Fact-Checking Congressman Rod Blum on the Paris Accord

Shortly after Donald Trump’s Rose Garden address Thursday in which he officially announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Accord, the international agreement to address climate change that nearly 200 nations have signed on to, Iowa Congressman Rod Blum issued a statement commending Trump that echoed claims similar to some of the president’s many misleading talking points. “President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is good news for our country’s economy, workers, and taxpayers,” the 1st District Republican said, then proceeded to list off statistics purportedly backing up his claim. Here’s a closer look at them.

“By 2035, the regulations related to the agreement would reduce our GDP by $2.5 trillion”

This was the first of several stats Blum cited (without attribution) that he took from a 2016 report from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC. Trump was even bolder, citing a report (PDF) from a consulting firm that in the recent past has criticized the Environmental Protection Agency and served as a front group for the coal industry, claiming the losses would add up to $3 trillion by 2040.

What the stats cited by both Blum and Trump failed to account for were the potential savings that other studies have said would likely come about by taking action on climate change — details that Republicans who deny the global consensus on the issue routinely ignore. A report commissioned by Citibank, for example, estimated that transitioning away from fossil fuels could save tens of trillions of dollars through climate mitigation by 2035. A study published by the Brookings Institution, a center-left DC think tank, authored by researchers at the University of California Berkeley, estimated that the adverse impacts caused by inaction on climate change could reduce the global GDP by more than 20 percent by 2100.

“cause a shortfall of nearly 400,000 American jobs”

Here, Blum actually understated the case made by the Heritage Foundation, which predicted “a shortfall of nearly 400,000 jobs” each year until 2035. Regardless, this statistic ignores the many potential benefits of investing in a greener economy. After Trump’s announcement, dozens of major US companies — particularly those that do business overseas where more meaningful climate regulations are still in place — criticized the president’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, concerned about economic blowback. The US Department of Energy recently estimated that more Americans work in the clean energy than fossil fuel industry.

And the stats from the aforementioned study cited by Trump, which was funded by opponents of the Paris Accord, even came with a disclaimer that the study’s economic model did “not take into consideration yet-to-be developed technologies” nor “potential benefits from avoided emissions.”

“increase household electricity costs by 13 – 20%”

Another common talking point from those aligned with fossil fuel-industry interests, the claim that taking action on climate change will result in bigger electricity bills also downplays or ignores the potential benefits from the further development of alternative fuels. Andrew Steer, CEO of the World Resources Institute, a global nongovernmental organization supportive of sustainable development, recently made similar points when he was invited by Democrats to testify in Congress. “Transitioning to a clean energy economy will create hundreds of thousands of more jobs, increase GDP and save families money on energy bills,” he argued. “But if unchecked, the negative economic impact of climate change will profoundly undermine the U.S. economy.”

“and reduce incomes by more than $20,000 for the average American family of four”

“Bureaucratically administered mandates, taxes, and special interest subsidies will drive family incomes down by thousands of dollars per year, drive up energy costs, and eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs,” concluded the Heritage report whose findings Blum cited. This argument reflects familiar conservative talking points about jobs and taxes and, again, relies on the dubious notion that taking action on climate change would be bereft of economic benefits.

“We need common sense regulations that keep our environment clean, but we can do that while keeping energy costs affordable and allowing our economy to create good paying jobs. And instead of sending billions in taxpayer dollars overseas we should invest that money here to develop an ‘all of the above’ American energy policy that includes renewables like biofuels and wind.”

The second and final paragraph of Blum’s statement is reminiscent of allegations Trump has made that America’s allies have not paid their fair share when it comes to international partnerships. In fact, the US has spent a relatively modest $1 billion out of $3 billion it has pledged to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund, the money coming from a State Department fund already dedicated to foreign assistance. Pledges from other nations total over $10 billion.

The paragraph also echoes a common conservative argument about an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. Democrats have used similar language to promote their energy policies, but environmentalists have objected to this framing because of the stark underlying differences in the two parties’ motives. While President Obama and other Democrats have supported a gradual transition to fuels that emit fewer greenhouse gases, Republicans typically favor the expansion of domestic fossil fuel exploration and slashing funding to green energy initiatives.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.