Obama has been in Paris since the start of the week to help kick off the global summit to negotiate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – something climate change scientists have agreed is necessary to keep global warming in check.
But back in the United States, congressional Republicans are critical of the administration’s climate change initiatives, arguing they have gone too far and are hurting the economy through costly regulations. They are also unhappy at what they view as executive overreach, as Obama has pushed the regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency when faced with inaction in Congress.
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power subcommittee, said the “questionably illegal” EPA regulations have made it effectively impossible for any new coal plants to be built, because no commercially-available technology could meet the new standards.
“China, India and every other country in the world can build a new coal plant if they decide to do so,” he said on the House floor. “We simply want that option, and that’s what this is about.”
The disapproval resolutions carry little practical weight because Congress cannot force the president to rescind his environmental regulations. But they serve to draw a stark contrast between what the president hopes to achieve on the global stage and the policy limits he faces at home.
Republicans took the House floor on Tuesday to make this point clear.
“It’s appropriate that we are debating these resolutions today, as we know the president and other leaders are meeting in France,” Whitfield said. “They’re speaking in generalities, they’re not being detailed in their plans – and yet in America, we are becoming aware more each day of exactly what EPA’s regulations, the impact that they’re having on the American people.”
Republican leaders have long railed against the Obama administration’s efforts to enact environmental standards through a series of executive orders – a path the president embarked on when it became evident that Congress wouldn’t pass sweeping legislation to combat climate change during his presidency.
In recent weeks, the GOP charge has intensified, led by lawmakers who question the science behind climate change.
Republicans have filed measures to hold any progress made at the Paris talks to a reckoning in the Senate by treating any agreement as a treaty. They have called for stripping a request for $3 billion for the Green Climate Fund, which was established by the United Nations to help developing countries reduce their carbon emissions from the forthcoming omnibus spending package.
Democratic leaders have bristled at the attempts to undercut efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions just as the administration is engaged in a critical round of negotiations. The Paris climate change conference goes through Dec. 11.
“Once again, Republicans are attempting to stop any action by this administration to reduce carbon emissions,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee said on the House floor. He said Republicans have “no constructive alternative to offer that would improve the environmental performance of the electricity sector.”
The House is expected to vote later this week on a bill to modernize energy infrastructure and improve efficiency. But the Obama administration already issued a veto threat against that legislation on Monday, arguing that it would undermine initiatives already underway.