the national interest

Shocking New Evidence That Mitch McConnell’s Anti-Clean-Energy Argument May Not Be Completely Genuine

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, speaks to the press at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 10, 2015.
If you can’t trust the intellectual honesty of Mitch McConnell, who can you trust? Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

The fashionable new environmental argument on the right, especially among conservatives who no longer feel comfortable denying climate science, is that American policy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is pointless. The United States only emits a minority of greenhouse gasses, and its share is projected to shrink, so unilateral action is pointless. As Mitch McConnell has argued:

And the truth is, the President’s energy tax won’t even have an appreciable effect on global carbon emissions anyway. President Obama’s last Environmental Protection Agency head told us as much: ‘U.S. action alone will not impact world CO2 levels.’ That’s a quote from her.

Because you need emissions-heavy countries like India and China on board first. That’s just a scientific fact. Though I suspect our friends on the Left will conveniently ignore it.

In fact, the left doesn’t ignore the need for cooperative international action. Securing international cooperation is the entire point of the Obama administration’s energy strategy. Securing international agreement to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, which are on a runaway course to fundamentally alter the planet, takes reciprocity. Imposing limits on U.S. emissions is not a sufficient step to get countries like India and China to reduce theirs, but it is a necessary one.

Still, McConnell and his conservative allies do have a theoretical point. The actions of developing countries like China and India will have a far greater effect on world CO2 levels than actions of the United States. If the U.S. limits its own emissions without getting reciprocal steps in exchange, then the effort will have been largely wasted. The worst-case scenario would be for the U.S. economy to bear the costs of cleaner energy (which McConnell claims will be massive) and then be stuck watching China and India burn all the cheap coal they want.

And yet, oddly, this is exactly the outcome McConnell is now attempting to bring about. McConnell has released a statement claiming the United States can’t meet its emission targets under Obama’s plan, and warning other countries not to sign a climate agreement because a future American president could renege:

Even if the job-killing and likely illegal Clean Power Plan were fully implemented, the United States could not meet the targets laid out in this proposed new plan. Considering that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn’t even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal.

I realize there’s something comically naïve about treating the words that come from Mitch McConnell’s mouth as if they’re ideas he or anybody actually believes. But his diplomatic gambit here directly contradicts his previous argument. If McConnell thinks the U.S. is going to fail to live up to its commitments, why is he broadcasting this information to other countries? He has already insisted that the correct plan is to make China and India go first. If he’s right, and the U.S. is suckering those countries into adopting cleaner energy sources, only to pull the rug out from under them by continuing to emit greenhouse gasses without limit, that would be his ideal scenario.

McConnell’s attempts to persuade the rest of the world to emit the maximum amount of greenhouse gases makes no sense from the narrow-nationalistic standpoint he has claimed to endorse. His only coherent motives would be to support the profitability of the coal industry (which would benefit from rising demand worldwide) and a maniacal desire to destroy any policy accomplishment by the Obama administration, whatever the cost to American policy interests.

McConnell’s Anti-Clean-Energy Claim Not Genuine