Obama to Avoid Senate Vote on New Climate Treaty

Published October 23, 2014

Obama to Avoid Senate Vote on New Climate Treaty

Making the announcement first on August 26 and confirming it in his speech before a United Nations climate summit in New York City on September 23, President Obama has committed the United States to forging an international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, without Senate ratification which the Constitution requires for international treaties. Obama said he intends to have this agreement ready to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris.

“President Obama is determined to pursue his incredibly expensive and useless global warming agenda, Congress and public opinion be damned,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and the Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

New but Not New

When first broaching the plan in August, an administration spokesman admitted it was virtually certain the Senate would not ratify any new international climate change agreement, especially if it includes legally binding U.S. greenhouse gas emission reductions. Therefore, the Obama administration is shaping a “politically binding” agreement it will attempt to tack on to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

President George H. W. Bush signed this treaty in 1992, and the Senate ratified it. As the Obama administration describes it, Obama’s plan is a hybrid agreement combining legally binding conditions of the 1992 Framework on Climate Change with voluntary commitments for countries to enact climate change policies for reducing emissions by specific amounts and sending money to poor countries. Instead of an enforcement mechanism, the agreement would, in the words of Obama’s negotiators, “name and shame” countries into cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

With no legally binding targets or specific punishments tied to the commitments, Obama administration surrogates say the new agreement would not require Senate ratification.

Congressional Response Negative

 Congressional reaction has been sharply critical of Obama’s plan. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) issued a statement saying, “Once again, the president is trying to go around Congress and ignore Americans who cannot afford more expensive, extreme energy regulations.”

House science committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said in a statement, “This yet another example of a president who is willing to ignore the rule of law to get what he wants.”

“We will continue to fight the president’s economy-crushing domestic greenhouse gas regulations,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) in a statement.

“U.S. economic competitiveness is hanging in the balance, and additional U.S. restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions will only hurt the United States as other nations like Australia either scrap or water down their unsuccessful green dream policies,” Inhofe added.

Scholars Critical of Plan

Jonathan H. Adler, director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said any agreement the president would sign without congressional approval would no have the force of law. “The latest announcement is more symbolism than substance. Any executive agreement on climate cannot empower the federal government to do any more than it is allowed to do already,” he said.

“The President lacks the authority to impose any legally binding constraints without congressional approval, either in the form of legislation or Senate ratification of a valid treaty. With or without such a treaty, the only legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions will be those adopted pursuant to the EPA’s existing Clean Air Act authority,” Adler added.

Ebell said Obama’s new climate plan is an attempt to shore up his legacy on the climate change issue. “The White House realizes that any successor to the Kyoto Protocol will never be ratified by the Senate, as Kyoto was never ratified. Nonetheless, the president wants to sign an international climate agreement in Paris in December 2015. It will be the high point of his legacy on climate policy and perhaps one of the few achievements of his last two years in office. And so the State Department is insisting in the UN negotiations on some type of agreement that will not require ratification,” Ebell said.

H. Sterling Burnett ([email protected])is managing editor of Environment & Climate