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Trump backers defend climate pact withdrawal despite wide criticism

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answers a question

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answers a question from the media Friday, June 2, 2017, at the State Department in Washington. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — Amid worldwide criticism for withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord, the top U.S. environmental official on Friday praised President Donald Trump for making a “courageous decision” to save the American economy and jobs.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who opposed the pact, hailed Trump’s “fortitude,” and said, “He put America’s interests first with respect to environmental agreements and international discussions.”

The day after announcing he would abandon the Paris accord reached in 2015, Trump tweeted that he acted because it “would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risks, & put us at a permanent economic disadvantage . . . ”

As world leaders and many U.S. state and city officials expressed dismay and vowed to continue efforts to address climate change — including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who on Friday pledged $15 million to the United Nations to support the Paris Agreement — several Trump administration officials also defended the U.S. exit from the deal.

Vice President Mike Pence on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” called the decision to pull out of the deal, which he said would have cost the United States billions of dollars in funds transferred to other countries, “refreshing.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobile CEO who was among supporters of the Paris accord, said Trump’s decision won’t affect the United States’ “terrific record” before the pact in reducing greenhouse gases.

“I don’t think we’re going to change our ongoing efforts to reduce those emissions in the future either, so hopefully people can keep it in perspective,” said Tillerson.

Pruitt criticized the Paris accord as ineffective and burdensome, but also said “exiting Paris does not mean disengagement,” noting Trump promised to renegotiate the Paris accord or create a new agreement.

Top European officials, however, said the Paris accord cannot be reopened.

Germany’s environment minister Barbara Hendricks told reporters in Berlin Friday “there will be no new deal with the United States” on climate change, a position that Germany, France and Italy declared Thursday.

Hendricks said other countries will fill the leadership void left by the United States but none will be expected to make up the shortfall in emissions reductions caused by Washington’s exit. She said the global climate will “survive” Trump’s maximum term of eight years.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and top officials from the European Union planned to reaffirm their commitment to the agreement in a meeting in Brussels Friday.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the U.S. withdrawal “extremely regrettable and that’s putting it very mildly.” European Union Council President Donald Tusk said it was “a big mistake.” South Africa labeled the U.S. pullout “an abdication of global responsibility.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors said it strongly opposed the decision and said the nation’s mayors will continue efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

Pruitt and White House spokesman Sean Spicer continued to dodge questions about whether Trump still believes climate change is a hoax.

Pruitt sidestepped the question, saying Trump focused in meetings with all sides of the issue leading up to the decision on whether the pact’s economic impact was an advantage and whether it achieved environmental goals.

“His decision was no, and that was the extent of our discussions,” said Pruitt.

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