Over Labor Day weekend, President Barack Obama once again showed his willingness to use questionable executive action to push his radical environmental agenda.
While in China, President Obama joined the Paris global warming “agreement” along with Chinese President Xi Jinping – without the blessing of the U.S. Senate. At issue is whether or not the policies in the document represent a treaty, which would constitutionally require the advice and consent of the Senate. The Obama administration contends the pact is not really a treaty, but merely an international agreement. Never mind that the actual textbook definition of treaty is “any agreement or compact.” Regardless of the word describing the pact, the policies laid out in Paris would have a devastating impacting on the U.S. economy.
The Paris global warming pact emerged from a United Nations conference held in the city last year. If ratified or joined by at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions, the pact would go into effect and call on countries to radically reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions. Yet reducing CO2 emissions would require extreme policy changes that would harm many of the economies of countries that join the pact.
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during a press conference after the conclusion of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang Province, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
The Obama administration employed a grammatical magic trick to justify not submitting the pact to the Senate. The document originally said “Developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.”
This specific language would have legally required developed countries like the U.S. to reduce emissions and even the Obama administration believed when worded this way the pact would need the confirmation of the Senate. But likely with a wink and a nod, almost all instances of the word “shall” were replaced with “should” at the request of Secretary of State John Kerry at the last minute of the Paris conference.
This sleight of hand in substituting “shall” for “should” meant, to the Obama administration at least, that the document no longer needed the consent of the Senate. So far, every other country besides the U.S. has ratified the Paris pact, meaning they each put it up for a vote before their country’s respective legislative body. By not putting the pact up for a vote before the Senate, President Obama is the only head of state who believes he has the power to join the pact on his own authority.
Officials in the Obama administration demonstrate an amazing ability to speak out of both sides of their mouths. Remember the shared responsibility payment that was part of Obamacare?
First, President Obama called it a fee for not buying health insurance while he was campaigning in support of Obamacare before its passage. After Obamacare became law, the fee morphed into a tax when Obama administration lawyers were defending the law before the Supreme Court – since calling it a tax made for a better legal defense.
The same bait-and-switch will occur with the Paris global warming pact. President Obama says its merely an agreement because it is convenient for him to avoid a vote in the Senate where it would most likely fail. But the Paris pact will become legally important when it is time to defend President Obama’s carbon regulation, the so-called Clean Power Plan, before the U.S. Supreme Court. It is likely that the lawyers defending Obama’s carbon regulation will argue that the supposedly non-binding agreement actually gives the EPA legal authority to regulate carbon emissions. The liberal blog ThinkProgress made this exact argument. This “agreement” does not have legal authority at the international level to compel countries to reduce carbon emissions. But at the domestic level, the non-legal agreement magically gives the EPA new legal authority to reduce carbon emissions, according to defenders of Obama’s carbon regulation. Just like for Obamacare, words can have whatever meaning is most politically convenient.
Regardless of the legal merits, the impact of the Paris global warming pact will be to harm the U.S. economy. Radically reducing carbon dioxide emissions means more expensive electricity, job losses, and reduced economic growth. Studies have shown that policies to reduce CO2 emissions are harmful to the U.S. economy and politically unpopular. The Waxman-Markey Cap-and-Trade proposal of 2009 would have destroyed over a million jobs and raised the average family’s annual electricity bill by $1,241 according to analysis by the Heritage Foundation and the bill failed to make it out of the Senate. Similar analysis of carbon taxes and President Obama’s carbon regulation also found job losses, higher electricity prices, and reduced GDP growth.
Instead of building consensus for his desired policies, President Obama has repeatedly shown he is willing to stretch the legal limits of his authority. By entering the US into the Paris global warming pact, President Obama ignores the important constitutional role of the Senate in crafting foreign policy. Americans deserve to have their voice heard through the elected legislative representatives.
Grant Kidwell is a senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity where he focuses on energy and environmental issues. He hold’s an MA in Economics from George Mason University and a BA in Political Science from James Madison University.
TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.