Republicans Pull Another 'Iran Letter', This Time on Climate Change

by Rona Fried

Yesterday, the Obama Administration submitted US climate commitments to the United Nations, as agreed to by nations across the world in preparation for an international treaty this December in Paris.

And today, Republicans pulled another "Iran Letter," warning the world that they can undo anything Obama commits to. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) has legislation ready that nullifies any international climate agreement Obama signs.

Republicans are against an international agreement on climate change, and they are against any measures to cut emissions.

They plan to fight EPA regulations on power plants tooth and nail. "Considering that two-thirds of the US federal government hasn’t even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal," says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Climate Denial Head in Sand

Regardless of whether they succeed in blocking Obama administration regulations, the fact that they keep sending these messages to the world – undercutting his executive authority – is disgusting.

For the environmental community, Obama’s commitments don’t go far enough given the urgency of climate change, but we realize how hamstrung he is by all-out Republican obstruction.

For us, Obama’s commitments are weak, but they are enough to show the US is taking action. Europe’s targets are based on reducing emissions from 1990 levels – when emissions were about 30% lower. Obama uses a 2005 baseline, making it much easier to reach the goals.

He could have gone further in many ways: banning fossil fuel production and coal extraction on public lands; forbidding offshore oil drilling on the East Coast; forbidding drilling in the Arctic; forbidding coal exports; rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and all new tar sands pipelines in the US; enforcing much more stringent rules on methane emissions, fracking and the pipelines and trains that carry it – for example. 

And because Republicans would never ratify a binding international treaty on climate change, US negotiators are  forced to oppose other countries’ desire for that. All Obama can do is sign a voluntary agreement. 

Secretary of State John Kerry and other diplomatic officials are working closely with foreign counterparts to make sure any agreement struck in Paris can’t be legally attacked as a treaty. 

And Todd Stern, the State Department’s chief negotiator, is put in the uncomfortable position of having to reassure other countries that whatever Obama agrees to can stay in place despite Republican opposition.

Meanwhile, a Reuters poll shows that 66% of Americans believe world leaders are morally obligated to take action on climate change. 72% say they are morally obligated to take action in their personal lives. 

Read our article, Caring For the Environment Used to Be Non-Partisan, which outlines other "burdensome" regulations on the list.

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