Jim Webb: Climate Curmudgeon

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Jim Webb is not at all happy that Barack Obama plans to travel to Copenhagen next week and pledge that the US will act to halt climate change. In a letter to Obama, Webb argues that the president does not have “unilateral power” to promise anything to the rest of the world. Instead, Webb contends, Obama should sit around and wait for the Senate to do something about the problem.

“I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark,” wrote Webb. “The phrase ‘politically binding’ has been used.”

“As you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country,” Webb continued. “I would very much appreciate having this matter clarified in advance of the Copenhagen meetings.”

While Webb is right that the Senate needs to ratify any international treaties, the administration also has the authority to negotiate with other nations in drafting accords.

Webb has never been particularly vocal about environmental issues. A moderate, coal-state Democrat, he’s supported energy legislation but balked at capping emissions—I included basically everything he’d ever said on the subject in this short profile in July.

But in recent weeks, Webb has emerged as a major pain in the ass for Democratic leaders on climate issues. He recently announced that he is partnering with Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on an alternative climate bill that, instead of curbing emissions, would pour massive sums into nuclear power. Cap-and-trade legislation, he said, is too “enormously complex,” and, in its present form, he “would not vote for it.”

So, even though he has signaled he has no plans to support a bill to cap emissions any time soon, he wants Obama to wait around for him.

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