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“Congress Largely On The Sidelines For Paris Deal”: Mitch McConnell Is Powerless To Block Obama’s Climate Change Deal

One of the few times countries around the world have reached a climate change deal to cut global greenhouse gasses was the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which required binding cuts from industrialized nations. Top Republicans told the press it was “dead on arrival” and would never gain approval from the Senate. And that was, more or less, the end of Kyoto—other countries pointed to the U.S. never ratifying it as reason enough to ignore their own commitments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has now pledged to kill the latest emerging global consensus to act on climate change. His strategy is to obstruct a deal at the next major conference in Paris at the end of the year. As Politico reported earlier this week, congressional Republicans have returned from their August recess with every intention of derailing a deal long before we get to December. An aide to McConnell is reaching out to foreign embassies to detail how the GOP-controlled Congress plans to stop President Obama’s climate plan from moving forward.

But this won’t be another Kyoto, because McConnell just isn’t a credible threat to the global negotiations. Well aware that Republicans have not changed their minds on UN climate treaties—and have in fact gone to a greater extreme—negotiators have put together a different kind of deal for a Paris conference at the end of the year, one that looks nothing like Kyoto. Republican obstinacy is so predictable, it’s already baked into the structure, politics, and messaging ahead of a deal in Paris.

At Paris, countries are responsible for putting forward their own emissions plans. Though it’s not clear what structure the final deal will take—including which elements are binding and which are not—the emissions cuts proposed at Paris probably won’t require Senate approval because they won’t be binding, as they were in Kyoto. Obama has pledged U.S. climate action through executive authority. (Of course, that also means that many of his pledges in Paris will rely on the commitment of his successor.)

McConnell’s strategy is clear: Send the world some very mixed messages on what the U.S. intends to do about its own greenhouse gas emissions. He’s emphasizing Republican plans to block the Clean Power Plan, a key part of Obama’s strategy to cut the U.S.’s carbon footprint by reducing emissions from electricity 32 percent by 2032. The GOP’s likely tool will be the Congressional Review Act, which requires only a majority vote to repeal a law—but it’s still subject to Obama’s veto, which makes repeal unlikely. The Senate may also take up a bill passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee that delays the Clean Power Plan until court challenges are resolved, a process that could take years and years—but though the Supreme Court could send the regulation back to the Environmental Protection Agency, defenders insist it is on sound legal ground. One tactic might work in the short term: Congress’s control over appropriations gives the GOP the ability to withhold the $3 billion Obama promised to the Green Climate Fund, an international fund to help poorer nations adapt to climate change. But it’s unlikely that alone would be enough to blow up broader negotiations.

Despite the largely hollow threats from McConnell, the Obama administration has been conducting its own outreach to large polluters like China to explain how the U.S. can deliver on its promises in good faith without Congress’ input—as long as a Democrat is in office, that is. In March, the U.S. submitted its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent by 2025 over 2005 levels. When negotiators ask State Department climate envoy Todd Stern about the “solidity of U.S. action,” he says he assures them that “the kind of regulation being put in place is not easily undone,” signaling that the White House is confident its Clean Power Plan and other EPA regulations can survive court battles and congressional opposition.

All this means mixed news for Paris: The bad news is that a single Republican is powerful enough to undo the deal—but not until long after December, and only if the GOP wins the White House in 2016. The good news, though, is this means Congress is largely on the sidelines for Paris and won’t make or break the negotiations. It won’t be Mitch McConnell who sinks a deal.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, September 9, 2015

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Mitch Mc Connell, Paris Climate Conference | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“One Of The Starkest Ideological Divides Facing Voters”: GOP Candidates Range From Hopeless To Hapless On Climate Change

The vast majority of scientists who have devoted their professional lives to studying the Earth’s climate believe human-induced warming is an urgent problem requiring bold action. Republican candidates for president insist they know better.

With one possible exception — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who barely registers in the polls — GOP contenders either doubt the scientific consensus on climate change or oppose attempts to do anything about it. This promises to be one of the starkest ideological divides facing voters next year.

No pressure; it’s only the fate of the planet hanging in the balance.

