U.S. House of Representatives Already Sabotaging Paris Climate Talks?

This article was first posted on LinkedIn here

The Paris Climate Conference has barely started, but obstructionists in the U.S. Congress are already taking the opportunity to make mischief for President Obama. According to an article in the NY Times, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolutions to void U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA) rules that would significantly cut heat-trapping carbon emissions from existing and future coal-fired power plants. These rules or the Clean Power Plan, announced by the president and the EPA only three and a half months ago, are a signature element of the president's commitment to take action on climate change despite heels-in-the-ground, head-in-the-sand opposition from elements in the Congress determined to ignore, obfuscate, or invalidate any discussion of, or action on, this issue of planetary and existential importance.

The Clean Power Plan, which hasn't even gone into effect yet (it does so on December 22, 2015) essentially sets goals for states and tribes, using EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act, to lower the carbon intensity of power generation. That is, to continue to generate the needed power but to do so more efficiently. The target period for states to do so is 2022 to 2029, and considerable flexibility has been built into the system. States and tribes can determine their own path to continue the momentum, already existent in the power industry, towards lower carbon intensity. Given that this resolution will not survive the expected presidential veto (it passed without the needed 2/3rds majority to overturn a veto), it is very obviously a ploy to weaken the president's position in Paris, and hamstring the negotiations. A recent survey showed that 64% of the U.S. public favor these tighter emissions controls on power plants, which is not all that surprising, since regardless of views about climate change, not too many people are in favor of dirtier air, more lung cancer, more smog, or more asthma.

The Clean Power Plan, together with higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and other measures, are part of the Obama administration's efforts to craft a piecemeal approach to taking action on climate change, using existing executive authority and legislation like the Clean Air Act, in the face of unrelenting opposition from some elements in Congress.

With the multiple additional benefits of clean power, such as the critical momentum provided to an entire new renewable energy industry, additional high quality jobs, increased energy security, decreased funds available to the backers of violent extremists, lower asthma rates, etc., it is hard to fathom this opposition to the Clean Power Plan. Some members of Congress stated that the American public is more concerned about the economy and terrorism than climate change. If you grant that presidents are somehow determine net job growth in a capitalist economy then this president has created more jobs than his predecessor, but not nearly as many as President Clinton or Reagan. With regard to terrorism, and without straying too far from my area of expertise, it is safe to say that, while people can disagree on strategy and effectiveness, actions indeed have been taken during this presidency and have certainly been well resourced. Lastly, where is it written that heads of state must only pay attention to the top two or three polled issues and ignore the rest, as if they did not exist? Most countries would be thrilled to have to deal with just one or two issues, but unfortunately that's not usually the case, and the U.S. is no exception to this rule.

One is left therefore to conclude that the resolution by the House of Representatives is merely a very cynical and strategically timed attempt to embarrass the president, and weaken the negotiating position of the U.S. delegation. This continued opposition to taking action on climate change and well established science is difficult to reconcile with minimal concern for one's constituents, country, or world. Even taking into consideration the powerful fossil fuel lobby and its significant influence on these representatives, unless they are aware of an alternative planet and have lined up reliable transportation, it is well past time for the obstructionists in the U.S. Congress to take a view of the world that is wider than the narrow calculus of electoral politics. Here's hoping that cooler heads (pun fully intended) will prevail over political grandstanding ...