Republicans used two congressional hearings Wednesday to sow doubts about the Obama administration’s ability to get an acceptable global climate pact in Paris this year.
With less than two weeks to go until world leaders meet to hash out the agreement, the GOP said Obama wants an agreement that’s on shaky legal ground and relies on illegal regulations.
At the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, lawmakers pointed to the fact that the Obama administration wants the pact to not be legally binding, while leaders in other countries, like France, want a binding agreement.
“If major participants in the upcoming COP21 negotiations cannot agree on the legal status of any forthcoming agreement, no wonder those of us here today have questions,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoRepublicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall White House looks to rein in gas prices ahead of busy travel season Bipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise MORE (R-W.Va.), who chaired the hearing.
“Will this agreement be legally binding or not? If so, will it be submitted to the Senate for ratification as required by the Constitution?” she asked, saying that any deal that is legally binding must go through the Senate in order to take effect.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the panel’s chairman, was skeptical as to whether any significant deal will actually come from the meeting at all.
“Several of us up on the panel have different ideas of what is to be accomplished there, and my idea is, nothing,” Inhofe said.
Capito pointed also to the votes Tuesday in the Senate to overturn Obama’s carbon limits for power plants, the key piece to his international pledge to reduce the country’s emissions 26 percent to 28 percent.
“I brought those up because, in my opinion, they’re inextricably tied to upcoming climate negotiations,” she said. “President Obama could not meet his goal of 26 to 28 percent reduction in CO2 emissions without the full implementation of this regulation, and we believe that that stands on shaky legal and political ground.”
In his own hearing on the matter, Rep. Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithEx-officers acquitted in beating of Black colleague who was undercover at St. Louis protests Bottom line In partisan slugfest, can Chip Roy overcome Trump troubles? MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, focused on the fact that the power plant rules will have a minimal effect on climate change.
“The Obama administration touts the Clean Power Plan as the cornerstone of its promise to the international committee to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “However, the U.S. pledge to the UN is estimated to prevent only 0.03 degree Celsius temperature rise. This is laughable, even if the negative consequences are serious.”
Smith also criticized the administration’s plan to get a deal that is not legally binding, saying officials are trying to avoid Congress.
“The president’s plan gives control of U.S. climate policy oftentimes to unelected United Nations officials,” Smith said. “This plans ignores good science and seeks to advance a partisan political agenda.”
Neither hearing had witnesses representing the Obama administration. Inhofe said he’s asked the Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality and State Department to send witnesses for a hearing and they have all declined.
Todd Stern, Obama’s main negotiator for the pact, testified at an October Senate hearing that a nonbinding agreement would better ensure that most countries in the world participate and come to the table with strong commitments.
Democrats at Wednesday’s hearings defended the administration and said that a climate deal is crucial in the ongoing fight against global warming.
“These negotiations are critical, because to effectively address climate change, we cannot act alone. We cannot do this alone,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). “We have to work cooperatively with our neighbors around the world.”
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said at the House hearing that the United States needs to be a world leader in reducing greenhouse gases.
“Our commitment to a cleaner future is what allows the United States to lead by example, and galvanize the international community to take meaningful steps to address the issue of carbon emissions and climate change,” she said.
“The Clean Power Plan and the upcoming negotiations in Paris are necessary if we stand any chance, not just as a country, but as a world, of lessening the effects of climate change on our state, our country and our planet.”