Before President Obama could even announce his administration’s tough new curbs on carbon emissions from power plants, Republican hopefuls launched pre-emptive attacks. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who flat-out denies that climate change is taking place, accused scientists of “cooking the books” and Democrats of choosing “California environmentalist billionaires and their campaign donations” over “the jobs of union members.” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida charged that the new rules “will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the regulations “unconstitutional” and claimed they would cost jobs.

These comments came at Sunday’s Freedom Partners forum, organized by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch to give GOP candidates a chance to strut their stuff. In that setting, I suppose, reality-based rhetoric would be too much to hope for.

For the record, let’s take a moment to deal with the above-quoted blather, which is typical of the lines of “argument” from the multitudinous GOP field.

To claim there is no atmospheric warming, Cruz cherry-picks one set of satellite measurement data — paying no attention to other data sets, which show continued warming — and chooses 1998 as a starting point. But that year was an obvious outlier; temperatures took a huge and anomalous leap, likely because of an unusually strong El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.

Any graph of yearly global temperatures forms a saw-tooth pattern, but the overall trend is unambiguously upward. Cruz and other climate-change deniers ignore the fact that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century — the one exception being 1998. The deniers also pretend to be unaware that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by a stunning 40 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels in large quantities. Unless Cruz has rewritten the fundamental rules of physics, such an increase has to cause warming.

Rubio claims the new carbon rules will be too expensive for consumers, but he seems not to know that utility companies are already moving away from coal, which releases more carbon dioxide than other fuels such as natural gas. The Obama administration has estimated that electricity prices might rise 4.9 percent by 2020 — a small price to pay given the stakes.

As for Bush’s claim that the regulations are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled last year that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions by power plants, factories and other polluting facilities. The 7-2 decision was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. Enough said.

The rest of the GOP field ranges from hopeless to hapless on the issue. Front-runner Donald Trump — I can’t believe I wrote those words, but that’s what he is — firmly belongs in the former camp. He has called global warming a “hoax” and once tweeted thatthe whole idea “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Trump has also cited cold winter weather in the United States as “evidence.”

These Republicans seem to forget that the Earth is really, really big — so big that it can be cold in one place, such as Manhattan, and hot in other places. At the very same time.

Of the other candidates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former New York Gov. George Pataki and businesswoman Carly Fiorina have all at times acknowledged the scientific consensus on climate change but hemmed and hawed about what, if any, action to take. Rick Santorum joins Trump and Cruz in full denial. The rest — Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Jim Gilmore — either aren’t sure warming is taking place or don’t know if humans are causing it.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both promise even tougher action against climate change than Obama has taken. This is a very big reason why elections matter.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 3, 2015

August 7, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Global Warming, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Carrot And Stick Approach To Climate Change”: The Lame Duck Continues To Quack, And It Sounds Like A Roar

By now we all know that this Congress will do nothing to combat global climate change. And so, what we see happening is that President Obama will use his “pen and phone” strategy to institute both a carrot and stick approach to begin the process of addressing this issue.

On the carrot side, this week the President’s American Business Act on Climate Change initiative made a pretty big announcement.

US corporate giants including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway and Goldman Sachs are looking to invest at least $140bn to shrink their carbon footprints, according to media reports…

The committed funds will be utilised to cut emissions, provide financing to environmentally-focused companies, reduce water consumption, and produce 1,600 megawatts of new, renewable energy, which is enough to power nearly 1.3 million homes.

The announcement comes as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to bolster private commitments to climate change, ahead of a summit in Paris later in 2015. The White House expects to announce a second round of similar pledges later from more companies, Bloomberg reported.

Take a look at that number: $140,000,000,000. That’s not chump change. With more to come.

Tomorrow, President Obama weighs in with the stick.

In the strongest action ever taken in the United States to combat climate change, President Obama will unveil on Monday a set of environmental regulations devised to sharply cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants and ultimately transform America’s electricity industry.

The rules are the final, tougher versions of proposed regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014. If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping policy changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources…

“Climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore,” Mr. Obama said in a video posted on Facebook at midnight Saturday. He called the new rules “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

Yes, coal companies will scream bloody murder, some red states will refuse to comply, and court challenges will be initiated. But the battle will be joined, culminating with the increasing likelihood of a global climate accord in Paris this December.

