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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
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House Republicans |Attack Climate Deal

WASHINGTON (CN) - House Republicans Tuesday questioned the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Paris climate agreement, a debate that's likely to ramp up as the Obama administration seeks to implement policies to comply with the international deal.

The agreement, struck during the Paris climate talks in December, allows countries to set their own goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through non-legally binding plans known as INDCs.

Countries have to resubmit their plans every five years, each intended to be more ambitious than the last, and are required to adhere to certain reporting and transparency measures.

While the White House hailed the agreement as "the most ambitious climate change agreement in history," Republican lawmakers have pushed back against it, criticizing the administration's embrace of the deal as an executive overreach that would unduly burden the economy.

The same arguments reappeared Tuesday at a hearing before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where lawmakers questioned a mostly anti-deal panel of witnesses on whether the climate agreement is "a bad deal for America," as the hearing's title claimed.

Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chair of the committee, hit the Obama administration for not submitting the agreement for review before the Senate and for pushing an "extreme climate agenda" that would raise energy costs and hurt American competitiveness.

"Moreover, the President's pledge creates an international agreement that binds the United States for decades to come, but lacks constitutional legitimacy since it has not been ratified by the Senate," Smith said. "The agreement not only requires the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions but also compels our country to pay billions of dollars to developing nations to reduce their carbon emissions."

The White House has treated the deal as an executive agreement rather than a treaty, which does not subject it to approval under the Senate.

Steven Groves, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation said at the hearing, that the administration took pains to insure the deal wasn't drafted as a treaty between the signatories as the United State's participation would have been subject to Congressional approval.

These efforts, Groves said, were "the biggest open secret in Paris."

"I'll leave it to climate scientists and economists to say whether it's a bad deal for the economy, but as a lawyer what I can say is that the Paris agreement is a bad deal for the Constitution," Groves said.

But Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, and supporter of the deal, questioned this contention. He pointed out most of what the United States agreed to in the deal is not legally binding.

This includes commitments to international funds meant to lessen the blow reducing emissions would have on developing economies, Steer said.

House and Senate Republicans have objected to U.S. pledges to contribute to these funds, and even before the climate talks, a group of Senators threatened to withhold their approval if the White House cut Congress out of the approval process.

Wealth was a central theme at Tuesday's two-hour hearing, as opposing sides tried to lay claim to the deal's economic impact.

Opponents of the deal claimed the deal placed undue economic burden on the U.S. citizens because it would subject them to increased regulations and energy costs, while only reducing increases to global temperatures by a fraction of a degree.

Stephen Eule, vice president for climate and technology with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the new climate regime

could cause a mass exodus of "energy intensive" industries like steel mills from the United States.

Eule said such a change is already happening in Europe and that increased energy prices could be inevitable until clean energy becomes cheaper than traditional sources.

"When you think about climate change, like I said in my testimony, it's a technology challenge and as long as alternate technologies are more expensive and less reliable than traditional technologies, people are going to use traditional technologies," Eule said.

The costs could be especially painful if other countries cheat on the agreement, saddling the U.S. with high energy prices without doing anything for the economy, climate deal opponents argued.

"The area that I would be concerned about is non-compliance by the other parties," Groves said. "I mean, the U.S. tends to take its treaty commitments much more seriously than other countries."

But proponents of the deal suggested it could actually help businesses by giving them a stable environment for investing.

Steer said a transition to an economy built on clean, renewable energy could bring a boom of well-paying jobs and give businesses clarity in energy policy going forward. He further suggested waiting to act on climate change could have a more dire economic impact than raising energy prices.

"Growing evidence from groups like the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is proving that strong climate action is compatible with and actually even necessary for economic growth," Steer said.

While the hearing was in session, the Senate was busy debating a massive bipartisan energy bill that would require upgrades to the electrical grid, enable natural gas exports and give subsidies for hydro and geothermal power.

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