Energy & Environment

Republicans grope for way to kill Paris climate agreement

Republicans are running out of ways to undermine the Obama administration’s commitments as part of the Paris climate agreement.

GOP lawmakers acknowledge that they won’t get a vote on the international accord, which they vehemently oppose. But Republicans and their allies are still pursuing channels in each branch of government as they look to torpedo the deal.

Many hoped that the Green Climate Fund was their best chance to do just that.

As negotiators were hashing out a final climate pact, Republicans vowed to block American contribution to the fund, an international pool of public and private money directed to help poorer nations prepare for the effects of climate change.

But the omnibus spending deal passed this week allows Obama to find funding elsewhere in the federal budget, effectively taking the matter out of Congress’s hands.

“The prohibition about doing it was very outspoken,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a vocal Obama critic, told The Hill. “You heard me say that: ‘No you can’t do it.’ But then they say, ‘Well, we can do it within accounts.’ So, that’s where it is.”

Even so, critics of the deal say there are ways to eventually disrupt the promises U.S. negotiators made.

2017 appropriations

While the White House, Democrats and environmental advocates expect Obama to be able to meet at least part of his current commitment to the Green Climate Fund, Republicans said they could challenge that in the 2017 appropriations process.

Under this year’s omnibus bill, the Green Climate Fund wasn’t appropriated any money, but green groups expect Obama to shift funding from other discretionary spending accounts to fill in the gap. Last spring, he asked Congress to provide up to $500 million to the fund in 2016.

In an interview with Newsmax, Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Republicans could look to formally block that type of maneuver next year by arguing shifted funding was “superfluous” because the administration moved it around.

“Congress has an oversight mechanism, should the State Department choose to move money around,” Inhofe said. “Whatever funds are offered up for reprogramming purposes will be cut in the next round of appropriations, since they are clearly superfluous.”

Power plant rule lawsuits

Opponents of the Paris deal also hope the federal courts will deal Obama’s main climate regulation a blow next year.

The Clean Power Plan, an Environmental Protection Agency rule designed to cut carbon emissions from power plants, is the centerpiece of Obama’s climate agenda and a major part of the U.S.’s pledge to reduce emissions as part of the Paris deal.

When the EPA published the rule in October, it was met with a wave of lawsuits from states, energy companies and interest groups looking to stop it.

Judges declined to issue a temporary hold on the rule before the Paris conference, but if the courts stop it in 2016, Republicans say, that would be a sign to the rest of the world that the U.S. can’t meet its climate commitments. 

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who was planning to lead a contingent of House Republicans to the climate conference, said the lawsuits are probably the best way to diminish the deal.

“The EPA has lost some lawsuits, even though from a practical standpoint it didn’t make much of a difference,” Whitfield said. The Supreme Court ruled against an EPA air quality rule earlier this year.

The EPA itself has recognized the importance of the Clean Power Plan to the climate deal. In a court filing earlier this month, federal lawyers argued that blocking the rule would hurt progress on an international climate agreement.

The agency obtained a declaration from Todd Stern, Obama’s chief climate negotiator, saying that stopping the rule “might prompt other countries to scale back or renege on their own domestic mitigation efforts.”

Congress has taken action to block the rule via the Congressional Review Act. But Obama is certain to veto anything that blocks his climate rules while he’s still in office, meaning a court ruling is opponents’ best hope for now.

“We’ve made very clear statements,” Whitfield said. “There’s no doubt about where Congress stands on all of this. Right now, it’s just all posturing and the president had his thing over in Paris.”

A new president

Appropriations and lawsuits aside, there is likely only one surefire way to undo the Paris deal: elect a Republican president who opposes it. 

Few of the Republican presidential candidates commented on the deal this week, and it wasn’t a topic of discussion at their debate last week.

But one candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), spoke strongly against the deal at a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Monday, calling it an “unfunny joke of a climate deal” and warning that the U.S. would hurt its economy by trying to cut emissions faster than other countries such as China.

“[China is] going to keep that deal so long as it doesn’t hurt their ability to grow their economy,” he said.

“Well guess what: It’s going to hurt their ability to grow their economy. Which means they’re not going to do it. This kind of unilateral disarmament in our economy is reckless and it is hurting the American dream.”

Many of the GOP candidates have come out against Obama’s climate regulations, raising the possibility that a Republican president might look to undo much of Obama’s environmental agenda in 2017.

The White House said this week that it doesn’t expect that to happen. The climate deal, it said, is a signal to the private sector that governments are looking to go greener, quicker. Companies that stand to benefit from that — solar energy developers, for example — will resist any future moves to ignore the deal.

“Do I think there’s going to be a lot of noise and campaigning next year about how we’re going stop Paris in its tracks? There will probably be a lot of noise like that,” Obama said Friday during his final news conference of the year.

“Do I actually think that two years from now, three years from now, even Republican members of Congress are going to look at it and say that’s a smart thing to do? I don’t think they will.”
But Republicans note that the climate agreement is not a binding document, an aspect they hope to exploit in the future.
“There is nothing mandatory here,” Whitfield said. “So [Obama] is going to do his victory lap, and that’s fine, but the next administration is going to make the final determination about what’s going to be done here.”

Jonathan Swan contributed.

Tags Ed Whitfield James Inhofe Marco Rubio
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