House votes to recommit U.S. to Paris Climate Accord

May 2, 2019

The House voted Thursday to recommit the U.S. to the Paris climate treated negotiated by President Obama but which President Trump is trying to tear up.

The 231-190 vote was largely symbolic, since it stands no chance of clearing the Republican-controlled Senate, but it did give Democrats a moment of unity on an issue that’s otherwise causing turmoil, with liberals pushing for a social upheaval to stop global warming, and moderates eyeing more incremental changes.

“America does not cut and run. America keeps its commitments,” said Rep. Kathy Castor.

The Paris accord included commitments made by most of the globe’s nations to limits on greenhouse gas emissions over future decades. It has no binding provisions, but rather is a political document that nations were left to fulfill as they could.

Since it didn’t bind the government Mr. Obama never submitted it to the Senate as a treaty, instead taking executive and regulatory actions to try to create the conditions for the U.S. to cut its emissions.

Mr. Trump campaigned against the deal and after he took office in 2017 he announced the U.S. will withdraw. That move won’t be finalized until November 4, 2020, at the earliest just days before the next presidential election.

Ms. Castor’s bill, the first piece of climate change legislation passed by the House this term, would require the U.S. honor Mr. Obama’s commitments such as cutting emissions by 26 percent below their 2005 levels by the middle of the next decade. The bill sets an ultimate aim of eliminating carbon emissions altogether.

Democrats say remaining part of the Paris accord is critical to U.S. leadership.

“Climate change is a national security threat the transcends borders and requires international coordination. That’s why its so critical that we work shoulder to shoulder with our friends and partners around the world,” Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “The negotiation of the Paris Agreement was a defining moment for the future of our planet.”

Republicans said meeting the Paris goals would cost the U.S. over $200 billion and 2.7 million jobs by 2025, even though the country is already at it lowest carbon emission levels since 2000.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, says the GOP must grapple with global warming and his party has “too many climate deniers,” but he said he couldn’t support the bill because of the impact it would have on the economy.

“Just because the earth is warming and humans contribute doesn’t mean that President Obama got a good deal for the United States and the U.S. taxpayers,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Because either there is no requirement for any action at all and this is virtue signaling or the structure of the Paris Accord seems to be the outlay of US cash initially and then the hope of other countries meeting their emissions goal.”

House Democrats’ bill is less sweeping than the Green New Deal, which not only set a goal of zero emissions but also called for a universal jobs guarantee, expanding government health care and other changes to the social safety net.

Democratic leaders acknowledged their measure wasn’t as bold as some left-wing activists had demanded, but said it’s only an initial foray.

“The first step in any journey does not get you there, but without it, you get nowhere,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on the House Floor Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s likely to be a futile foray, saying Democrats’ bill “doesn’t even pass the laugh test.”

“House Democrats may see this as exciting political theater. But the middle-class Americans I represent give it two thumbs down,” he said. “This futile gesture to handcuff the U.S. economy through the ill-fated Paris deal will go nowhere here in the Senate.”