Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week that if President Obama goes ahead with his threat to impose immigration reform by executive fiat, that it would be tantamount to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
On Wednesday, Obama waved another red flag in front of the GOP bulls – a surprise climate- change agreement with China President Xi Jinping that commits the U.S. to emitting 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005 –nearly double the pace of reduction the administration previously pledged.
China -- the world’s number producer of carbon emissions just ahead of the U.S. -- would not have to reduce its emissions levels so much as taper them off by 2030, while increasing its dependence on so-called clean energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Obama, White House aides and environmentalists hailed the agreement as a major breakthrough that will create momentum for other world leaders heading into next year’s major international climate change meeting in Paris, where representatives will take another big step towards a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that scientists have closely linked to global warming.
Actually, the drumbeat began late last month when leaders of the 28 European Union nations agreed on what they called the world’s most ambitious climate change targets for 2030 – managing to overcome divisions between poorer countries that are strongly dependent on fossil fuels for energy and wealthier countries that are more reliant on “green power.”
In another surprise Sept. 30, Obama and visiting India Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an important agreement that would greatly increase India’s use of renewable fuels – including solar power – and gradually reduce global emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, industrial chemicals that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. India is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The U.S. and China together account for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, so together we have an especially important role to play in fighting climate change,” White House counselor John Podesta wrote in an email yesterday.
Opponents of this new, more dramatic commitment – as it has been from almost the day Obama took office six years ago – are Republicans and some moderate Democrats who view any measure to rein in carbon emissions as a frontal assault on utility companies, major industrial plants and the struggling coal industry. McConnell premised much of his reelection campaign on fighting Environmental Protection Agency regulations that would hurt Kentucky coal miners and utility plants. McConnell predictably lashed out at the U.S-China agreement as a bad bargain that he would resist.
“The president continues to send a signal that he has no intention of moving toward the middle,” McConnell told reporters during a morning coffee with 10 newly elected Republican senators in his office. “I was particularly distressed by the deal he’s reached with the Chinese on his current trip, which, as I read the agreement, it requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years, while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state and other states across the country.”
McConnell, who is expected to be the new Senate Majority Leader when Republicans take control of the Senate in January, made it clear that Obama is quickly squandering any prospects for bipartisan deal making in the 114th Congress.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), issued a statement of his own that Obama “intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact,” and vowed that he and other Republican lawmakers would make it a high priority to continue to block the president’s energy and environmental policies for the remainder of his term.
Other GOP critics agreed with the leadership that Obama struck a bad deal with the Chinese, one that puts the onus on U.S. industry to scale back, close power plants and lay off workers, while the Chinese must only move more quickly towards alternative energy sources.
“I don’t think it’s a good deal for us,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) told MSNBC yesterday. “There are no limitations on China’s emissions, so I don’t see how that accomplishes what the President was trying to do.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who is line to become the next chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called the agreement “hollow and not believable.” Inhofe has written and spoken widely to advance his theory that global warming is a hoax.
Jake Schmidt, Director of International Programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), disagreed, telling MSNBC, “These are two of the biggest emitters, so the kinds of signals they send in terms of how they’re going to support more clean energy is both powerful in terms of reducing emissions.”
EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said Obama has emphasized the importance of curbing greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change for months, according to the The Washington Post. “The president has been very clear in the direction he is moving,” McCarthy said. “He is not changing at all.”
While technically there is little that GOP lawmakers can do to block the U.S.-China climate agreement, McConnell’s aides “have already started investigating ways they could block or delay implementation of the EPA’s proposed rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, which is set to become final next June,” according to The Post.
The EPA in June proposed a rule designed to reduce carbon emissions from existing coal-fired plants by as much as a third by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. The regulation has prompted aggressive lobbying from industry and environmental groups. Existing power plants – the largest source of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, account for 38 percent of the total emissions.
GOP strategies might include lawsuits and efforts by governors and state officials in red states to refuse to comply with the EPA mandate, not unlike the scores of states that refused to participate in the Affordable Care Act or expand their Medicaid programs with federal aid.
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