GOP Grasps For Leverage Over Paris Climate-Change Deal

The latest gambit: Withhold cash unless the Senate gets to vote on the potential accord.

Fog and smog swallow up the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Nov. 2. Paris authorities have put in place measures to limit traffic after high levels of pollution in the French capital. France is proposing the automatic updating of countries' emissions targets in a climate deal to be thrashed out at a U.N. conference in Paris beginning this month.
AP Photo/Jacques Brinon
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Nov. 18, 2015, 1:01 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans are furi­ous that Pres­id­ent Obama plans to join a sweep­ing new glob­al cli­mate-change pact that will prob­ably leave Con­gress on the out­side look­ing in. So they’re try­ing to find polit­ic­al lever­age where they can.

That’s why GOP sen­at­ors are mak­ing a new threat ahead of the United Na­tions cli­mate sum­mit that be­gins Nov. 30 in Par­is: They won’t provide a dime for a ma­jor White House pledge to help de­vel­op­ing na­tions fight cli­mate change un­less Obama agrees to sub­mit the cli­mate deal to the Sen­ate for its ad­vice and con­sent.

Sens. John Bar­rasso and James In­hofe are cir­cu­lat­ing a let­ter among col­leagues that tar­gets Obama’s late 2014 pledge to steer $3 bil­lion in­to the Green Cli­mate Fund, a mul­tina­tion­al ef­fort that sup­ports de­vel­op­ing na­tions’ ef­forts to cut emis­sions and be­come more re­si­li­ent to the ef­fects of glob­al warm­ing.

“While the Ex­ec­ut­ive Branch and Con­gress both play an im­port­ant role in the for­eign policy of our na­tion, Con­gress ul­ti­mately holds the power of the purse. We pledge that Con­gress will not al­low U.S. tax­pay­er dol­lars to go to the Green Cli­mate Fund un­til the forth­com­ing in­ter­na­tion­al cli­mate agree­ment is sub­mit­ted to the Sen­ate for its con­sti­tu­tion­al ad­vice and con­sent,” the planned let­ter to Obama states.

Re­pub­lic­ans’ ef­fort is aimed squarely at the oth­er na­tions ne­go­ti­at­ing with the U.S. on the ac­cord that Obama hopes will be a big piece of his green leg­acy. “If there is one mes­sage that I would like to send to the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity ahead of the in­ter­na­tion­al cli­mate-change con­fer­ence, it is this: Without Sen­ate ap­prov­al, there will be no money,” Bar­rasso said at an En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee hear­ing Wed­nes­day.

The White House did not com­ment on the let­ter. The White House budget re­quest sub­mit­ted to Con­gress early this year asks for $500 mil­lion of the $3 bil­lion pledge, and while Re­pub­lic­ans are no fans of cli­mate pro­grams, Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry re­cently pre­dicted that Obama would get money from Con­gress.

“We’ll get there, be­cause the trade-offs of the budget are such that when something is a high enough pri­or­ity for a pres­id­ent, you have a way of get­ting it done, even though it’s op­posed by people” Kerry told The Fin­an­cial Times last week, even hint­ing that Obama would veto spend­ing le­gis­la­tion that omit­ted it.

The Green Cli­mate Fund is part of wider ef­forts un­der the U.N. ne­go­ti­ations to mo­bil­ize $100 bil­lion an­nu­ally in cli­mate fin­ance from pub­lic and private sources by 2020.

The let­ter is the latest ef­fort by Re­pub­lic­ans to in­flu­ence the pact that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and gov­ern­ments from nearly 200 na­tions hope to reach dur­ing the high-stakes talks in Par­is. Re­pub­lic­ans are seek­ing to show that the U.S. might not fol­low through on com­mit­ments that Obama is mak­ing. But thus far, the ef­forts have been largely mes­saging by a party that doesn’t have a seat at the table.

The Sen­ate passed a pair of GOP-led bills yes­ter­day that would block sweep­ing EPA reg­u­la­tions to cut car­bon emis­sions from power plants, rules that would help the U.S. to meet the pledge it offered in the cli­mate ne­go­ti­ations to cut its green­house gas emis­sions 26-28 per­cent be­low 2005 levels by 2025. The House is likely to fol­low suit, but the meas­ures are largely sym­bol­ic be­cause they already face a firm White House veto threat.

