February 4, 2009

Bring on the CPA
No, this will not be a paean to accountants. Nor is it meant as advice for future cabinet nominees (although it clearly applies). Rather, consider this a bit of encouraging news for those concerned about a way to break the guaranteed Senate impasse on any upcoming international climate treaty. I've harped in the past on the difficulty of mustering 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a Republican filibuster on plain jane domestic climate legislation. But that difficulty is as nothing compared to the absolute impossibility of finding the 67 votes needed to ratify a treaty. Na. Ga. Ha. Pen. No treaty, no planet-wide climate fix. Game over.

Thanks to Brookings, however, it turns out we don't need to worry. William J. Antholis and Nigel Purvis recently published an article that argues for creating what they call a "Climate Protection Authority" built in to cap-and-trade legislation. Through a nifty piece of parliamentary legerdemain, this power is used to pre-approve any international climate pact (don't call it a "treaty"!) that meets certain criteria. Here's the lowdown (h/t Dave Roberts):
First, in consultation with Congress, the president would decide that future climate and energy agreements are to be approved by the United States by statute rather than as treaties. Statutes require a majority in both houses of Congress, whereas treaties require two-thirds of only the Senate. Federal courts have repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of bicameral statutory approval of international pacts. In fact, the United States enters into more international agreements this way than by treaty, including some arms control agreements and environmental pacts and almost all trade deals.

Second, Congress should spell out in cap-and-trade legislation the conditions necessary for U.S. participation in new climate and energy agreements. For example, it should describe the role we envision for China, India and other major developing countries.

Third, cap-and-trade legislation should preapprove new climate and energy agreements that meet these congressional preconditions. Agreements that do should come into effect for the United States either without further congressional review or pursuant to the streamlined approval process Congress has used for most trade agreements.
See, that wasn't so hard! And even if we're unable to get our legislative act together and pass a climate bill before the next round of international negotiations in Copenhagen next December, the very fact that such an authority exists in the bill would give the world China and India solid evidence that we're bargaining in good faith for a change. Why, that's positively cheery. For a change.

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