Leaving Paris climate agreement cools Trump's relationship with tech

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Washington, June 11, 2017 | comments
Melissa Quinn

President Trump's relationship with Silicon Valley may have reached a crossroads following his decision to leave the Paris Agreement, as giants of the technology industry prepare to gather at the White House while bucking the administration's position on the deal.

Trump announced he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement in a speech in the Rose Garden in early June.

In exiting the climate accord, the president followed through on a campaign promise and rallied his base. The decision was swiftly praised by Republican lawmakers and conservative groups.

But Democrats and tech giants quickly admonished Trump's move, and some worried the administration's decision could sour the already fragile relationships the White House is attempting to forge with Silicon Valley.

"It's become increasingly clear that this administration's continued retreat from the global community will hurt its relationship with the technology industry, which understood the tremendous opportunity the Paris climate agreement created for our economy," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. "This was a chance for the U.S. to lead the clean energy revolution, and President Trump walked away."

Connolly, co-chairman of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, backed the climate accord and is a key player on efforts to modernize the government's technology systems.

Along with Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, Connolly co-authored a bill to improve the federal government's IT systems. The legislation passed the House last month and has earned the backing of the technology industry.

Like Congress, the White House is looking to Silicon Valley to assist in its efforts to make government more effective.

The technology industry is expected to play a major role in the Trump administration's efforts to modernize its technology systems, and the president will huddle with the heads of leading technology companies at the inaugural meeting of the American Technology Council this month.

The group, which is under the umbrella of Jared Kushner's Office of American Innovation, is expected to meet June 19 and will reportedly include executives from Apple, Facebook, IBM and Google, among others.

According to a copy of the meeting agenda obtained by Recode, the White House believes the "American people should be able to interact with the government the way that they do with the best private sector companies — through intuitive digital experiences that effectively solve problems."

But the president's decision regarding the nation's exit from the Paris Agreement has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the meeting.

Already, Trump's Rose Garden announcement caused at least two CEOs to resign from the White House's various advisory boards.

"Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world," Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, said on his Twitter account.

Disney CEO Bob Iger followed suit.

Others expressed their discontent with Trump's decision, but have yet to announce any decisions about their future participation in White House gatherings.

The Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group based in Washington, called the exit from the climate agreement a "setback for America's leadership in the world."

The trade group counts tech giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google among its members and reiterated its commitment to combating climate change in spite of Trump's move.

"Despite this, the tech industry's determination to innovate and problem-solve for the threats posed by climate change and generate clean energy opportunities that create jobs and grow our economy remains unchanged," Dean Garfield, ITI's president, said in a statement.

Many of ITI's members echoed that sentiment.

Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Intel, among others, all pledged to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement despite Trump's exit.

"In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions," the tech companies, along with businesses, elected officials and higher-education institutions, said in an open letter.

The White House has yet to announce details on the gathering, but a White House official said the meeting is moving forward.

Still, despite opposition to the president's decision on the climate agreement, the technology industry stands to benefit from the Trump administration's commitment to modernizing the federal government.

The White House is looking to improve how it buys products, including those related to the $80 billion spent on IT systems, and wants to use its private-sector relationships to improve government technology.

So far, at least one industry leader is pledging to remain engaged.

"IBM believes we can make a constructive contribution by having a direct dialogue with the administration — as we do with governments around the world," an IBM spokesperson said.

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