Guest opinion: Governor’s climate gambit reeks of Obama-style overreach
News accounts of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s recent decision to accelerate renewable energy goals for Colorado and join the “U.S. Climate Alliance,” aligning the state with international commitments President Obama made as part of his Paris climate pact, frequently missed the mark on a number of key points. So let me provide context that was missing from much of the coverage I saw.
One major Colorado newspaper, for instance, reported that Colorado was joining a “growing number of states” that were “committed to meeting or exceeding greenhouse gas reduction targets set in the international Paris climate treaty that President Donald Trump rejects.” But that’s wrong on three counts — quite an achievement for a single sentence.
The president is not jettisoning legally binding commitments because the Paris accord is not a treaty. No matter what name is attached to it — “accord,” “agreement,” “pact” or “deal” — it has no constitutional, legal or political standing comparable to a treaty because it was never submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification.
Why didn’t President Obama seek Senate approval? Because, just like the Iran nuclear agreement he negotiated, his Paris pact had no hope of getting the two-thirds vote required for treaty ratification. The Constitution requires U.S. Senate ratification because the Founders did not trust executive branch politicians to unilaterally commit the American people to international agreements. Nothing in the Constitution allows states or governors to engage in foreign policy freelancing. The governor thus has no authority to make a commitment to an international agreement of any kind.
And how far is the governor willing to go in order to comply with the terms of a nullified non-treaty that a former president approved in irregular and unconstitutional fashion? Is he also going to monitor compliance by China and other pact participants, and attempt to impose sanctions if they fall short of benchmarks or get caught cheating? And what about the $3 billion in payments Obama committed the U.S. to make as part of the “deal”? Will Colorado and other “Climate Alliance” members be stepping up to make good on that commitment, using tax dollars?
Clearly, the governor has given too little thought to the legal, constitutional and practical implications of this proposal.
It’s also wrong to suggest Colorado is one of a growing number of states joining an alliance that opposes the president on the Paris accord. Since June 8, when 13 states had joined, only one additional state joined — Colorado. Moreover, not one additional state has joined since the Governor’s July 11 statement. That rate of progress would make a snail envious.
It would be more accurate to say that 14 governors have joined that group, not 14 states, given the undemocratic way this “movement” has evolved. Like Obama with his pen and phone, Hickenlooper wants to commit the entire state to this without involving the people’s representatives in the lawmaking branch of government. But there can be no revision for acceleration of Colorado’s established greenhouse gas emission goals without the involvement of the state Legislature. I don’t believe the governor can commit Colorado to the goals of the Paris accord while acting alone.
Hickenlooper repeatedly said he believes these measures will have little to no adverse impact on taxpayers, utility ratepayers or the state’s business climate. He promises big benefits on all fronts — all winners and no losers. All that’s missing from this picture is a prospect of puppies and cotton candy for all.
The governor’s attempt to unilaterally commit Colorado to the goals of the Paris pact isn’t therefore just questionable, impractical and unwise. If he attempts to implement the plan without legislative approval, it is also unconstitutional, which could open the door to costly litigation that will forever taint whatever climate “legacy” he hopes this gambit will achieve.
The good news is that there is still time for the governor, who generally has shown a deliberative and collaborative approach on such central policy questions, to climb down from his high horse and reconsider this embarrassing misstep.
Kevin Grantham is president of the Colorado Senate and represents Senate District 2.
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