As might be expected, reactions to the Obama administration’s recently-announced climate deal with China vary widely between political parties and interest groups.
China and the United States announced new targets for limiting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on Nov. 11. Environmental groups and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) praised the agreement while two Republican senators and the National Mining Association (NMA) dismissed it as a largely symbolic move.
“These landmark commitments to curtail carbon pollution are a necessary, critical step forward in the global fight against climate change,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) President Frances Beinecke.
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) President Bob Perciasepe, a former U.S. EPA official, said he was happy to see “the world’s two largest carbon emitters are stepping up together with serious commitments.”
“For too long it’s been too easy for both the U.S. and China to hide behind one another,” Perciasepe said. “People on both sides pointed to weak action abroad to delay action at home,” he said.
“Now there is no longer an excuse for Congress to block action on climate change,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The biggest carbon polluter on our planet, China, has agreed to cut back on dangerous emissions, and now we should make sure all countries do their part because this is a threat to the people that we all represent.”
But both the current ranking Republican on that same Senate committee, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and the next GOP chairman, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) took a very different view.
“There’s nothing ‘breakthrough’ about Obama’s attempt to pass failed policy, or having China tell us that maybe in 15 years they’ll try to reduce their emissions,” Vitter said.
Inhofe said the climate deal won’t require China to reduce CO2 emissions.
“It’s hollow and not believable for China to claim it will shift 20 percent of its energy to non-fossil fuels by 2030, and a promise to peak its carbon emissions only allows the world’s largest economy to buy time,” Inhofe said.
“China builds a coal-fired power plant every 10 days, is the largest importer of coal in the world, and has no known reserves of natural gas. This deal is a non-binding charade,” Inhofe said.
“This announcement has all the earmarks of a mutually beneficial action that is largely political – Obama gets to burnish his image and China gets to appear constructive,” said NMA representative Luke Popovich. “But China has not committed to a specific reduction – only to capping its GHG emissions by a date certain – but they’ll continue to rise of course,” Popovich said.
That’s a big difference from a specific and meaningful target, said the NMA official.
Consultant sees ‘three-sided bargaining game’ by White House
“President Obama has opened a three-sided bargaining game: with China, with the international community, and with the Republican-controlled Congress,” said Stuart Pearman, a partner with ScottMadden Consulting.
“He is hoping to use the impetus of a China agreement to egg on international treaty progress and to hold the line or limit the slippage on 2020–2025 interim Clean Power Plan goals with the Congress,” Pearman said.
“Because the Republicans cannot override a veto, it is unlikely that the Clean Power Plan will be stopped legislatively in the next two years. But they could make things more challenging, e.g., through budget riders and/or legislatively mandated modifications,” Pearman said.
“So, in order to avoid expending too much political capital, President Obama may seek a negotiated agreement with the Congress that modifies the Clean Power Plan to accommodate other interests,” Pearman said.
For example, states are seeking more time on the EPA interim CO2 targets, Pearman said.
“If anything, I think it will increase congressional pushback on the proposed Clean Power Plan,” said Jeff Holmstead, a partner at the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm.
“I think you will see a number Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, who object to the President making international commitments without congressional approval,” Holmstead said.