Congress and the Administration Clash over Climate Policy

by H. Sterling Burnett March 11, 2016

for Somewhat Reasonable

Earth melting into water
Earth melting into water

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks on Capitol Hill from a climate policy perspective as Congress and the Obama administration traded body blows over the Presidents’ domestic and international climate initiatives.

In late February, more than 200 members of Congress filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC backing a court challenge by 27 states and numerous businesses, trade, labor, and public interest groups against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), the president’s signature regulation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The congressional brief argues the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overstepped its legal authority and defied the will of Congress by regulating carbon dioxide emissions. The brief states:

If Congress desired to give EPA sweeping authority to transform the nation’s electricity sector, Congress would have provided for that unprecedented power in detailed legislation. … [I]f anything can be inferred from Congress’ repeated rejection of proposed cap-and-trade legislation for [carbon dioxide] emissions, it is that Congress had no intention of conferring upon EPA the very authority that the agency now claims to wield as a central part of the [CPP].

While Congress was in court hoping to end the main policy President Obama has instituted to meet commitments his administration made in Paris to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. by more 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, the administration was defending its decision to fund another portion of Obama’s Paris Climate commitments over the objections of a skeptical congress in testimony in Senate hearings.

The State Department made a down payment of $500 million of U.S. taxpayers’ money to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund (GCF) in support of his commitment to provide $3 billion to GCF by 2020. According to the U.K.’s Guardian, the State Department says the payment “shows the US stands squarely behind climate commitments.” The $500 million GCF payment was seen as critical to shoring up international confidence in Obama’s ability to deliver on the pledges made at the United Nations’ climate change conference in Paris in late 2015.

As reported on Watts Up With That, some members of Congress questioned whether the payment was legal or authorized by Congress.

When asked by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) if Congress had approved diverting $500 million of State Department funds to GCF, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higgenbottom responded, “Did Congress authorize the Green Climate Fund? No … We’ve reviewed the authority and the process under which we can do it, and our lawyers and we have determined that we have the ability to do it.”

Fox news reported on this and it should be noted I warned of just this kind of surreptitious action by the administration when I wrote criticizing the end of year omnibus budget bill passed at the end of the year.

Though I would say Congress only has itself to blame for State Department funds being diverted to the Green Climate fund since it did not explicitly preclude such funding in the budget deal, stay tuned. I expect some fireworks over this in future Senate and House hearings.

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