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Report: “Obama Has Legal Authority to Make a Binding Commitment in Copenhagen Without Congress”

For Immediate Release, December 8, 2009

Contact: Kevin Bundy, (415) 436-9682 x 313, kbundy@biologicaldiversity.org

Report: President Obama Has the Clear Legal Authority to Make a Binding Commitment for Greenhouse Gas Reductions in Copenhagen Without Waiting for Congress

COPENHAGEN— The Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute released a report today demonstrating that President Obama has clear legal authority to commit the United States to reducing greenhouse gas pollution. The report, titled Yes, He Can: President Obama’s Power to Make an International Climate Commitment Without Waiting for Congress, concludes that the President need not wait for Congress to act before taking strong action to reduce U.S. emissions.

The report will be released in Copenhagen this evening at a side event hosted by Greenpeace.

Where: Niels Bohr
When: Tuesday, 8 December, 21:00-21:30 (Copenhagen time)

“President Obama’s hands are not tied by Congress’s lack of action or the grossly inadequate cap-and-trade bills currently under debate. President Obama can lead, rather than follow, by using his power under the Clean Air Act and other laws to achieve deep and rapid greenhouse emissions reductions from major polluters,” said Center attorney Kevin Bundy, the report’s lead author. “Obama can use his authority to make a binding agreement in Copenhagen without additional action from Congress. The Constitution and existing domestic environmental laws give President Obama all the power he needs to join with other nations in making a real commitment to solve the climate crisis.”

The report cites prominent legal scholars and U.S. Supreme Court opinions recognizing the President’s broad power to make binding international agreements that do not need to be ratified by a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate. For example, the President could enter into either a “congressional-executive” agreement under authority already granted by Congress, or a “sole executive” agreement based on his own constitutional powers.

The report also details the President’s broad authority to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions under existing environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. The release of the report follows yesterday’s important finding by the Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. That decision will facilitate comprehensive measures to curb greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act.

“The President has the ultimate responsibility for enforcing domestic environmental laws, and those laws give him a wide variety of options for reducing greenhouse gas pollution,” said Bundy. “All he has to do is promise the international community to use the authority he already has.”

“It simply isn’t true that President Obama cannot make a commitment in Copenhagen. Yes, he can, and if the world is to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, he must.”

Click here to read the PDF report.

SOURCE: Center for Biological Diversity

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