Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday November 13th, 2014

VPR 250 INTRO: The new agreement between the United States and China to reduce carbon emissions could be a major breakthrough in international efforts to moderate climate change. But as commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore explains, the agreement faces strong opposition from the new Republican majority in Congress.

TEXT: China and the United States are the world’s top two carbon polluters accounting for about 45% of the world’s carbon emissions. Until now, China has been unwilling to commit to any international agreement to deal with climate change. And while America was once a world leader in recognizing the need for such global action, climate change deniers have made the very phrase “global warming”, a political liability.

As long as the biggest polluters refused to accept significant curbs on their carbon emissions, many other nations have rejected any global deal imposing mandatory cuts in theirs. So the new agreement, signed by President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing yesterday, could well be a game changer.

Mr. Obama pledged the U.S. would emit up to 28% less carbon by 2025 than it did in 2005. In its first ever commitment, China agreed to stop its emissions from growing by 2030 and sooner, if possible. Mr. Xi also promised that clean energy sources like solar and wind power would account for 20% of China’s energy production by that time. Given its past refusal to accept it was any part of the problem, the Chinese commitment is remarkable. And most analysts believe this new American-Chinese agreement will give strong impetus to the on-going negotiations on a new global climate agreement set to conclude next summer in Paris.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Republicans who will soon be leading the Senate and the House are already criticizing the Beijing agreement.

Speaker John Boehner, who will preside over an increased House Republican majority, charged that the president, “intends to double down on his job-crushing policies, no matter how devastating the impact.” Furthermore, Boehner pledged to make blocking Obama’s energy policies a House priority.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the new Senate Majority Leader come January, said he was “distressed” by the new agreement. In his words-“these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state and other states across the country (and will) ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs.” McConnell’s state- Kentucky - is a major coal producer.

And, by the way, the new Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman will likely be Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Senator Inhofe has made his position on climate change, abundantly clear. Quote: “With all the hysteria, all the fear, all the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax every perpetrated on the American people? I believe it is.” unquote

While the new U.S.-China agreement is not a formal treaty which the senate could reject, what Republican leaders have their eye on is the Environmental Protection Agency. Final implementation of the EPA’s proposed new rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants is set for June of next year. Efforts to delay or block that, perhaps through EPA funding cuts, are expected.

Meantime, network television news now regularly leads with the latest extreme weather disasters to befall this country.

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