As President Obama rushes to cement his climate legacy, other nations are questioning whether his administration can make good on its promise to slash greenhouse-gas emissions ahead of a major climate summit in Paris at the end of this year. "Certainly ... countries want to get reassurance that the U.S. can deliver on what we've said that we're doing," U.S. special envoy for climate change Todd Stern told reporters Monday when asked about challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to regulate carbon pollution from power plants. "I wouldn't say it's a big drumbeat, but I have definitely been asked that."
In March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took his climate denialism to a new level: the Republican lawmaker urged states to ignore the EPA. The Obama administration expects states to submit their plans to reduce carbon pollution, but McConnell said states should simply ignore the federal process.
A couple of weeks later, McConnell went just a little further, warning U.S. negotiating partners around the world to "proceed with caution" before reaching an agreement with U.S. officials about reducing carbon emissions. As the GOP leader sees it, President Obama and his team may assure foreign countries that we'll reach our goals, but McConnell wants the world to be skeptical of the White House's pledges.
To be sure, all of this is quite unusual. In the American tradition, our elected leaders do not usually encourage foreign countries to be distrustful of the United States. Though between McConnell, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and much of today's congressional GOP, one of our major parities seems to be making a habit out of it.
But on Earth Day, it's worth appreciating the fact that Republican efforts have drawn international notice.
The White House's problem isn't skeptics of climate science; the problem is skeptics of the American political system.
The National Journal report added that Stern believes, and is no doubt reminding our allies abroad, that the administration's climate plan is "based fundamentally on existing legal authority" under the Clean Air Act and that "we have a very solid basis for ... having confidence in the power plant rule and other regulatory steps that we've taken."
He added, "These kinds of EPA regulations have been repeatedly challenged over time and almost always upheld."
As a substantive matter, Stern makes a perfectly sound case, and those eager to see broad action on the climate crisis can certainly hope our international negotiating partners find his argument persuasive.
But the fact that he's confronted with questions from foreign officials reinforces a larger truth: for all the far-right rhetoric about presidential leadership and American credibility on the global stage, it's still Republicans undermining our ability to address global challenges and guide the direction of foreign affairs.