Congress

House passes climate bill, with few Republican backers

The bill blocks funding for the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., takes a selfie with climate activists outside of the Capitol after the House passed the Climate Action Now resolution on Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House passed a bill Thursday to block funding for the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and force the White House to share yearly plans of how it will meet its obligations under that deal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made the legislation a priority, and three Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

The measure passed 231-190 after a two-day amendment process and criticism by House Republicans of international climate talks and the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan from left-leaning congressional Democrats to slash carbon emissions, as scientists say is needed to prevent the worst climate effects.

[Here are the 3 Republicans who bucked Trump on the Paris Climate Accord]

Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., voted for the bill.

While the measure will likely die in the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill marks the latest effort by Democrats to underscore the scientific dangers of climate change and the jobs to be had by supporting low-carbon industries.

Before a final vote on HR 9, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement that the measure would fail in the Senate because “middle-class Americans” oppose it. “So this futile gesture to handcuff the U.S. economy through the ill-fated Paris deal will go nowhere here in the Senate,” he said.

[Paris climate bill will send a message and test Republicans]

Republicans who opposed the measure said it would put the U.S. at a disadvantage to other nations, specifically large carbon emitters such as China and India, the No. 1 and No. 3 highest. America is the No. 2 emitter worldwide, but emits far more per citizen than China or India.

President Donald Trump has shown a dislike of international organizations and agreements, questioning the value of NATO, pressing allies to pay more for national defense and, on climate change, attempting to withdraw from the Paris deal.

When he said in the summer of 2017 that he would pull the U.S. from the deal, Trump said, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Still, the president cannot extract the U.S. from the agreement until November 2020, according to international law. And as Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., said Thursday, the agreement is non-binding and signatories to it can set their own targets to achieve emission cuts.

“The idea is to create a culture of accountability and maybe some peer pressure,” Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.

The U.S. is responsible for 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution and committed, under the Paris deal of 2015, to cut 26 to 28 percent of its emissions by 2025, relative to 2005 emission levels.

Speaking on the floor before the vote, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the Obama administration should have consulted with Congress after reaching the Paris deal in 2015 by submitting the agreement as a treaty to the Senate.

Republicans would have still rejected it, Shimkus said. “We think what happened was that there was not total buy-in,” he said.

Urgency

Presidential candidate Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said he wants the U.S. to be more ambitious than its Paris goals.

“We’ve got to be Paris on steroids,” Ryan told CQ Roll Call in an interview. “We gotta go, and the clock’s ticking,” he said. “I think it's important for us too to thread the needle about having the private sector play a big role in because they're going to do it faster, better than we are,” he said of efforts to limit emissions.

Ryan, who represents northeast Ohio, which has seen manufacturing jobs disappear, said it's possible to merge the twin objectives of limiting emissions and creating jobs.

Asked how to merge goals to address climate change and create jobs, Ryan said the U.S. should be a powerhouse in the low-carbon sector.

“Talking about dominating those industries that are going to get us where we need to be with our climate goals is the way to do it,” Ryan said.

“You know, that’s the future and we talk to people who don’t necessarily have the luxury of thinking about climate, right?” he added. “They’ve just lost their job or they’re underemployed. Convincing them that this is going to work and that we can cut them in on the deal is, I think, a compelling message.”

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., voted against the bill but said both parties could have worked more closely on the legislation.

“It’s not bipartisan, they could have worked with us to actually get a bill that I think would have worked,” Upton said in an interview. “It was just a little bit too far and there was no outreach to Republicans whatsoever.”

House Democrats are trying to get Republicans to cooperate on a robust climate plan, Engel said in an interview.

“We’re throwing down the gauntlet and we’re challenging our Republican colleagues to work with us before climate change is a reality and we suffer for years and years,” he said.

Asked what House Democrats plan next for climate legislation, Engel said the caucus would be “accurate” and repeatedly press on the issue but did not provide specifics.

The House jockeyed Wednesday and Thursday over amendments to the bill, including one from Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., to strip the provision that would bar funding for pulling out of the agreement. The House rejected that amendment 189-234.

An amendment from Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., to state the Paris deal urges nations that agreed to it to “climate justice,” including the effects of climate change on migrants, children and the most vulnerable, passed by a roll call vote, 237-185.

The House also passed by a roll call vote 259-166 an amendment by Rep. TJ Cox, D-Calif., to require the federal plan to cut emissions to consider the effects on U.S. employment, technology and energy costs.

Before the final vote, Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., said the U.S. should export so-called “clean coal” to address climate change and urged votes against the bill.

“One thousand more pages in the Federal Register will not change the weather,” he said, shouting to a crowded chamber.

Jacob Holzman contributed to this report.

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