Resolution says Biden shouldn’t have rejoined Paris Climate Agreement unilaterally, needed two-thirds Senate ratification instead

Image: Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT)

Should a president be able to enter the landmark environmental agreement without a legislative branch greenlight?


2015’s Paris Climate Agreement commits signatory nations to voluntary environmental and emissions benchmarks. The Barack Obama administration signed and formally entered the agreement in September 2016, but President Donald Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw, which became official in November 2020. President Joe Biden officially rejoined again in February 2021.

Republicans opposed Biden’s move (and Obama’s before that). GovTrack Insider previously covered a congressional GOP bill introduced before Biden’s decision, which would have prevented the U.S. from reentering the agreement. Because that effort failed, Republicans are pivoting to a similar message: that the president should have submitted the agreement to the Senate for ratification before the U.S. could rejoin.

What the resolution says

The debate hinges on whether the Paris Agreement should have been considered a “treaty” under international law. The Constitution says that any treaty must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate to take effect.

A new Senate resolution says that the Paris Agreement should have been considered a treaty for those purposes, and should have been subject to two-thirds Senate ratification. In practice, this would have almost certainly prevented the U.S. from reentering.

While the resolution does not have the force of law and would not mandatea Senate ratification vote if passed, it would put the Senate officially on record regarding one of the most debated and important policy issues of the past six years.

It was introduced in the Senate on February 22 — three days after the U.S. rejoined the Paris Agreement on February 19 — as S.Res. 68, by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). The resolution does not appear to have an official title.

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the accords are economically harmful and shouldn’t have been agreed to in the first place — but that, at minimum, a president who wanted to join shouldn’t have been able to do so unilaterally.

“The Paris Agreement is a poorly negotiated, fatally flawed treaty that represents a bad deal for American families everywhere, especially in Montana,” Sen. Daines said in a press release. “Rejoining this agreement places our country at a competitive disadvantage and will lead to higher energy prices for Montana families and job loss in a time when rural economies are devastated, all for minimal benefit.

“At the very least, I urge President Biden to do what the Obama administration refused to do,” Sen. Daines continued, “and submit the Paris Agreement to the Senate for consideration as required under the Constitution.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the Paris Agreement shouldn’t be considered a treaty, meaning a president does possess the authority to enter into the agreement without Senate approval.

In an Obama-era essay titled “Yes, He Can,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s climate staff attorney Clare Lakewood noted that the Global Climate Protection Act directs the U.S. to “work toward multilateral agreements” on climate change, while the Clean Air Act allows a president to “undertake to enter into international agreements” to protect the atmosphere, so long as nothing in any such agreement violates U.S. law.

“Taken together, these domestic statutory declarations of policy and express directions to the Executive office unmistakably authorize [the president], acting through the Secretary of State, to enter into a legally binding international agreement addressing climate change,” Lakewood wrote. “The president needs no more express authority than this to bind the United States under international law to meaningful emissions reduction targets and an obligation to contribute funds for mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage.”

Odds of passage

The resolution has attracted 10 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

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This article was written by GovTrack Insider staff writer Jesse Rifkin. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)