As Oliver Willis put it:

The lame duck continues to quack, and it sounds like a roar.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, The Political Animal Blog, The Washington MOnthly, August 2, 2015

August 3, 2015 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, Climate Change, Renewable Energy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This One’s A Doozy!”: House Republicans Manage To Trip Over Confederate Flags

The recent debates over Confederate symbols have been limited almost entirely to states and local communities. Federal policymakers can show some leadership on the issue – and many have – but the decisions about Confederate flags, statues, road names, and license plates aren’t made in Washington, D.C.

This week, however, congressional Republicans found a way to trip over the issue anyway.

The developments started rather innocuously. Late Tuesday, after just a couple of minutes of debate, the U.S. House passed a measure sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) that would “prohibit the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries.” Earlier in the day, the House also instructed the National Park Service to no longer sell Confederate flag in gift stores.

The measures passed by way of voice votes, and the developments didn’t generate much attention. That is, until last night, when Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) announced a dramatic change: a Republican amendment was set to undo what the House had just done.

Facing pressure and brewing media interest, late this morning, House GOP leaders were forced to pull the underlying bill altogether. Politico reported:

House Republican leadership was forced to pull a spending bill from the floor Thursday after an uproar over the Confederate flag threatened to sink the entire measure.

This one’s a doozy, so let’s unpack what happened.

At issue is an Interior Department spending bill, which was already considered controversial because it includes funding for the EPA – and the right does not care for the EPA. But some Southern Republicans complicated matters, telling the leadership they were prepared to help kill the spending measure altogether over the anti-Confederate amendments.

Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, for example, said in a statement, “Congress cannot simply rewrite history and strip the Confederate flag from existence. Members of Congress from New York and California cannot wipe away 150 years of Southern history with sleight-of-hand tactics.”

House Democrats, not surprisingly, responded with apoplexy over the GOP majority reversing course, defending Confederate flags, and attempting to scrap two amendments that passed without controversy just two days ago.

Faced with growing turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pulled the spending bill from the floor. Boehner told NBC News’ Luke Russert that the spending bill “is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution.”

The Republican leader added that he does not want to see the issue become a “political football.” If today’s floor fight is any indication, it would appear Boehner’s too late.

South Carolina lawmakers managed to get this right, but the same cannot be said about Congress.

Postscript: It’s worth noting that while Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) was the member who announced the proposed reversal, he was not the one pushing for the change. Calvert said he introduced the amendment at the behest of the House Republican leadership, which was acting under pressure from Southern lawmakers.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 9, 2015

July 10, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, Confederate Flag, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hey, Liberals; SCOTUS Ain’t Your Friend”: Conservatives Literally Want To Roll Back The Judicial Clock To 1905

It would be understandable if liberals were feeling kind of relaxed, kind of “Supreme Court, what’s so bad?” over the weekend. John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy delivered for our team on Obamacare, and then Kennedy came through again on same-sex marriage. If this is a conservative court, is getting a liberal one—which will be one of the trump-card arguments for voting for Hillary Clinton next fall—really a matter of such pressing urgency?

Well, yes. As we saw yesterday with the court’s death-penalty and EPA rulings, it’s still a long way from being a liberal court. But there’s more to it than that. People should remember that if a Republican is elected president next year and has the chance to replace Kennedy and/or Ruth Bader Ginsburg with another Samuel Alito, the Obamacare and same-sex marriage standings could easily be reversed. And don’t think there aren’t conservatives out there thinking about it, because there most certainly are, and they literally want to roll back the judicial clock to 1905.

An interesting and important debate opened up over the weekend in conservative legal circles that you should take time to educate yourself about. Many conservatives, of course, are furious with Roberts and Kennedy and are wondering, with conservatives like this, who needs liberals?