Sen. Shel­ley Moore Capito, a West Vir­gin­ia Re­pub­lic­an help­ing to lead the GOP ef­fort, said ahead of the vote that law­makers are try­ing to send a mes­sage to the Par­is talks. “[Pres­id­ent Obama] is get­ting ready to enter in­to a glob­al cli­mate agree­ment. I think by show­ing that we dis­ap­prove of this reg­u­la­tion, [it] shows that the coun­try is not be­hind the policies he is put­ting for­ward,” she told re­port­ers in the Cap­it­ol.

There’s more to come. Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mike Kelly will soon in­tro­duce res­ol­u­tions de­mand­ing that the planned Par­is agree­ment will be sub­mit­ted to the Sen­ate for rat­i­fic­a­tion.

But Re­pub­lic­ans, lack­ing a veto-proof ma­jor­ity, have very lim­ited op­tions when it comes to de­mand­ing a say in the out­come of the Par­is talks.

The emer­ging Par­is plan is likely to be struc­tured in a way that won’t be a new treaty that re­quires Sen­ate sign-off. That’s partly be­cause it’s all but im­possible to ima­gine that Re­pub­lic­ans—many of whom dis­pute hu­man-in­duced glob­al warm­ing—would al­low the two-thirds Sen­ate vote needed to rat­i­fy new treat­ies.

Un­like the 1997 Kyoto Pro­tocol (which the U.S. nev­er joined), the Par­is deal ap­pears ex­tremely un­likely to im­pose in­ter­na­tion­ally bind­ing emis­sions-cut­ting tar­gets on any na­tions. In­stead the U.S. and oth­er na­tions are sub­mit­ting do­mest­ic car­bon-cut­ting tar­gets that will not be in­ter­na­tion­ally bind­ing.

However, un­der the hy­brid ap­proach that the U.S. and some oth­er coun­tries are push­ing, oth­er pro­vi­sions of the pact—such as veri­fic­a­tion and mon­it­or­ing of ac­tion on na­tion­al pledges—would in­deed be in­ter­na­tion­ally bind­ing.

Bar­rasso ar­gues that those por­tions at the very least need law­makers’ ap­prov­al. “Any agree­ment reached in Par­is that con­tains leg­ally bind­ing re­quire­ments on the Amer­ic­an people must come to the Sen­ate for a vote,” he said at Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing.

But while the ac­cord is still be­ing hashed out, U.S. of­fi­cials won’t pledge to sub­mit even the po­ten­tially bind­ing por­tions for Sen­ate ap­prov­al. A seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Wed­nes­day that it’s too early to know what the ac­cord will con­tain.“With re­spect to wheth­er any agree­ment in Par­is re­quires ad­vice and con­sent of the Sen­ate, the ne­go­ti­ations are on­go­ing and it is pre­ma­ture to judge what an agree­ment’s ul­ti­mate leg­al form would be,” the of­fi­cial said.

Todd Stern, the State De­part­ment’s top cli­mate ne­go­ti­at­or, noted at a re­cent Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee hear­ing that it’s com­mon to have im­port­ant in­ter­na­tion­al agree­ments that do not re­quire Sen­ate rat­i­fic­a­tion. “Wheth­er you’re talk­ing about the At­lantic Charter or the Hel­sinki ac­cords or any num­ber of nuc­le­ar ar­range­ments, the no­tion of agree­ments be­ing entered in­to in some form oth­er than ad­vice and con­sent is ac­tu­ally quite com­mon,” he said.

And at the same hear­ing last month, lib­er­al Demo­crat Ed Mar­key noted that the Sen­ate rat­i­fic­a­tion of an earli­er cli­mate treaty, the 1992 United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change, gives the U.S. run­ning room to strike new agree­ments un­der that pact.

“There is an ex­ist­ing treaty, you’re ne­go­ti­at­ing un­der that treaty, which is an au­thor­ity which Con­gress gave to you. And I just think we should make that clear. You’re not in vi­ol­a­tion of any his­tor­ic­al pre­ced­ence,” Mar­key said to Stern. “I mean, it’s something that we want you to do and it’s something that the Con­gress passed.”

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