Senators question Obama ability to implement climate plans

Senators question Obama ability to implement climate plans

Senators sparred Wednesday over the effectiveness and legality of President Obama’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international climate agreement later this year.

Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Senators take oath for impeachment trial Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers MORE (R-Okla.) said Obama’s proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 “is not only unrealistic, it does not add up.” He cited an analysis from a former Sierra Club climate expert who said the actions pursued by Obama — including regulations on everything from power plants to cars and trucks — would fall well short of his goal.

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Inhofe also questioned whether the Obama administration has the right to enter into an international climate treaty and pursue further greenhouse gas reductions without congressional approval. He suggested a future presidential administration might be able to undo what Obama commits to accomplish during the talks.

“If they were to find a way to do something without ratification, without Congress’s input, wouldn’t the next administration be in the same position to undo anything that was done?” he said at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing Wednesday.

The United Nations is hosting a climate conference in Paris this December with the goal of reaching a landmark agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Congressional Republicans have warned that the United States may not be able to reach the goals Obama has so far set out, and if he were to go to Congress asking for more help to do so, he wouldn’t get it. 

“There is no public support or congressional support that would ratify that,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said. 

But Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFormer Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer joins DC lobbying firm Hillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Ocasio-Cortez blasts former Dem senator for helping Lyft fight gig worker bill MORE (D-Calif.) said that doesn’t matter, because the Clean Air Act gives the Obama administration the right to institute climate policies on its own. 

“I believe this is achievable because the president’s climate action plan contains the tools to get it done, even without Congress,” she said. “The bottom line is, we have the Clean Air Act.”

Republicans pushed back on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to institute their new emissions rules under current law, noting recent Supreme Court decisions, including one last week that said the agency has gone too far in some of its rule-making. 

On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the court’s rulings were narrow and shouldn’t impact the Obama administration’s biggest emissions strategies, including the Clean Power Plan regulations on power plants due out this summer. 

“The court seemed to go out of its way to narrow this decision, in so many ways,” McCarthy said. “They really made it just about this single provision that they said Congress told us really to treat this differently.”

At the hearing, Boxer tangled with a law professor over the Obama administration’s right to negotiate a climate treaty without congressional ratification. She said the administration could rely on a U.N. framework on climate change the Senate ratified in 1992. 

“The Clean Air Act governs here, you have a treaty that governs here, you have a president that is carrying out the Clean Air Act,” she said. 

Republicans’ star witness was David Bookbinder, who used to be the Sierra Club’s chief climate counsel but has since questioned the ability of the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas reduction strategies to meet the emissions goals. 

“This is arithmetic, it’s nothing but arithmetic,” he said. “This should come as no surprise to you, and this is no surprise to anybody, we’re not the only ones who can do the numbers. I promise you, the rest of the world can look at the same regulatory measures and do the numbers just as well as we can.”

Bookbinder said that more would need to be done to reduce emissions, including proposals Republicans would oppose, including a tax on carbon or efforts to reducing emissions from the agriculture sector. 

“These are the things that you can imagine,” he said. “My point is, if they really are serious about meeting their commitment, they almost have to do those things.”

The U.S.’s emissions targets are just one of those proposed by countries ahead of the U.N.’s December climate talks. Other major emitters, such as the European Union and China, had said they will work to bring down their emissions as well, and green groups have credited the Obama administration with bringing the Chinese to the negotiating table. 

Despite the commitments, success at the climate conference is not guaranteed. Republicans, including Inhofe, have looked to warn that the U.S. might not be able to achieve its goals, risking the effectiveness of the overall treaty.

In the hearing Wednesday, he raised the specter of the failed 2009 U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen and suggested something similar could happen this year. 

“I personally went to Copenhagen … I said no, what they’re telling you isn’t true,” Inhofe said. “We’re not going to be passing cap and trade as they told you, and this was 2009, and of course that didn’t happen.”