WASHINGTON -– If anyone thought the announcement of a bilateral U.S.-China climate agreement on Wednesday might lead to a breakthrough on climate policy in Washington, Senate Republicans would like to inform them otherwise.
The presumptive Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said he was "distressed" by the U.S.-China deal, arguing that it "requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state and other states around the country."
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the agreement on Wednesday. Under the deal, the U.S. will aim to cut emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, and China will reach its peak emissions by 2030. This was heralded as a major breakthrough on the path to a global climate agreement.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chamber's most vocal climate change denier and the likely new chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, took to the Senate floor Wednesday, criticizing the agreement for allowing China years before it begins to reduce emissions, and casting doubt that it ever would. "Even if they did agree to reducing emissions, we wouldn't believe them," said Inhofe. "They don't end up doing what they say their going to do in these agreements."
In an appearance on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) called the agreement "irresponsible," and argued it would "impose expensive new regulations on energy in the United States." (The agreement does not include specific regulations for the U.S.; it merely lays out a 2025 target for emissions reductions.)
"To me, this is an agreement that's terrible for the United States and terrific for the Chinese government and for the politicians there, because it allows China to continue to raise their emissions over the next 16 years," said Barrasso.
Mitchell pushed Barrasso, a medical doctor by training. "You're a man of science," she said, highlighting statement from his colleague Inhofe that claimed climate change could not be happening because God is in control. "Why should frankly people trust Republicans to be running policy on science when this is what the incoming chairman had to say about climate change?"
Barrasso refused to take the bait, sticking to his argument about the potential cost of new greenhouse gas regulations without offering an alternative. "All of us want to make energy as clean as we can as fast as we can," he said. "We want to do it in ways that don't raise the energy costs for American families and impact their jobs, income, ability to provide for their families. Those are the issues we need to be focusing on."
Not all Republicans joined the chorus of complaints. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said he spoke briefly to Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday about the pact. He said he's keeping an open mind.
"I'm positive about trying to cooperate with China on this," Graham said. "We'll see."
The response to the China deal is a departure from previous Republican talking points on climate, which often included complaints that U.S. action was meaningless without China's agreement to participate.
Republican leaders have pledged to block the Obama administration's greenhouse gas regulations that sharply reduce power plant emissions. But environmental advocates have said such an action would likely sour progress toward a global agreement that includes major developing nations like China. If U.S. regulations are blocked, "it would collapse the effort to get China and India and other countries to move forward," said David Doniger, policy director and senior attorney for the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a post-election call with reporters last week. He noted that developing nations' participation in an agreement is "something that Republicans have been demanding for years."
Jennifer Bendery contributed.