Senate Republicans are likely to probe the legality of the Obama administration's latest bid to combat climate change when Congress reconvenes after the elections, but it is not clear how far they will push the issue.
The Obama administration joined nearly 200 countries in signing onto a global deal in Kigali, Rwanda, this month to phase out the use of chemical coolants called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used in air conditioners and for refrigeration. HFCs are a potent greenhouse gas blamed for raising the Earth's temperature, resulting in more severe weather and catastrophic flooding.
It had been assumed that the administration could move ahead with the agreement without Senate approval because the HFC deal is an amendment to an existing treaty called the Montreal Protocol established in the 1980s to stop the erosion of the Earth's protective ozone layer. But recently the State Department questioned that assertion and says it is weighing how approval would proceed and if Senate ratification is necessary.
"We will need to examine the content and the form of the agreed amendment, as well as relevant practice, in order to determine the appropriate approval process," State Department spokeswoman Emily White told the publication Climate Central last week. Other news groups have cited similar uncertainty from other State Department representatives.
The uncertainty is beginning to attract the attention of the Republican majority on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and its outspoken chairman and climate change critic Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.
Committee spokeswoman Daisy Letendre confirmed to the Washington Examiner that the committee is "looking into the new amendment to the Montreal Protocol banning HFCs," but that the Foreign Relations Committee will have to take the first stab at it based on the rules of committee jurisdiction. She would not say what they were looking at specifically or if hearings are being planned.
That places whether the Senate will take up the legality of the HFC agreement on the shoulders of another critic of the administration's international climate leanings, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee's panel on international treaties.
Barrasso has been a top critic, with Inhofe, of December's global climate deal to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, which many scientists blame for exacerbating manmade global warming.
However, Barrasso's office is remaining silent about the HFC deal.
"We don't have anything ... on this right now," said Barrasso spokeswoman Laura Mengelkamp in an email.
The GOP has been quiet about the deal, which was reached Oct. 15. The HFC ban requires the Environmental Protection Agency to implement new standards to prohibit the use of the chemicals domestically, while encouraging the development of new alternatives that aren't harmful to the Earth's climate.