Congressional partisans on both sides of the climate wars are fortifying their positions as landmark U.N. negotiations in Paris near.
For House and Senate Republican majorities, that means making the case to the world as forcefully as possible that White House pledges of aid and greenhouse gas emissions reductions are unlikely to materialize—and shouldn’t be counted on in any agreement.
Climate advocates, meanwhile, are preparing to counter that message by traveling to Paris to help President Obama and his Cabinet achieve their long-sought goal of facilitating a deal that allows for U.S. participation.
“Part of what we’re going to do is to walk anybody who has any misgivings about our level of commitment—walk them through how our legislative process works, what the next steps are, how monumentally difficult it would be to undermine this,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in an interview with ClimateWire.
Schatz said the delegation’s mission would be to allay international fears about the future of policies like U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which are key to the U.S. negotiating position but are under attack at home.
“People shouldn’t mistake the United States having a labyrinthine legislative process for not having the support to sustain the president’s Clean Power Plan,” he said.
Democratic members of both chambers are expected to attend the U.N. confab that runs over two weeks starting Nov. 30. While the list is still in flux, Foreign Relations ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Climate Action Task Force Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have said they will go if the Senate schedule permits.
White House climate adviser Brian Deese has been reaching out to allies on Capitol Hill to coordinate strategy, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Secretary of State John Kerry have been meeting regularly with senior White House staff to prepare for Paris. Kerry will attend the conference, and McCarthy and Moniz are also likely to do so.
“In recent weeks, the administration has stood up an interagency task force that meets twice weekly to ensure coordination and seamless strategic planning across legislative, communications and engagement offices,” said a White House aide. “These efforts also include agency-specific planning sessions and weekly meetings with Cabinet members and senior administration officials, all with the goal of working toward a successful Paris agreement.”
Addressing climate change internationally is “a priority policy issue and important legacy piece for President Obama,” the aide said.
Sending a CRA message in Paris?
It is less clear whether Republicans will visit the French capital or whether they will make their case by holding votes in the House and Senate on resolutions to kill EPA’s power plant carbon rules.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to pass the two Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions as easily next week as the subcommittee did last week. The full Senate might take them up next week or could wait to vote until Congress returns from Thanksgiving and the Paris conference is underway (E&ENews PM, Nov. 3).
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said this week he doesn’t know whether he will make the trip. He decided to attend the 2009 Copenhagen, Denmark, gathering at the last minute, he noted, though Inhofe now frequently recounts how he squared off against the Obama administration as a “one-man truth squad” in Denmark.
“That could happen again this year,” he said.
Inhofe said his decision would hinge on whether Democratic members seemed to be gaining traction with foreign delegates.
“I want to wait and see what kind of impact they have,” he said.
Schatz said Republicans and their handful of Democratic collaborators hoped “to kick up dust and create confusion” in Paris with their CRA resolutions, which will not overcome a veto.
But Inhofe said the resolutions—which are brought under a rarely used administration oversight law that allows for expedited Senate consideration—would put his colleagues on the record once and for all on the EPA rules. Democrats from fossil-fuel-rich states will have to show their hands.
“Those people will not any longer be able to go home and say that was the bureaucracy that did it, we were not at all for it, and we were opposed to it,” said Inhofe.
Moderating voices earn jeers as well as cheers
The measures are expected to easily pass both chambers. In the Senate, some Democrats are likely to join co-sponsors Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota in backing them.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) indicated that she will vote against the resolutions by endorsing the existing power plant rule. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is likely to join her, but they may be the only Republican defections.
There is some limited evidence that other Republicans in both chambers are moderating their climate message. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) led a group of House Republicans in September in a resolution calling for a response to warming. And Ayotte joined fellow Republicans Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee last month in launching a new informal working group to tackle energy and climate issues (Greenwire, Oct. 29).
Ayotte downplayed the role climate change would play this week, saying the group was about “senators getting together to talk about important issues.”
“Climate’s one of them, but there are other environmental issues, as you know,” she said.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, alternately cheered its formation as further evidence that Republicans are bowing to public pressure and reversing course on warming, or decried it as the legislative equivalent of greenwashing.
In a memo this morning, the Climate Action Campaign hailed Ayotte’s working group as evidence of “tremendous momentum” away from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) brand of climate obstruction.
But Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune earlier this week blasted the Senate quartet in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper for backing a resolution to do away with EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule. He challenged the senators to redeem themselves by unanimously rejecting the two power plant CRA resolutions.
“With these CRA votes, this new working group has an opportunity to prove its mettle and side with the majority of Americans by supporting the Clean Power Plan,” he wrote.
Not the time for ‘adult conversations’
Brune is not likely to get his wish. Kirk, who is locked in a tight race for re-election in 2016, has already said he will back the power plant resolutions, and Graham and Alexander will do the same.
Schatz, meanwhile, said “adult conversations” with emerging Republican partners would have to wait until the Paris conference and the CRA resolutions are in the rearview mirror. He said he expected a unified GOP effort to scuttle Obama’s power plant rules and to deny him an international climate legacy.
“I don’t think this is the time they’re going to break from orthodoxy, but there are a few of them that are looking for that moment,” Schatz said.
Even the Clean Power Plan would be less of a political lightning rod when Obama leaves office and industry has started down the road of complying with it, he said.
But the chances that a Republican administration will diligently implement and defend Obama’s marquee climate policy don’t appear promising.
“The first thing I would do as president is repeal the regulations that are hampering our energy that the president has put in place, including the Clean Power Act,” GOP presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) declared during Tuesday’s Fox Business Network debate, adding of Obama’s coal policies, “He’s devastated my state.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said he would repeal all Obama-era environmental policies. But his call to “start over” on the Clean Power Plan also seemed to hint he would be open to power-sector carbon regulations in some form.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500