The ins and outs of the debate were deftly summarized yesterday by Ian Millhiser of Think Progress. I’m not going to take you as deep into the jurisprudential weeds as Millhiser does, but here’s the basic story. Since the 1980s, “judicial restraint” has been the guiding principle of conservative jurisprudence—the idea that judges shouldn’t make law from the bench but should rule more narrowly and modestly, deferring to the other branches. Roberts was invoking judicial restraint during his confirmation hearings with that famous line about judges just calling “balls and strikes.”

Judicial restraint was appealing to conservatives at the time because to a large extent, majorities of the public shared their views on pressing issues of the day. It was liberals back then who were trying to gain through the courts what they could not accomplish through legislatures and the political process.

But now that reality is to a considerable extent reversed. Public opinion is firmly against conservatives on same-sex marriage, and even on Obamacare, though the law (or the name of the law) remains unpopular, polling before last week’s decision showed that majorities didn’t want the Court to take away people’s health-care subsidies. And besides, Obamacare is after all a law, duly passed by the people’s representatives in Washington.

So now it’s the right trying to achieve through the courts outcomes that it could not through the political process. This is what Roberts in essence said in his majority opinion upholding the health-care law. “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Roberts wrote. “If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

All of this takes us back to Lochner v. New York, a 1905 decision that I’m not going to get into here (Millhiser does) but that in essence used the Fourteenth Amendment to extend rights not to individuals but to employers. The decision led to a series of decisions up through the New Deal that invalidated several key pieces of progressive legislation protecting workers and more. The Lochner majority relied on a view of the Fourteenth Amendment that is now discredited—except on the far right.

Which brings us to this past weekend. Conservative Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett wrote a column lambasting judicial restraint, arguing that “selecting judges with the judicial mindset of ‘judicial restraint’ and ‘deference’ to the majoritarian branches leads to the results we witnessed in NFIB [the first upholding of Obamacare back in 2012] and King.” He wants judges who embrace Lochner and who understand the “duty of judges to invalidate unconstitutional law without restraint or deference.”

Barnett specifically cited Clarence Thomas as an example of a judge who has this depth of understanding. And conservative law professor Jonathan Adler, one of the two, ah, creative minds who brought us the bogus King v. Burwell lawsuit in the first place, tweeted over the weekend that if a Republican wins the election next year, he ought to put Utah Senator Mike Lee on the court. As Millhiser notes, Lee is huge Lochner-ian, to the point that he thinks that Social Security, Medicare, and child labor laws are all unconstitutional.

Barnett wrote in his column that there would heretofore be a new standard that conservative legal scholars will demand of Republican presidential nominees. Now, dimwit candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio who yammer on about “judicial restraint” and “deference to the other branches” will be exposed as the traitors in waiting that they are, capable of upholding abominable notions like letting people who love each other get married or giving working-class and poor people a little financial help so they can take their kids to the doctor. Judicial restraint, apparently, breeds certain counter-revolutionary tendencies.

And this, finally, circles us back to the 2016 election and health care and marriage equality. Several legal challenges to Obamacare are still pending. Other inventive approaches no doubt await us. For example, a group of legislators in some red state could sue claiming that as the elected representatives of the people, they were denied by the court their proper deliberative role in the process of deciding how to bring health care to their state. If we get a Republican president and he puts a Barnett/Adler-approved justice on the court, poof, sayonara subsidies.

Same-sex marriage’s majority is even more precarious. For example: A gay plaintiff or plaintiffs could bring some kind of discrimination lawsuit (despite the marriage win, there still are other kinds of discrimination lawsuits on the books). A Lochner-loving majority of five could use that suit as the occasion to say, actually, discrimination here is legal, and while we’re at it, this marriage business…

And mind you, from a legal point of view, this would be legitimate. After all, think of it this way: If Kennedy had retired shortly after Citizens United and Barack Obama had put a liberal on the bench, liberals would have advanced at least one legal vehicle to try to get campaign-spending issues before the Court again hoping for reversal. All’s fair in campaign-finance, health care, love, and bigotry.

Imagine how that would feel—same-sex marriage overturned. Right now it’s hypothetical, but it is a long, long way from impossible. And if the Republican wins in 2016, and if Barnett’s arguments carry the day, we could end up with two or three more Alitos on the bench.

Still feeling relaxed?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 30, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Liberals, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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