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D.C. and Virginia, bucking Trump, pledge to honor Paris climate pact

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed an executive order reaffirming the District's commitment to the Paris climate agreement to reduce global carbon emissions. (Video: D.C. Mayor's Office, Photo: Astrid Riecken/D.C. Mayor's Office)

The District and Virginia have joined a growing number of cities and states whose leaders are vowing to uphold the goals of the Paris climate agreement, despite President Trump's announcement last week that the United States will withdraw from the accord.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) signed an order Monday affirming the city's commitment to the global environmental pact. She was among more than 200 mayors who last week signed a pledge to "adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments" in the agreement.

Also on Monday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced that Virginia would join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of more than a dozen states — including California, Massachusetts and New York — trying to achieve the goals of the Paris accord despite the federal government’s lack of cooperation.

Neither action committed the District or Virginia to new emissions-reduction policies beyond those they are already pursuing. But they did add two prominent names to the long list of corporations, universities and city and state governments that have declared themselves at odds with Trump’s decision to abandon the agreement.

“The effects of climate change are already here, and without proper planning and collaboration, they will be catastrophic,” Bowser said in a statement, adding that “as the nation’s capital, we have a special obligation to create policies and implement programs that protect our environment.”

McAuliffe said in a statement that “if the federal government insists on abdicating leadership on this issue, it will be up to the American people to step forward — and in Virginia we are doing just that.”

A spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declined to say Monday whether he would join the governors who are formally pledging to work toward the goals of the Paris accord, adding that the administration “is still learning about this new initiative.”

Hogan’s office released a statement last week, saying that Trump’s withdrawal from the climate agreement was “not an action the governor would have taken.” The statement highlighted a 2016 Maryland law that set new, higher targets for reducing the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris accord — making the United States just one of three countries, along with Syria and Nicaragua, not to participate — has been widely condemned by political and corporate leaders. Critics say the move will impede efforts to slow global warming and weaken U.S. leadership on the international stage.

Trump, who once said "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive," cast his decision as one that would save U.S. workers and businesses from intrusive environmental restrictions.

However, observers have called into question the economic case against the accord, saying the president's analysis doesn't take account of new green jobs, among other things.

The federal government has the power to curb major sources of pollution, such as auto and industrial emissions. But states and cities have many levers at hand to reduce greenhouse gases, said Robert C. Orr, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and former special adviser to the United Nations secretary general on climate change.

Among them, Orr said, is the ability to mandate renewable-energy portfolio standards, or how much of the power provided in a city or state must come from renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.

“The bottom line is they have a lot of power,” Orr said. “A lot of the reduction in carbon emissions envisioned under commitments made by the Obama administration were to happen at the state and local level anyway.”

The District's climate and energy plan calls for 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2032. In Virginia, McAuliffe ordered state officials in May to draft a plan for cutting carbon emissions.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said the decision to sign on to the U.S. Climate Alliance “reinforces the historic executive action the Governor took last month when he made Virginia the first state in the Trump era to cap carbon emissions.”

But Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said McAuliffe’s support for the Paris pact was hypocritical in light of his support for offshore drilling and two proposed natural-gas pipelines.

“The governor’s commitment to fracking and offshore oil will — if realized — cause Virginia to dramatically increase greenhouse-gas emissions in coming years, a total violation of the principles of the Paris agreement,” Tidwell said Monday.

Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.