Signing of Paris Climate Agreement Begins Today
Today (“International Mother Earth Day,” according to the United Nations), is the first day that participating nations can sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. All indications suggest that the U.S. will waste no time to do just this, which should alarm anyone interested in constitutional government and limits of executive power.
The Paris Agreement represents the latest attempt by the international community to curtail emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The agreement employs a hybrid legal structure with both legally binding and nonbinding components. The primary feature of the agreement, namely the emissions reduction goals submitted by most nations are entirely voluntary. Many of these Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), especially those submitted by developing countries, are overly vague and difficult to quantify. The parties are required, however, to monitor and publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions over the coming years. This hybrid legal structure was employed to allow the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement without congressional input.
Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution describes the president’s role in conducting the foreign policy of the United States, broadly speaking. Included in this section is a description of how treaties – “an official agreement that is made between two or more countries of groups,” according to Merriam-Webster – should specifically be ratified:
“[The president] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent on the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”
Given the current makeup of the Senate, it would be a very tall order for President Obama to win a simple majority approving of the Paris Agreement, much less the required two-thirds for ratification. This should come as no surprise for a president who has vowed before to act if Congress won’t. Interestingly, other countries around the world are treating the Agreement as a formal treaty. This past December, the parliament of the island nation of Fiji unanimously agreed to ratify the Agreement.
The Clean Power Plan, the primary mechanism the Administration will use to ensure U.S. compliance with the Agreement, is expected to cost up to $39 billion a year, according to some estimates. Forty-one of the 47 states affected by the regulation can see electricity rates increase by at least 10 percent, and 27 states could see increases of 20 percent or more.
Not only will the Senate not have a say in the Paris Agreement, EPA’s Clean Power Plan (arguably in violation of the Clean Air Act) comes after a Democratically-controlled Senate failed to pass cap and trade legislation in 2009. Taken together, these develops represent an alarming expansion of (unconstitutional) executive power at the expense of the legislative branch.