Six-term Republican Mayor Jim Brainard of Carmel, Ind., believes President Trump won't back out of the Paris climate change agreement.
"I think we'll stay in. And I think we should stay in," said Brainard, who was tapped by former President Barack Obama for his opinion on climate policy with other Republican mayors. He is co-chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' climate change and energy independence task force.
He told the Washington Examiner that the reasons to withdraw from the Paris Agreement don't cross the threshold of national security or defense. If it did, the situation might be different.
"First of all, there's the idea that when a country makes an agreement, we ought to stick to it, unless there is an overwhelming reason we should not," Brainard said. "If it was a bad agreement from a defense standpoint, that might be a different story."
Trump is expected to make a decision on whether to exit the agreement as soon as this week.
Brainard was in Washington last week to speak at the Pew Charitable Trusts on infrastructure development and met with advisers to Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of the Hoosier State, while in town.
"We know a lot of people that work with the vice president, his chief of staff," Brainard said. "I've known Gov. Pence, now Vice President Pence, for some time."
Many Republicans on Capitol Hill pressed Trump last week to make a "clean break" from the Paris agreement to avoid costly climate regulations. But Brainard doesn't see it that way.
He sees an opportunity to save money by using less fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while creating new markets for American-made technology to get the rest of the world there, too. Many scientists blame greenhouse gases emitted from burning fossil fuels for driving manmade climate change.
"I think there's reasons besides climate" to remain a party to the agreement, Bainard said. "Most of the time we can save money. For instance, in Carmel we took almost all of our street lights, spent about $750,000, and replaced them with LED lights, which uses less electricity," he said.
"We're getting close to a 30 percent annualized return on investment from electricity savings. So, we're using less electricity," he said. "It's a good thing for the environment, the air is cleaner, we don't burn as much coal, but we are also saving money."
Brainard has been sought after domestically and abroad for his city planning prowess. He has managed to help Carmel thrive by keeping its infrastructure competitive enough to attract new businesses as its population had doubled over the last few decades.
He has become almost famous for creating a system of street roundabouts, the most of any city in the nation, to cut down on accidents, save consumers fuel, improve productivity and reduce electricity costs by cutting out the use of traffic lights.
These are the types of ideas that the federal government supports under its existing highway spending programs and it is something that should remain, he said.
There are "so many other things that we can achieve by reducing our carbon," he added. "Number one, become more resilient. If our oil supply is cut off, we have other ways to power our country."
Second, "the rest of the world wants to cut down on bad air quality." So, "let's design and manufacture those products."
Bottom line: "There's a lot of different ways to get at the same end point," he said.
He isn't against fossil fuel production, but he disagrees with the notion of using up the nation's reserves without a broader strategy that includes alternatives. But at the same time, he isn't in favor of a 100 percent renewable energy transition.
"Let's say it's 100-200 years from now and we need these fossil fuels. Do we really want to use them up? Do we want to be totally reliant on renewables? Probably not," Brainard said.
"Keeping some of these in reserve might be the prudent thing. Be the conservative thing to do," he added.
Indiana is the third largest coal-consuming state in the country after Texas and Illinois. But that doesn't mean it's immune to low natural gas prices.
The most recent example of that is one of the last inner-city coal plants in the country was transitioned to natural gas last year in Indianapolis, he pointed out.
Indianapolis Power and Light, which owns the Harding Street power plant, said the decision was the least expensive option to comply with new federal environmental regulations, which is another source of pressure, especially for older power plants.
On top of that, the federal Energy Information Administration pointed out that Ball State University in Muncie began installing a geothermal heating and cooling system to replace an aging coal power plant, which the agency pointed out also cut the university's carbon emissions in half. Indiana is the country's eighth-biggest carbon dioxide emitter, in addition to being the eighth biggest coal producer. It is also the fifth biggest producer of corn and ethanol.
Brainard said the Hoosier State has shut down much of its coal fleet and will continue to do so as a matter of economics and cleaning up the air.