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Trump panel to diverge from views of other Americans at Bonn climate talks

As a U.N. climate meeting begins, the Trump administration will promote coal, natural gas and nuclear power — all while other Americans support green energy.
The Shanghai Waigaoqiao Power Generator Co. coal power plant in Shanghai on March 6.Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images file

Nearly 200 countries are gathering in Bonn, Germany, on Monday to begin talks on the best ways to limit climate change — and they will all hear a mixed message from the United States. While Trump administration-backed officials promote coal, natural gas and nuclear power, representatives from U.S. cities, states and corporations are expected to push renewable resources like wind and solar.

Those advocating for legacy industries argue that coal, gas and nuclear will continue to supply a large percentage of the world's power, even as many nations shift to new sources. As a result, they say, the focus should be on the cleanest way to use those fuels.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, have attacked the Trump administration's focus on pollution-creating energy like coal, particularly at a time when even big polluters like China and India are shifting more of their focus to wind and solar power.

Related: Scientists Sound Alarm on Global Warming Ahead of Climate Conference

The administration's climate panel will include executives from Peabody Energy, one of the world's biggest coal producers; the liquid natural gas exporter Tellurian; and the nuclear engineering company NuScale Power. (The firms, first identified as conference participants by The New York Times, did not respond to requests for comment.)

Image: NATO meeting
Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon in Washington on June 5.Shawn Thew / EPA file

The White House said in a statement that its panel in Bonn will focus on "the clean and efficient use of fossil fuels and nuclear power." The administration called it "undeniable" that fossil fuels would remain in use for the foreseeable future, adding: "It is in everyone's interest that they be efficient and clean. Through innovation, the United States continues to be a global leader in cutting carbon emissions."

That message will come in stark contrast to the one from a host of other U.S. participants, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Bloomberg's foundation is joining California magnate and environmentalist Tom Steyer in funding a pavilion in the German city that will showcase the ways in which U.S. cities and businesses are working to reduce their carbon footprints — goals the United States agreed to under the 2016 Paris accords.

Brown, whom the United Nations this year named a special adviser on climate issues, is stopping in Bonn as part of a longer European tour.

"While the White House declares war on climate science and retreats from the Paris Agreement, California is doing the opposite and taking action," Brown said in a statement. "We are joining with our partners from every part of the world to do what needs to be done to prevent irreversible climate change."

Related: Are NYC's Preparations Amid Climate Change Enough?

President Donald Trump has signaled that the United States will pull out of the historic agreement and pursue its own path on policies to reduce greenhouse gases.

Trump has shown considerable antipathy toward conventional science, which has reached consensus that the Earth is warming because of man-made pollution. He once called global warming a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese and has appointed heads of federal agencies who have publicly supported carbon dioxide-producing coal and other fossil fuels.

Even some Republicans have been dismayed at Trump's singular interest in supporting industries like coal, especially as such fossil fuels have fallen out of favor with many customers because of both pollution and their relatively high cost.

"One man cannot stop our progress. One man will not bring back the dirty energy of the past," said former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is also scheduled to attend the conference, which runs through Nov. 17.

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Bob Inglis, a former U.S. representative from South Carolina, is another Republican who has stressed that the shift to wind, solar and other clean energy sources is a free-market solution that more conservatives should support.

"The idea of America is that we look into the future. Perfecting the fuels of the past, like coal, is like perfecting the buggy whip," Inglis said. "In this country, we shouldn't be talking about making a better buggy whip. We should be talking about leading the world into the fuels of the future."

Trump has said the Paris accords, with their promise of specific carbon reductions by each nation, will hurt the United States. But the agreement does not allow the United States to officially back out until 2020.

The United States has signaled that, in the meantime, it will continue to attend the annual sessions updating the deal, including the Bonn confab, which has the goal of hammering out a "rule book" for implementing the carbon limitations.

There were rumors that Scott Pruitt, Trump's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, might attend the Bonn meetings. But Pruitt has expressed skepticism over climate science, and U.S. environmentalists said they were relieved that it appeared he would not be at the global conclave.

The U.S. delegation will be headed, instead, by a veteran State Department official, Thomas A. Shannon.