Climate Change News

House OK’s Bill for U.S. to Stay in Paris Climate Accord

Democrats and environmental groups applaud the first major piece of climate legislation to pass the House in 10 years, but chances for passage in the Senate are slim.

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The U.S. House of Representatives today (2 May) approved legislation that directs President Donald Trump to honor the nation’s commitments under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, despite Trump’s earlier pledge to withdraw the United States from the accord.

The Climate Action Now Act, formally known as House Resolution 9, requires the administration to develop and update the nation’s plan to meet its “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. That NDC includes a target made during the Obama administration to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26%–28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

“Democrats said we would honor our commitment to act on the climate crisis. Now we’re delivering. This is the first major piece of climate legislation to pass the House in 10 years, and it won’t be the last,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the bill’s sponsor and chair of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said following the vote.

“This bill is very simple,” she told reporters a day earlier. “It keeps us in the agreement, it bars the Trump administration from spending any money to withdraw from the agreement, and it requires the administration to share its plans for cutting carbon pollution.”

What Happens Next?

The 230–190 vote in favor of the Climate Action Now Act was mostly along party lines, with just three Republicans voting for it.

The measure appears to have little hope in the Senate, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that “this futile gesture to handcuff the U.S. economy through the ill-fated Paris deal will go nowhere here in the Senate.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reportedly plans to call on McConnell to bring the measure up for a vote in the Senate. In addition, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that although McConnell may consider H.R. 9 and other House-approved legislation dead on arrival at the Senate, “they are alive and well among the American people.”

Castor said that she hopes the Senate takes up the legislation “but we are under no illusions that fossil fuel companies still are very influential here in Capitol Hill.”

Nick Loris, an energy and environmental economist with the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank promoting free enterprise and limited government, told Eos that the Senate should have had an opportunity to weigh in with advice and consent on the Paris accord years ago through the treaty process.

“The fact that there’s no Senate equivalent to HR 9 is telling how much hope there is that a bill will ever reach the President’s desk,” he said.

“Remaining in Paris would be a mistake,” Loris noted. “With no enforcement mechanisms in place and no repercussions for failing to meet emissions reduction targets, countries are essentially free to do whatever they want, meaning they will continue on their business-as-usual trajectory without making any changes. In some instances, countries have set targets that are worse than business as usual so that doing nothing actually looks like progress. Meanwhile, global compliance with the Paris Agreement from the developed world has been nothing short of abysmal. The U.S. shouldn’t commit to costly policies that will drive energy prices higher when the derived climate benefit is going to be negligible.”

“We Are Still in the Fight”

That view wasn’t shared by the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus. “The House of Representatives just sent a clear message to the White House and the rest of the world: We are still in the fight against climate change,” caucus cochairs Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) said following the vote.

“Today, we are honoring the United States’ commitment to the Paris Agreement and rejecting President Trump’s disastrous plan to withdraw. Members of the Safe Climate Caucus and House Democrats are showing the world that we are bold enough to stand up to special interests and the fossil fuel industry and lead on climate,” they said.

Environmental groups generally applauded the legislation. Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, said that “requiring the Trump administration to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement sends an important message to voters across the country who helped elect a pro-environment majority in the House: Elections have consequences.”

Mark Reynolds, executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, told Eos, “In passing H.R. 9, the House has taken the first step toward restoring America’s leadership on climate change. That first step is to honor and work toward achieving the commitments made with the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.”

Not Enough?

Leaders of Sunrise, a group working to stop climate change, also applauded passage of the resolution but said it isn’t enough.

“We’re glad to see that climate change is at the center of Congressional politics. That’s historic and it is a clear sign that pressure from the tens of thousands of people who have raised their voices has worked,” Sunrise cofounder Varshini Prakash said.

Sunrise’s sit-in at Pelosi’s office last November, which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined, helped bring national attention to the Green New Deal proposal.

Prakash added, “This resolution does not go far enough. We are facing an existential crisis and we need our leaders to put forward a plan and vision for how we transform our economy and society away from fossil fuels in line with what science demands. We strongly opposed Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, but rejoining it is not enough on its own.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), House OK’s bill for U.S. to stay in Paris Climate Accord, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO122821. Published on 02 May 2019.
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