What political costs would a Republican president incur should he attempt to “withdraw” the United States from the Paris Agreement? That is a question to which President Obama has given much thought and GOP leaders little.
Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, environmental reporters Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin argue that President Obama’s “rapid move to join the Paris climate agreement could tie up the next president.” They reason as follows.
The Paris Agreement “enters into force” as soon as 55 countries representing 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions join the agreement (Article 21). A party may not withdraw until three years after the agreement enters into force, and withdrawal does not “take effect” until “expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal” (Article 28). Thus if, as expected, the Obama administration signs the agreement on Earth Day (April 22) and deposits the U.S. article of acceptance or approval before Obama leaves office, America will be a party to the agreement for at least the next four years — “the length of a presidential term.”
Yet as Mooney and Eilperin acknowledge, the administration “has said that the Paris agreement is not, in its eyes, a formal, legally binding treaty, which means that it doesn’t have to be ratified by the Senate.” That raises an obvious question. If the agreement is not a formal treaty, if it’s not legally binding, how exactly does it “enter into force” with respect to the United States? How can it bind us to remain a party until 2020 even if the American people elect a president and Congress opposed to the agreement?
Mooney and Eilperin fail to flag the rhetorical sleight of hand by which Obama seeks to have his cake and eat it. Obama wants an agreement that, like a real climate treaty, controls domestic energy policy for decades to come, regardless of domestic politics and the policy preferences of future U.S. leaders. Yet he also wants an agreement that is somehow not a treaty, so he can adopt it unilaterally, with the stroke of a pen, without engaging the Senate, where the agreement would be dead on arrival.
This game plan should be too clever by half. I say “should be,” because most GOP leaders have not shown they have the wits and courage to unmask and defeat it.
The first step in foiling Obama’s end-run around the Constitution is simply to call the Paris Agreement by its proper name: a treaty. [click to continue…]