Reflecting what appears to be widespread congressional skepticism over the administration’s climate agenda, a report by the majority (Republican) staff on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee took the White House to task for “misleading the American people” on the costs of reducing U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.
Issued on December 1, to coincide with the opening of the UN-sponsored Conference of the Parties (COP-21) in Paris, the report highlights what it says are the “policy, technical, and legal shortcomings” of the Obama administration’s promises in addressing climate change. In light of the agreement subsequently reached in Paris on December 12, the White Paper, “Forecast for COP-21: Senate Predicts Obama Climate Policies to Come Up Short,” provides an overview of the problems associated with the commitments the administration made in the climate pact.
“Congress, under both Democratic and Republican majorities, has a history of opposing international agreements, legislation, and regulations targeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would undermine the welfare of the American people and the economy,” the White Paper points out. “President Obama has pursued radical environmental policies to ‘decarbonize’ the U.S. economy through unilateral executive actions, rather than work with Congress to develop policies that reflect the consensus view and have broad popular support.”
“The Obama administration’s pledge to reduce GHG emissions to 26 to 28 percent by 2025 (per the U.S. intended nationally determined contribution, or INDC) does not withstand scrutiny,” the report states. “The actions in the INDC do not add up to 26 to 28 percent and are unlikely to be fully implemented due to litigation challenges and policy objections.”
Turning to the climate pact’s provision providing funding from industrialized countries, including the U.S., to poorer nations to assist them in reaching their GHG-related commitments, the White Paper cautions against unrealistic expectations. “President Obama’s international climate pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for developing countries is not supported by Congress,” the report says. “Other countries appear to be using the COP-21 process as a way to bolster their own domestic coffers, at the expense of the American people.”
Anticipating the White House may try to circumvent Congress in carrying out the terms of the Paris agreement, the White Paper underscores the Senate’s role in approving U.S. international commitments. “The Senate must be able to exercise its constitutional role to approve any agreement setting targets or timetables that emerge from COP-21,” the report says. “Absent approval by the Senate, any deal announced at COP-21 will be little more than a press release, with no binding accountability or enforcement mechanisms in place. Such an agreement is also limited in duration as the next administration could change its pledge.”
An Agreement or a Treaty?
The White Paper’s emphasis on the Senate’s responsibilities under the Constitution appears to have fallen on deaf ears at the White House. At Paris, representatives from 186 countries entered into an agreement wherein they committed to reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions in the years to come.
The Obama administration has scrupulously avoided the word “treaty,” choosing, instead, to call the climate deal an “agreement.” A treaty would require a two-thirds vote of approval in the Senate, a hurdle the administration knows it cannot clear. Citing the non-binding nature of the commitments the U.S. made in Paris, the White House argues the deal is not a treaty and thus does not require Senate approval.
Omnibus Bill Funds GCF
The administration’s gamble it can avoid the complications a treaty would impose received an unexpected boost in the December 18 omnibus spending bill negotiated between Congress and the White House. Contrary to the expectations expressed in the Senate White Paper, the Republican-controlled Congress funded, at least in part, the Green Climate Fund.
As explained by Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), in an article he wrote for Townhall the omnibus spending bill contains $171 million for the Green Technology Fund and $50 million for the Strategic Climate Fund – both of which feed into the GCF. The bill also allows $168 million in appropriations for the Global Environmental Facility to be put at the disposal of the GCF and it paves the way for the U.S. Treasury to transfer $50 million of International Bank for Reconstruction and Development money to the GCF. All told, the spending bill provides $439 million of U.S. taxpayer money for the GCF.
“The Senate Committee’s White paper points to all the problems with the Obama climate change policies,” said Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). “At Paris, Obama made commitments he cannot keep. But his attempt to force-feed the American public a steady diet of renewable energy will lower living standards, harm public health, and have absolutely no effect on the climate.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Majority Staff Report United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works 114th Congress, Forecast For Cop-21: Senate Predicts Obama Climate Promises To Come Up Short Again, December 1, 2015; https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/forecast-cop-21-senate-predicts-obama-climate-promises-come-short-again