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Obama’s Plan To Avoid Senate Review Of The Paris Protocol

Steven Groves, The Heritage Foundation

Abstract: The Paris Protocol climate change agreement—to be negotiated between November 30 and December 11, 2015—should be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent. President Obama seems poised to circumvent Congress and prevent the Senate from having any input on the agreement. That is alarming behavior on the President’s part, since international commitments made by the executive branch often have significant domestic implications. Such a circumvention, if undertaken by the Administration, would evince an unprecedented level of executive unilateralism, and should be opposed by Congress by any and all means.

The Obama Administration is planning an end run around the U.S. Senate in regard to a major international climate change agreement—the Paris Protocol—that will be negotiated between November 30 and December 11 at the 21st annual session of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Administration’s plans to avoid Senate scrutiny of the protocol should come as no surprise. During a March 31, 2015, press briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked whether Congress has the right to approve the protocol:

[Reporter]: …Is this the kind of agreement that Congress should have the ability to sign off on?

[Earnest]: …I think it’s hard to take seriously from some Members of Congress who deny the fact that climate change exists, that they should have some opportunity to render judgment about a climate change agreement.[1]

The host of the upcoming conference in Paris, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, agrees with Earnest that congressional scrutiny must be avoided. Addressing a group of African delegates at the June climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, Fabius expressed his desire to bypass Congress on the Paris Protocol: “We must find a formula which is valuable for everybody and valuable for the U.S. without going to Congress…. Whether we like it or not, if it comes to the Congress, they will refuse.”[2]

Apparently, no Member of Congress who questions climate science, or who disagrees with the Obama Administration’s policy views on climate change, is competent to review a major international agreement negotiated by the President. That is an alarming view on the role of Congress and particularly the Senate where, as in this case, the international commitments being made by the executive branch have significant domestic implications.

The Obama Administration should reverse course on its plan to act unilaterally in Paris, and should submit any agreement reached there to the Senate for advice and consent. To do otherwise would be to violate a commitment made by the executive branch in 1992 in connection with ratification of the UNFCCC. The President’s plans also violate internal State Department regulations concerning the legal form of international agreements.

If the Administration sticks to its scheme to avoid scrutiny of the Paris Protocol, Congress should withhold any appropriations to implement any aspect of the protocol and block the billions of dollars to be distributed to developing countries for climate change adaptation purposes. The Senate should also pass a resolution criticizing the Obama Administration’s ploy to circumnavigate the Senate in violation of previous commitments.

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