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In Pittsburgh visit, Trump reiterates commitment to withdraw from Paris climate accord

"What we won't do is punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters," President Trump said Wednesday afternoon at the Shale Insight conference in downtown Pittsburgh. "I can say it right now and im proud to say it: it's called America First, finally."

President Donald Trump speaks during the 9th annual Shale Insight Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during the 9th annual Shale Insight Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Read moreEvan Vucci / AP

President Donald Trump reiterated his administration’s commitment to withdrawing from the landmark Paris climate accord in a speech to natural gas executives and employees on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Trump’s criticism of the agreement came as he touted his administration’s “unleashing” of America’s natural gas sector at the industry’s annual gathering at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center — and more than two years after he said he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris” in first announcing his intention to withdraw from the world’s chief effort to slow global warming.

“What we won’t do is punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters,” Trump said Wednesday afternoon at the Shale Insight conference Downtown. “I can say it right now and im proud to say it: it’s called America First, finally.”

Trump has long claimed the 2015 climate agreement put the United States at an economic disadvantage and effectively killed the coal industry, while proponents of the agreement -- who point out that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the past 15 years -- argue it was an important step toward significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit rising global temperatures.

Though the U.S. can’t officially announce its formal plan to withdraw from the agreement until Nov. 4, Trump’s acknowledgement Wednesday signaled that he’s still serious about withdrawing. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the U.S. would have to send a letter to the United Nations secretary general next month notifying him of America’s intent to leave, then would have to go through a one-year waiting period before officially exiting.

Beyond his critiques, the president’s keynote address -- to a convention that brings together thousands of oil and gas industry professionals who generally support deregulation -- was heavy in braggadocio.

He took credit for rising U.S. oil and gas production and talked up his effort to deregulate the industry -- in the name of ending the "war" on energy.

“With unmatched skill, grit and devotion, you’re making America the greatest energy superpower in the history of the world,” Trump said. “You’re number one by far now.”

For the president, the speech may have seemed like deja vu. He spoke at the conference in 2016 as a candidate for president, promising to lift restrictions on American energy and “allow this wealth to pour into communities including right here in the state of Pennsylvania.”

On the same stage in 2016, introduced by the same Harold Hamm, Trump made a promise that as president, he’d unburden energy projects tied up in regulatory limbo.

“Oh, you will like me so much,” he promised the oil and gas crowd.

Nearly three years into his presidency, Trump has indeed kept some of those promises; his administration scrapped the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama’s signature legislation to battle climate change. His EPA, under the leadership of Secretary Andrew Wheeler, is rewriting clean water regulations that would make pipeline crossings easier to permit.

And some federal land previously closed to oil and gas redevelopment has reopened under his administration.

“When I last spoke at this conference in 2016, American energy was under relentless assault from the previous administration,” Trump said, adding that he’s delivered on every promise, including to “unleash our energy like never before.”

As for this year's oil and gas crowd, they liked him.

Surrounding the stage in the convention center's main hall were dozens of tables filled with Shell designees, and behind them, a standing room area for the general public.

The cheers started before Trump took the stage, when Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm introduced the president as a savior to the American energy industry.

“The past administration tried to kill the oil and gas industry,” Hamm said. “The first thing [Trump] did as president was stop the death by a thousand cuts of Obama.”

At times, the president's agenda sounded less like an official White House visit and more like a campaign stop, like in August, when he visited the Royal Dutch Shell petrochemical plant in August in Monaca, Beaver County and took shots at the field of 2020 Democratic presidential primary contenders.

This time, he warned several times about a Democrat winning in 2020, saying that if it happens, "you won't have money to pay for a ticket to this place. You'll all be out of business very quickly."

Trump’s speech began at around 3:50 p.m., about a half hour after he arrived at the convention center. He is set to leave the building at 4:40 and take off on Air Force One back to D.C. around 5:15.

At one point, protesters interrupted Trump’s speech. As one man was taken away, Trump said, “Don’t hurt him,” and added, “They’re dealing with very tough people in this room.”

On his way to Pittsburgh, he was joined on Air Force One by several of the state's Republican Congressmen and proponents of natural gas drilling, including U.S. Reps. Fred Keller, Guy Reschenthaler, Dan Meuser, Lloyd Smucker, G.T. Thompson, Mike Kelly and John Joyce.

While the Shale conference awaited Trump’s arrival, Democrats in Pennsylvania pounced on the president’s visit, holding a conference call to accuse Trump of lying to the American people about the economy.

"He was supposed to 'dig coal,' but we have miners who are unemployed," said Richard Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. "We have miners whose pensions aren't fixed and we have plants like the Bruce Mansfield energy plant that's been shut down ... and will result in the layoff of coal miners."

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, striking a different tone in a written statement, said the administration's focus on developing natural gas has led to "one of the greatest economic booms for Pennsylvania and for America in decades." He also criticized leading Democratic presidential candidates like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for wanting to ban fracking outright.

If fracking was banned, it would “lead to much higher prices for energy” and “cause us to go backwards on CO2 emissions because we would inevitably be using more coal and less natural gas than we otherwise would,” Toomey said.