In the U.S., a combative Republican Congress is working to halt President Obama’s domestic policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions and snarl his international efforts to seal a climate change deal in Paris.
“The President is attempting to steamroll ahead with an emissions reduction target that he continues to fail to articulate and that the U.S. can neither reasonably achieve nor afford,” says Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee.
“The President’s far-reaching proposals and international promises will do lasting damage to our nation, all for little to no environmental benefit,” says Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space & Technology. “The pledge to the UN is estimated to prevent only a 0.03 °C temperature rise,” he says. “The President’s plan gives control of U.S. energy policy to unelected United Nations officials.”
Inhofe, who says the science over whether climate change is happening is unsettled, is among many lawmakers taking aim at the President’s signature policy for curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the Clean Power Plan. This Clean Air Act regulation will reduce carbon dioxide releases from fossil-fuel-fired power plants.
Both the Senate and the House are moving legislation that would nullify that rule in hopes of weakening the U.S. negotiation stance in Paris. Doing so would undermine Obama’s pledge for the U.S. to cut its greenhouse gases 26–28% below 2005 levels before 2025.
But David Doniger, climate and clean air program director for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, points out that the Senate, which on Nov. 17 passed the legislation 52-46, is well short of the 67 votes of support needed to override an almost-certain veto. Congress’s inability to override such a veto would signal to the rest of the world that the GOP-controlled legislature does not have the leverage to block the President’s international climate commitments.
Another battle between Congress and Obama involves an issue that UN negotiators will have to settle in Paris. It focuses on whether the agreement that is expected to emerge from Paris is legally binding.
If the Paris accord is considered legally binding, the President must seek input and approval from the Senate. The Republican-controlled Senate would most likely reject the deal. So against the desires of the European Union, the Obama Administration has strongly pushed for the new climate change deal not to be legally binding.
The President is making “a calculated end run around Congress,” says Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over international energy and environmental matters.
The Senate is considering legislation that would deem any agreement emerging from Paris, regardless of whether it is legally binding, to have no effect in the U.S. unless the Senate consents to it.
Cheryl Hogue oversees government and policy coverage at Chemical & Engineering News and has been covering climate issues for decades. Follow her coverage of #COP21 on Twitter @chogue