The Democratic-led House voted Thursday to recommit the U.S. to the Paris climate accord negotiated by former President Barack Obama that his Republican successor is trying to tear up.
The 231-190 vote was largely symbolic, since the House action stands no chance of clearing the Republican-controlled Senate. But it did offer a rare display of “green” unity for Democrats, who have been split recently between party moderates backing more practical approaches to climate change and far-left members of the party pushing for a radical restructuring of the U.S. economy.
Resuscitating the Paris accord, even symbolically, gives Democrats of all stripes political talking points.
“America does not cut and run. America keeps its commitments,” said the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Kathy Castor, Florida Democrat.
The Paris climate deal included commitments made by most of the world’s nations to limit 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.
President Trump campaigned against the deal and after he took office in 2017 he announced the U.S. would withdraw. That move won’t be finalized until Nov. 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% below their 2005 levels by the middle of the next decade. The bill sets the 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,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Republicans contend meeting the Paris goals would cost the U.S. over $200 billion and 2.7 million jobs by 2025, and many argue that the country is already at its 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 U.S. cash initially and then the hope of other countries meeting their emissions goal.”
The House Democrats’ bill is less sweeping than the far-left wing’s proposed 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 on 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.”
He said the U.S. is making progress on cutting emissions without being tied to the Paris accord.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated earlier this year that American emissions increased by 2.8% in 2018, after several years of cuts. The EIA predicted that 2019 will see another cut in emissions.
The Rhodium Group, a research group, released its own study putting emissions higher, at a 3.4% increase. They said the U.S. would have to cut emissions by 2.6% for the next seven years in order to meet the goals set in the Paris accord.
The rest of the world is also struggling.
According to the Climate Action Tracker, only five countries — India, Ethiopia, Morocco, the Philippines and Gambia — are on track to cut emissions enough to meet the Paris agreement’s minimum goal of holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
The U.S. is one of five — along with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — marked as critically insufficient.
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