Lawmakers Seek to Block Kyoto Treaty ‘Implementation Without Ratification’

Published June 1, 1998

Concerned that the Clinton administration is moving ahead with plans to carry out the terms of the as-yet unratified Kyoto Protocol, opponents of the controversial global warming treaty are rallying behind new legislation designed to thwart “back door” implementation of the accord.

On April 30, Senator John Ashcroft (R-Missouri) introduced the “Economic Growth and Sovereignty Act” (S. 2019). His tersely worded bill, the boldest step yet taken by a member of the body that will ultimately decide the fate of the treaty, aims to undercut White House efforts to circumvent the Senate and impose limits on emissions of man-made greenhouse gases.

Saying the treaty agreed to by the U.S. and over 160 other nations in Kyoto, Japan last December has “no chance–none, zero–of gaining ratification in the Senate,” Ashcroft pointed out that implementing a treaty without the Senate’s approval “is contrary to the Constitution and the checks and balances established by the framers.” “Having given away far too much to get a bad agreement in Kyoto, the administration is seeking to put salt into this wound by sneaking the Kyoto terms past the Senate and the public,” he said.

According to Ashcroft, the administration has taken several steps to implement the treaty without the advice and consent of the Senate, including:

  • proposing a five-year, $6.3 billion “climate change initiative” that would include tax credits to promote energy conservation and fund research on global warming;
  • having EPA pressure state and local governments to lower their greenhouse gas emissions;
  • establishing climate change offices and initiatives in federal departments and agencies; and
  • claiming in an internal EPA memorandum that the agency has the statutory authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2).

Ashcroft’s bill contains just two provisions, but they have been crafted to put the brakes on administration moves to implement the treaty. The bill states:

Federal funds shall not be used for rules, regulations, and programs designed to implement, or in contemplation of implementing, the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, done at Kyoto on December 11, 1997, unless or until the Senate has given its advice and consent to the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol under Article II, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution.

In addition, S. 2019 provides that, “Notwithstanding any other provisions of the law, no federal agency shall have the authority to promulgate regulations to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide, after the date of enactment of this Act, unless a law is enacted specifically granting such authority.”

At the news conference introducing his legislation, Ashcroft was joined by representatives of several organizations backing his bill, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, Associated General Contractors of America, Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Small Business Survival Committee, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A companion version of S. 2019 was introduced in the House on May 7 by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Michigan). Knollenberg’s bill, H.R. 3807, has already garnered 45 co-sponsors, 38 Republicans and 7 Democrats. Like Ashcroft, Knollenberg believes the administration has no chance of winning ratification of the treaty in the Senate. “Faced with this dilemma,” Knollenberg said, “the president is attempting to accomplish his goals by regulatory fiat. Congress must not allow this to happen. The stakes involved are too high to allow the Clinton administration to implement this treaty through the back door.”

Ashcroft’s office also is eager to have Democratic co-sponsors. Identifying them, however, is a task that will have to be carried out with some delicacy. Ashcroft is expected to announce his candidacy for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination not long after this November’s midterm elections. While many Congressional Democrats may be sympathetic to Ashcroft’s bill, they will be reluctant to be too closely identified with someone who might face their party’s likely presidential nominee, Vice President Al Gore–the administration’s leading global warming advocate.

Ashcroft’s press release and backgrounder on S. 2019 made no reference to Gore. Aware that a Gore-bashing announcement would probably scare potential Democratic supporters away, the Missouri Republican appears to favor a “kinder and gentler” approach to the vice president, preferring to concentrate his fire in the treaty itself.

Ashcroft cited a Wharton Econometrics Forecasting Associates (WEFA) study, which concluded that implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in the U.S. would bring an average loss of income of more than $2,700 a year for the average American family, and would cost the U.S. more than 2.4 million jobs. “The Senate should not stand idle while American families and businesses pay an extreme and unjustified price for a program that requires serious and searching debate,” he said.

Spokesmen for the Clinton administration vehemently deny that efforts are underway to circumvent the Senate and impose the Kyoto Protocol by other means. Stuart Eizenstat, undersecretary of state for economic, business, and agricultural affairs, told a May 14 hearing before the House International Affairs Committee that the administration is pursuing actions that make for good environmental and energy policy. These actions, he explained, would have the “side effect” of reducing greenhouse gases. Eizenstat called suggestions that the administration is trying to bypass the Senate “completely and totally fallacious.”