Bush’s Kyoto Secret

The “World Summit on Sustainable Development” got underway today amid several key questions. How would anti-globalization – and, possibly, worse — forces attempt to disrupt the world leaders' proceedings? What form would latent anti-Americanism take? And, of course, what of substance might emerge? The United Nations' special envoy to the summit, Jan Pronk of The Netherlands, has called upon Johannesburg to produce “5 Kyotos,” addressing energy, water and so forth, referring to the 1997 treaty that would require many rich countries to cap energy-use emission levels on the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming. The Clinton-Gore administration committed the United States to dramatically ration, in perpetuity, emission levels of principally naturally occurring gases like carbon dioxide and methane at a 1980s profile. President George Bush created intense domestic and international pressure by reiterating his campaign promise against Kyoto, and purportedly withdrawing the United States. Yet U.S. participation remains a key topic of discussion here for one curious reason: President Bush never actually withdrew. Now trade competitors, and Bush's domestic political opponents, are preparing their major push to subdue this purely rhetorical opposition. This includes Senate Democrats, who face the task of voting on ratification should Bush transmit the treaty to them and, indeed, have the ability to vote on the treaty even absent a presidential request. Clearly, President Bush could get the monkey of this mishandled issue off his back were he to, at a minimum, ask the Senate for a vote. Treaties require up to 67 votes (two-thirds of those voting) to fully bind the United States, and Kyoto likely has at best 10 Senate votes truly in favor. Yet certain senators likely presume most senators could go on the record voting for the treaty. As long as there are 34 who will continue to oppose it, a vote in favor is a “free” green vote, politically outfoxing those “mean” Republicans, for something few of those voting for would actually wish on their country. Word has it that Bush nemesis and Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Jeffords, I-Vt., will soon demand the president formally ask for a vote. The White House has signaled, inexplicably, it will invite further abuse by resisting. With the White House insistent on digging its hole ever deeper on the “climate” issue, some Republican senator might consider calling Kyoto's champions on their rhetoric and expose that nowhere does the Constitution require presidential “transmittal.” Any senator is free to crusade for a vote on this abhorrence, now. Certainly, it would seem that any senator claiming to believe the following rhetorical syllogism is morally obligated to do so: Man is killing the planet; Kyoto would help save the planet; George W. Bush will not submit Kyoto to the Senate; ergo George Bush is killing the planet. The Senate has an institutional interest in forcing this issue. Five years ago last month the Senate addressed the unacceptable Clinton-Gore drift away from the firm U.S. stance adamantly opposed to binding “global warming” commitments. The Senate unanimously asserted its “advice” pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, via S. Res. 98 (“Byrd-Hagel”). That non-binding “Sense of the Senate” instructed the Clinton administration to refuse any agreement not requiring similar sacrifices by the rest of the world, or that “would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States”. U.S. negotiators flagrantly disregarded both key Byrd-Hagel recommendations: Kyoto did not require 140 developing countries to share our commitments, and even the Clinton White House economic advisors have recanted their implausible refutations of the Kyoto cost estimates. Nothing has emerged since to indicate that Kyoto satisfies either condition, and few senators likely have amended their position against a treaty causing “serious economic harm.” Further, Clinton administration officials have publicly admitted their stealth agenda to bind us to energy use reductions, through what emerged as Kyoto. Still, Bush refuses to “unsign” Kyoto, á la the International Criminal Court (ICC), or even explain this troubling position. So Kyoto remains a mere step in a “treaty hopping” campaign: Even the models on which it is based predict an undetectable climatic impact — at a cost to the United States of up to $400 billion annually, according to Clinton's Department of Energy — yet its proponents now style it as meeting as little as 1/30th of their goals. Such agendas illustrate the importance of Senate treaty “reservations” — the second bite at the “advice” apple in the form of “consent.” However, after snubbing Byrd-Hagel, the Clinton administration also accepted Kyoto's prohibition on reservations — though the Senate had forewarned against this prior to Kyoto. As Johannesburg kicks off, and it becomes clear that the Bush administration will not match its Kyoto rhetoric with ICC-type action, the domestic and geopolitical pressures escalate for the United States to affirm its Kyoto commitment. Lacking White House leadership, the Senate should simply recognize that only protocol, not any constitutional prohibition, “impedes” Senate consideration of a signed treaty. Senate action should by definition be rejection of Kyoto. Otherwise, by accepting this double indignity of ignoring advice and prohibiting reservations, this body would condone executive branch circumvention of the Senate's constitutional treaty role. Now is past time to act.