lipeles didn’t comment on the Heritage study, which may include projections of outcomes.  But she contends job growth in renewable energy is far outstripping the fossil fuel industry.  She says, with the U.S. exit from the accord, other countries will benefit from the explosion of wind and solar at the expense of America.

“China, and now to some extent even India, are going to seize on this, and are going to pass us in the market, and are going to be leaders.  We’re going back to the 19th and 20th centuries, and they’re looking ahead to the 21st and 22nd centuries.”

80 percent of the power in Missouri is generated by coal.  Before President Trump signed executive actions to examine policies to move away from the Obama era Clean Power Plan, state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) joined other coal producing states in a lawsuit against the EPA over its protocol for coal-fired power plants to be replaced.

Hawley said he did so because the cost of replacing the plants would’ve caused utility bills for Missourians to spike.

Lipeles contends utilities, other than Ameren, are already moving away from coal.  She notes Kansas City Power & Light, which supplies much of the western part of the state with power, has made a commitment to renewable energy.

“They just announced the day after Trump’s announcement (to leave the Paris agreement) that they’d be closing six more units at three different coal fired powered plants” Lipeles said.

In the weeks following Trump’s Paris withdrawal, Columbia Mayor Brian Treece announced his city was joining a handful of other Missouri locations in the Climate Mayors coalition to continue abiding by the international accord.

Lipeles acknowledged Columbia had made environmental strides, while adding that Springfield, in a politically conservative part of the state, has made significant strides in purchasing wind energy.

“Their wind power that their buying on the open market is cheaper than the coal-fired electricity that they produce from their own relatively new coal-fired power plant.”