Sen. Mike Lee: Preempt Bid by ‘Smug’ Obama to Bypass Congress on Global Climate Deal

By Patrick Goodenough | November 6, 2015 | 4:16am EST
Negotiators hope to produce a new global climate treaty at a U.N. international climate conference in Paris, France, beginning in late November. (Photo: F. de la Mure/French Foreign Ministry)

( – Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is calling on Congress to make it clear to the Obama administration and foreign governments “that in America it’s the Congress, and not the president acting alone, that writes the checks.”

Lee was talking about President Obama’s attempt to circumvent the Senate’s advise-and-consent role ahead of a major U.N. conference seeking a new global climate agreement.

Lawmakers in both chambers and both parties have the duty “to assert with one voice that Congress will not send a dime of taxpayer money to the implementation of any agreement to which the Senate has not provided its advice and consent,” Lee said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday.

Along with Congress wielding “its most powerful tool – the power of the purse,” he called for a joint resolution expressing the sense of Congress that the agreement envisaged by the administration for the conference in Paris should be submitted to the Senate for ratification.

Lee recalled that the Senate had passed such a bipartisan measure – in a 95-0 vote – in 1997 when the Clinton administration was negotiating the Kyoto Protocol. Even then-Sen. John Kerry – an ardent global warming advocate who as secretary of state is at the forefront of the administration’s current climate drive – voted for it

(The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1998 but never ratified, and President George W. Bush withdrew in 2001.)

Lee said the level of support for the 1997 resolution proved that it was possible “to assemble a bipartisan coalition, not to debate the merits of the president’s climate change policies – though that is in fairness a debate that we also need to have – but to assert the right of the American people to consent to their laws.”

Even as recently as 2009, ahead of a U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, then-Sen. Kerry said – during Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing as secretary of state – that he and his Senate Foreign Relations Committee colleagues would be “deeply involved in crafting a solution that the world can agree to and that the Senate can ratify.”

Lee said that statement had not been especially remarkable at the time. But “today this consensus appears quite tragically no longer to exist.”

He quoted White House press secretary Josh Earnest as saying last March – when asked whether Congress has the right to approve a new climate agreement – “I think it’s hard to take seriously from some members of Congress who deny the fact that climate change exists that they should have some opportunity to render judgment about a climate change agreement.”

“That’s actually what he said – those are his words,” Lee said. “In other words he’s saying, ‘unless you share the White House view about climate change – both about the science behind it and about what we do about it – unless you share that view, you’re going to be disqualified from having anything to say about it, even if you’re a United States senator, and notwithstanding the fact the Constitution requires Senate ratification of an agreement like that.”

“In the span of just six years, what was once respect has been turned into contempt,” Lee said.

“[T]oday, with just one year remaining in office, in the White House – and with the smug satisfaction of someone who believes the policy of climate change is just as settled as the science supposedly is – President Obama knows that compulsion, not persuasion, is the only way to fundamentally transform a nation, as least transform it in the way he wants to transform it.”

‘Targets and timetables’

The conference in Paris is, in the U.N.’s jargon, the 21st “Conference of the Parties” to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a legally-binding treaty which the U.S. Senate ratified in 1992.

Unlike the later-negotiated Kyoto Protocol, the UNFCCC did not set targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

When the George H.W. Bush administration was seeking Senate ratification for the UNFCCC, it “represented that any protocol or amendment to the UNFCCC creating binding GHG emissions targets would be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent,” according to a 2010 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subsequent report during that ratification process stated that any “decision by the Conference of the Parties to adopt targets and timetables would have to be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent before the United States could deposit its instruments of ratification for such an agreement.”

Critics of the administration’s climate policies argue therefore that any new international climate agreement containing “targets and timetables” should be treated as a treaty, and require Senate advice and consent.

But the New York Times reported in August last year that Obama was working on reaching an agreement in Paris in a way that would enable him to sidestep the hurdle of Senate ratification – a “hybrid” agreement that would combine new voluntary GHG emission-reduction goals with legally-binding procedural aspects of the UNFCCC.

A year ago, Obama announced ambitious plans for Paris – a reduction of GHG emissions in the U.S. by 26-28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

The State Department said Thursday the administration’s special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern, will join climate ministers from around the world in Paris for a week of talks beginning Friday, for multilateral discussions ahead of the conference and bilateral meetings in support of “efforts to secure an ambitious, durable, and transparent global climate agreement.”

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