In recent years, in nearly every debate about the climate crisis, Republicans would argue that there simply wasn’t any point to the United States addressing a global problem. President Obama would never persuade China to reach an agreement, the GOP said, and it’d be irresponsible for Americans to lead by example.
That talking point is now gone – Obama and his team struck a deal with China on carbon pollution, unveiling the details yesterday. Republicans aren’t pausing to acknowledge their error – and they’re certainly not praising the president for a historic breakthrough – so much as they’ve moved straight to apoplexy about the agreement itself.
House Speaker John Boehner argued the stateside emissions cuts are “job-crushing” and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently argued that other countries would never agree to curb emissions, so the U.S. shouldn’t either, so in his response he said it’s an “ideological War on Coal.”Senator James Inhofe, the Republican likely to lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next, called it a “non-binding charade.”
There are two main angles to the GOP’s hysterical reaction to yesterday’s historic news. The first is that Republican critics of the plan appear to have lashed out before getting their facts straight.
Inhofe, for example, said in a statement, “In the President’s climate change deal, the United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won’t have to reduce anything.” That’s demonstrably incorrect.
McConnell added, “As I read the agreement, it requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years.” The incoming Majority Leader must not have read the agreement too closely – his assessment just isn’t true.
To be sure, no one expected congressional Republicans to be pleased by the deal. As far as the GOP is concerned, climate science itself deserves to be rejected, ignored, and routinely mocked, no matter of awful the consequences. When a Democratic president strikes a breakthrough deal on a global crisis, it stands to reason that Republicans are going to complain.
But if they could at least make an effort to understand the policy they’re condemning, it’d be easier to take their complaints more seriously.
Which leads us to the second angle: the GOP’s fury is compounded by the fact that there’s not much Republicans can do about this on a substantive level.
This wasn’t a treaty that will require Senate ratification; this wasn’t a proposal in need of legislative follow-through. Obama tends to succeed in a big way when Congress isn’t involved in a given issue, and this fits the bill.
Indeed, aside from complaining, Republicans can’t do much about Obama’s climate agenda in general, either. Kevin Drum yesterday flagged a report from Politico about policies that are on the way.
The coming rollout includes a Dec. 1 proposal by EPA to tighten limits on smog-causing ozone, which business groups say could be the costliest federal regulation of all time; a final rule Dec. 19 for clamping down on disposal of power plants’ toxic coal ash; the Jan. 1 start date for a long-debated rule prohibiting states from polluting the air of their downwind neighbors; and a Jan. 8 deadline for issuing a final rule restricting greenhouse gas emissions from future power plants. That last rule is a centerpiece of Obama’s most ambitious environmental effort, the big plan for combating climate change that he announced at Georgetown University in June 2013.….The administration was committed to its upcoming deadlines many months ago, in some cases under court order, after postponing a number of the actions until after the 2012 or 2014 elections. Now that Obama is almost out of time, they’re coming all at once.On deck are even more climate actions that will stretch well into 2015. In June, EPA is due to put out a final version of its rule for cutting greenhouse gases from the nation’s existing power plants – the linchpin of Obama’s entire climate effort.
Plenty of Republicans will suggest a government-shutdown strategy in the hopes of preventing action on the climate crisis, but (a) such a gambit would fail; and (b) there really isn’t much of a back-up plan.
The 2014 elections were a triumph for climate deniers and pollution supporters, but the results won’t derail Obama’s climate agenda.