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To What Extent Can Gov. Brown Pursue Foreign Policy?

Rebecca Blackwell / AP
 

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

During his trip to Europe this week, California Governor Jerry Brown is urging foreign governments to bypass the Trump administration and coordinate with states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Former U.S. ambassador Charles Reis says it’s common for politicians to undertake international trips, trade agreements, and even public disputes with federal policy.

“What’s unusual about this circumstance is that the actions of the state government matter internationally, because the state is so big,” Reis says. “So it’s not just a rhetorical distinction from that of Washington’s policy.”

Brown has talked of striking an international agreement between state and regional governments that mirrors the Paris climate agreement, and of linking California’s cap-and-trade program with Europe’s emissions-trading scheme.

George Washington University international law professor Edward Swaine says that could approach tricky legal territory.

“The United States is a party to the Paris agreement and—if President Trump is to be believed on this score—interested in renegotiating it,” Swaine says. “And there might be claims that state and local activities, at least in the aggregate, interfere with that.”

The federal government has authority over US foreign relations, but Swaine says there’s so much state activity that’s foreign-looking, it’s difficult to draw lines.

Hear the full interview with Charles Reis

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