WASHINGTON (CN) - Senate Republicans made it clear Wednesday they will fight to be able to review a climate deal expected to be struck at a global summit in Paris later this month.
At a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, senators wondered whether the agreement would be legally binding. They also expressed concern over the amount of money the United States would commit and insisted they be allowed to review and vote on the deal.
"If the president wishes to produce something substantive from the Paris negotiations - and presumably stronger than Kyoto - there is no way around the Senate," Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a statement. "However, if the president heeds the advice of other COP 21 participants and wishes to bypass congress, then he will be limited to making a non-binding, political commitment with no means of enforcement, accountability or longevity."
Of particular concern for the members of the committee was the Green Climate Fund, an international investment plan that major companies would fund to help lighten the economic blow that reducing emissions would deal developing countries.
In a letter addressed to President Barack Obama, Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Inhofe further pledged that Congress would not approve new money for the Green Climate Fund without first being able to review any deal struck in Paris.
"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 a hearing.
However, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., noted that roughly 1,800 agreements in the past, from the Yalta conference to the Paris Peace Accords, have not been subject to review like Republicans on his committee were demanding.
After the hearing, Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she didn't see "any scenario" where the next omnibus budget deal gives money to the climate fund, regardless of if the expected Paris agreement goes before the Senate.
Stephen Eule, vice president of climate and technology for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for 21st Century Energy, estimated the United States could be on the hook for $45 billion in contributions to the fund, but he noted the administration has estimated this number is closer to $1 billion.
At the end of the hearing, Carper entered into the record a document showing the U.S. had pledged just $3 billion to the fund.
Eule said he was concerned that other major countries like China could cheat on reporting their carbon emissions in order to dodge their responsibilities to commit to the fund.
Oren Cass, senior fellow for the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, warned the senators that negotiators could put them in a bind by giving the Senate the choice between approving a deal that commits more money than it would like, and being blamed for the death of a globally approved deal.
"So to preempt that I think it's actually very important that Congress act first, and say to the world, let's be clear, we will not appropriate that kind of money," Cass said. "So don't come back with an agreement that requires it because that should not be the lynchpin of an agreement that does not even include significant emissions reduction."
Julian Ku, a constitutional law professor at Hofstra University, told the committee any legally binding agreement would need Senate approval in order to have any staying power.
A non-legally binding agreement would be "no different than the president giving a speech," Ku said.
But Democrats on the committee acknowledged that the deal in Paris could be a combination of non-binding goals and binding admissions standards. They also reminded their colleagues of the need to act definitively on climate change.
"The science is clear," Carper said. "Our future generation faces no greater environment threat - we face a lot of threats - but no greater environmental threat than the threat of climate change. We know the price of action pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing."
Despite Republicans' focus on the potentially unsustainable costs of a Paris agreement, Lisa Jacobson, president of Business Council for Sustainable Energy, told the committee a deal would be good for business because it would stabilize the market for investments in clean-energy technologies.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., also noted that a number of businesses - from Bank of America to Disney - have come out in favor of action on climate change. He also speculated that money from big oil was responsible for some of the business blowback the committee heard from the panel Wednesday.
"The point I'm trying to make here is that the so-called voices of the business community that we see here are in fact the voices of the fossil fuel industry," Whitehouse said at the hearing.
Last night, the Senate struck down two provisions of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which subjects new and planned power plants to stricter carbon emissions standards.
The White House has said Obama would veto the congressional review measure if it reached his desk.
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