It is expected President Trump will, at a 3 pm Press Conference this afternoon, announce the United States is withdrawing from the Paris Environmental Agreement. While the withdrawal is a good idea, from both an economic and scientific stance, the method being used is not smart politically.
Why? Well for that we need to set the WABAC machine to 1997.
We first go to Kyoto, Japan. There, we see members of the United Nations agreed on a treaty calling for significant cuts in the emission of Greenhouse Gases. The emission cuts would come almost completely from the developed nations and up and coming countries, such as China and India could pour as much CO2 in the air as their little hearts desired. As it is relevant to the United States, the Kyoto Protocol would have required the United States to reduce its carbon output to pre-1990 levels. It was estimated that the cost to the US economy would have been a loss of $397 Billion in the GDP and 900,00 jobs. In addition, It was also estimated it would additionally burden the economy by an additional $338 billion in new regulatory and tax costs. Despite this, then Vice-President Al Gore signed the Treaty on behalf of the United States. Under the United States Constitution (Article II, section 2), the Senate must ratify any treaty by a 2/3rd vote.
Now, let’s hop from Japan to Washington, D.C. On June 12, 1997, which is shortly after Gore signed the Treaty, but before the Clinton Administration sent it to the Senate for Ratification, Senator Robert Byrd (D) introduced Senate Resolution 98 :
Declares that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, at negotiations in Kyoto in December 1997 or thereafter which would: (1) mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex 1 Parties, unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period; or (2) result in serious harm to the U.S. economy.
Calls for any such protocol or other agreement which would require the advice and consent of the Senate to ratification to be accompanied by: (1) a detailed explanation of any legislation or regulatory actions that may be required to implement it; and (2) an analysis of the detailed financial costs which would be incurred by, and other impacts on, the U.S. economy.
On July 25, 1997, S.Res. 98 passed 95-0. 54 of the 55 Republican Senators and 41 of the 45 Democratic Senators voted. (Democrats Bryan (NV), Feinstein (CA), Harkin (D) and Reid (NV) did not vote as did Grams (R)). This was a swift and clear repudiation of Vice President Gore and the Clinton Administration’s actions in siging the Protocols. Clinton never sent the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate because his own party told him it was DOA.
Fast forward to 2001. President George W Bush decided to formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, noting the 1997 Senate Vote. That was the mistake. Because Bush just withdrew from the treaty without a formal Senate rejection, it allowed Democrats to claim that they thought the treaty was a good idea without having to answer any of the difficult questions about the costs. Had he sent the treaty for ratification, it would have locked the Democrats into either supporting the job-killing treaty or admit it was a bad idea.
That’s why President Trump would be making the same unforced error if he simply withdraws from the Paris Agreement. Instead, the President should announce that he and his advisers have determined the Paris Agreement signed by President Obama meets the legal definition of a treaty. Since it is a treaty, under the Constitution, the Senate has the duty to advise and consent on such matters. As such, he is sending the Paris Agreement to the Senate for consideration.
This is not without precedent. In 1848 President James Polk sent the Senate the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo for consideration. The treaty, which would end the Mexican-American War, had been signed on behalf of the United States by Nicholas Trist after Trist had been recalled by Polk. Polk sent the Treaty to the Senate, explaining how it came to be, but noting since the Treaty had been signed, Polk felt it was his obligation to forward it to the Senate for consideration. The US Senate ratified the Treaty on March 10, 1848.
By having the Senate consider the Accords as a Treaty, it will force pro-Paris politicos to defend the costs and strictures the treaty would place on American Industry, including the job losses. How many Democratic Senators from Red States and/or states Trump won in 2016 will want to be seen voting for a job-killing treaty? Especially those Senators up for reelection next year? Every US Senator will be forced to publicly commit to a position on the Agreement.
In addition, the refrain from Democrats since November 9, 2016 is Trump was the illegitimate winner of the Election. If Trump simply withdraws there will be a drumbeat from the media and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) that this is another illegitimate act. But if the Senate votes down the Accord, there can be no claim of illegitimacy as the Rule of Law will have been followed.