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Obama turns to climate deal

The Obama administration is ramping up its efforts to get the American public behind its goal for a strong global climate change deal in Paris in December.

With weeks to go until negotiators meet to hash out a final international agreement, President Obama worked in recent days to make sure the country knows the importance of United States leadership in getting worldwide buy-in for a strong deal.

Republicans also ratcheted up their efforts to undermine Obama’s participation in the climate talks, arguing that the deal will amount to a treaty that requires — and will not receive — Senate ratification to take effect.

The GOP also wants to show world leaders that the Obama administration’s pledge for the deal — a 26 percent to 28 percent cut in the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, compared with 2005 — is not possible, and Obama should not be trusted to live up to his promises.

Though the deal is still being negotiated, it’s shaping up to be a collection of individual pledges from countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, steps to increase clean energy production, financing for poor countries and other efforts. Chances are that the deal will not be legally binding, which allows Obama to argue that it is not a treaty that needs Senate ratification.

The stakes are high, both because of the expected effects of climate change and because Obama wants to avoid the mistakes of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, which ended with no deal.

The White House set the tone for the week Monday with the news that 81 companies, including some big names like Intel Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co., are on board with Obama’s goals for an ambitious, strong, long-lasting agreement in Paris.

“As we look at this major conference that we’re going to be having in Paris in just a few months, where we’ve already mobilized the international community, including China, to participate, I just want everybody to understand that American businesses want this to happen as well,” Obama said after meeting with five major CEOs, saying that they need a level playing field to thrive.

“If we’re able to establish those kinds of rules and that’s the goal that we’re setting forth in Paris, I have no doubt that these companies are going to excel,” he said. “And that’s going to mean jobs, businesses, and opportunity alongside cleaner air and a better environment.”

Getting big business buy-in on the Paris deal is an attempt by Obama to increase the legitimacy of his efforts and to show opponents who can benefit from the talks.

Later in the week, a senior administration official laid out the strategy and stakes for the talks.

The official also tried to set expectations for the deal, which is unlikely to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“It’s been clear for some time that, given the history of this issue, and the fits and starts of international negotiations, that the most important thing about a Paris agreement was going to be achieving durable, credible and universal agreement that reflected bottom-up country-delivered agreements,” the official said.

Republicans are fighting back and asserting what they see as the Senate’s rightful place in international treaties.

“Just like the Kyoto Protocol and the United Nations framework convention on climate change, any agreement that commits our nation to targets or timetables must go through the process established by the founders in our Constitution,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said at a hearing he chaired in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel about the deal. “It must be submitted to the United States Senate for its advice and consent.”

“The president has made clear that he doesn’t see it that way, as was the case with the Iranian nuclear deal,” he said.

Barrasso later said that it’s important to tell foreign countries that Obama’s promises will not stand.

“The president can make promises, but it doesn’t necessarily carry the full force of the United States,” he said. “There are still court rulings to come. They may find that a number of things this administration does are not legal.”

Elliot Diringer, executive vice president at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said Republicans are only reinforcing Obama’s strategy to stick with non-binding targets that don’t require Senate ratification.

“What came across in the hearing is that binding targets and timetables would require advice and consent from the Senate — and that the administration won’t agree to binding targets,” Diringer said. “The U.S. isn’t alone in that view, and I think the likeliest outcome in Paris is that targets won’t be binding.

Republicans’ work on the climate deal is far from over. Lawmakers including Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee energy and power subpanel chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) are considering going to Paris or sending staff to try to influence the talks.

“I don’t know if I’ll repeat what I’ve done several times before, which is to go over and be the bad guy, the one-man truth squad, and tell the truth, that they’re going to be lied to by the Obama administration,” Inhofe said.

Inhofe, a vocal climate change skeptic, has bragged that he traveled to the Copenhagen talks in 2009 and served as a “one-man truth squad” to derail the deal.

Whitfield said he wants to show negotiators that much of Obama’s promised emissions goal relies on regulations that Congress could weaken or overturn.

“We may send a group over to Paris, just to let them know that there’s another branch of government, in addition to the executive branch, on these issues,” he said.

Diringer said that Obama’s best bet would be to push for a deal that doesn’t require Senate input and is based on United States law, which has been the administration’s goal.

Meanwhile, Republicans in both chambers are launching new efforts to overturn the carbon limits for power plants through the Congressional Review Act.

Obama has vowed to veto any efforts to overturn the rule, the centerpiece of his climate change initiative. But even with his veto, the GOP hopes a vote could send a strong signal to the Paris negotiators that Obama’s environmental agenda has significant opposition domestically.

Congressional leaders have yet to say when the disapproval resolutions might get votes. But Republicans hope that they would come before or during the Paris talks.

Tags Ed Whitfield John Barrasso

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