Trump administration officials huddled at the White House on Wednesday in a bid to chart a more cohesive energy and environmental policy strategy, including a game plan for communicating its position on climate change, according to three people familiar with the meeting.
The meeting included more than a dozen deputy-level officials from the White House’s various policy councils, as well as representatives from federal agencies such as the EPA and the Energy Department.
The goal of the meeting was to develop a forward-looking strategy that goes beyond early efforts by the administration to overturn former President Barack Obama’s regulations. Participants emphasized the importance of coming up with a way to frame President Donald Trump’s energy and environmental objectives. Several officials at the meeting proposed highlighting the potential for new energy technology innovation and job creation, according to the people familiar with the meeting.
Officials also discussed how to combat the public perception that the administration is out of touch with climate science, sources said. The White House declined to comment.
One administration official said the meeting focused on “big picture climate strategy,” and had less to do with the nitty-gritty policy details of the Paris climate change agreement or Obama’s climate regulations for power plants.
Wednesday’s meeting marks the latest effort by chief of staff John Kelly to formalize the policymaking process in the West Wing. Kelly has called for more deputy-level strategy sessions on a range of policy issues. Administration officials said there were no final decisions at Wednesday’s meeting, and they expect additional meetings in the coming weeks.
Trump and his team have often struggled to put forward a unified environmental vision. Trump has said he values clean air and water. But he has sought to undo a series of Obama-era environmental regulations and he announced in June that he intended to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, arguing it is a bad deal for the United States.
Though the Paris climate deal wasn’t a major topic at Wednesday’s meeting, Trump’s stance on the pact has caused confusion among the United States’ foreign allies. Trump has held out the possibility of remaining in the agreement if he can secure a better deal for the U.S., but he’s offered few clues about what that might look like. For now, administration officials have stressed that they still intend to withdraw.
The administration has also not yet honed a clear stance on climate change science. Before becoming president, Trump called climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese. Since then, various administration officials have said they believe climate change is occurring, but raised questions about the degree to which human beings are responsible. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called for a public review of climate change science.
A series of record-breaking hurricanes have put added pressure on the White House to weigh in on the effect that climate change is having on extreme weather.
“We continue to take seriously the climate change — not the cause of it, but the things that we observe,” White House national security adviser Tom Bossert said earlier this month, pointing to rising sea levels and other climate effects that “would require prudent mitigation measures.”
Trump later appeared to dismiss the link between hurricanes and climate change. “We’ve had bigger storms than this,” Trump said when asked if Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were changing his views of climate change.
The vast majority of climate scientists say the planet is warming in large part due to human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels.