President Trump has announced the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris climate accord negotiated by President Obama, but some activists say Republicans should do more and truly put the spike into it.
They fear that if Mr. Trump was able to withdraw based on his signature, a future president could easily rejoin with another signature. Their solution: have the Senate take a vote to ratify the deal as a treaty, and defeat it.
“The Paris climate treaty is clearly a treaty and not just an executive agreement according to the State Department’s own criteria,” said Myron Ebell, the director of global warming and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Every other country in the world treated it as a treaty and ratified it according to their usual ratification procedures.”
Mr. Obama negotiated the deal in 2015, committing the U.S. to a global agreement to try to limit greenhouse gas emissions to levels needed to keep temperature rises “well below 2 degrees Celsius.”
Mr. Obama said the deal was more a political commitment than a binding agreement among nations, so it didn’t count as a treaty and didn’t have to go to the Senate for ratification — a vote he was certain to lose.
But that also made it easy for a successor to withdraw, which is what Mr. Trump began the process of doing in 2017.
Yet withdrawal takes more than three years and full withdrawal won’t be finalized until after the 2020 election, according to the treaty’s terms, meaning if Mr. Trump were defeated, a future administration could reimpose it.
“President Trump made the least satisfactory choice among three alternatives when he announced he would keep his campaign promise to get the United States out of Paris,” Mr. Ebell said. “He accepted that President Obama’s mere signature accepting the treaty was valid, and that all he needed to do was send another signed letter of withdrawal.”
Some scientists who are skeptical of extreme climate change scenarios embraced the idea of forcing a Senate vote now.
“I think this is a good idea,” said Richard Lindzen, an emeritus atmospheric physics professor at MIT, and a prominent skeptic of the notion global warming presents an existential threat.
He said the Senate should go even further and revoke any consent it has given to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, launched in 1992, whose semi-regular reports help propel the debate and provided the framework for Paris negotiations.
“Bush 41 signed this to lay claim to being our ‘environment president.’ Unfortunately, he committed us to the global warming alarm narrative,” Mr. Lindzen said.
But as of now, there are no takers in the Senate.
Staff for Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who is perhaps the Senate’s most prominent climate change skeptic, seemed intrigued by the idea of having the Senate formally reject the treaty. But his office failed to respond to questions.
Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat and the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, also did not respond.
He was sharply critical of President Trump’s withdrawal, and it is unlikely many, if any, Democrats would vote against the Paris accord. Mr. Carper’s staff also forwarded questions to his Democratic colleagues on the Committee, and they acknowledged the questions but did not respond.
Several Republicans have also said they back the agreement. But treaties require a two-thirds vote to be ratified, and it’s likely the GOP could deny the deal that level of support.
Mr. Ebell said it is tradition rather than any explicit constitutional prohibition that has kept the Senate from taking up the matter without formal submission by the White House.
The entire topic is one scholars and researchers say is murky.
“Many members of Congress and others have disputed any claim by a president to base agreement-making authority solely on the grant of executive power,” law professor Frederic Kirgis wrote in a paper for the American Society of International Law in 1997. “Sole executive agreements occupy a more limited space constitutionally and are linked primarily if not exclusively to the president’s powers as commander in chief and head diplomat.”
Similarly, a 2018 paper from the Congressional Research Service mentioned no constitutional bar to the Senate acting on what it, like international law, considers a “treaty.” A vote, then, may prove illuminating.
“When Congress opposes the agreement and the president’s constitutional authority to enter the agreement is ambiguous, it is unclear if or when such an agreement would be given effect,” the research service concluded.