Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led a Republican chorus objecting to a new U.S.-China deal on climate change Wednesday, calling it the latest sign that President Obama is unwilling to seek common ground with the party set to assume power on Capitol Hill.
McConnell, who won reelection in Kentucky this month in part by railing against what he called the administration's "war on coal," said he was "distressed" by the joint plan to curb carbon emissions.
"The agreement requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emissions regulations are creating havoc on my state and other states around the country," McConnell told reporters during a photo opportunity with the incoming class of Republican senators.
The deal includes new carbon emissions targets for both countries. China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The United States is the second largest.
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a target of capping his country's carbon emissions by 2030, or earlier if possible, and to increase use of renewable sources like wind and solar to provide 20% of the country's total energy needs by 2030.
Obama announced a target of cutting U.S. emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. It thus is more ambitious than the current U.S. target of cutting by 17% by 2020.
Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, likely to succeed Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the new Republican-led Senate, called the deal a "nonbinding charade."
"The American people spoke against the president's climate policies in this last election," he said. "As we enter a new Congress, I will do everything in my power to rein in and shed light on the EPA's unchecked regulations."
Republicans already were gearing for a fight with the administration over energy in the new Congress.
Even before the midterm elections, the Republican-led House had passed legislation aimed at undermining the EPA's authority to impose new regulations, including a bill passed in March that preemptively targeted an EPA rule affecting power plant emissions that was announced months later.
Next week the House plans to vote on another bill that supporters say would require greater EPA transparency in its rulemaking process.
"The House will continue to fight this administration's cavalier approach of jamming through harmful regulations without regard to economic consequences," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said in a statement.
Such bills have been ignored by the Democratic-led Senate, but would likely be considered next year when Republicans assume control of the full Congress.
McConnell has indicated Republicans could use government funding bills to target administration policies that would hurt coal-dependent states like his.
Attaching so-called policy riders to spending bills would test the president's commitment to an energy legacy, Republicans believe, by forcing him into a position of either approving limits on his authority or vetoing the budget bills and risking a major budget showdown.
McConnell outlined that strategy in his reelection campaign as he argued that his status as the Senate's majority leader would uniquely position him to protect the coal industry in Kentucky.
Even if one agreed climate change posed a growing threat, McConnell told voters, the United States would be foolish to limit its own potential economic growth by taking steps to reduce pollution if nations like China did not.
Democrats cited that argument as they praised the deal announced in Beijing on Wedneday.
"There is no longer an excuse for Congress to block action on climate change," Boxer said in a statement hailing the agreement.
"The biggest carbon polluter on our planet, China, has agreed to cut back on dangerous emissions, and now we should make sure all countries do their part because this is a threat to the people that we all represent," she said.
Democrats from Republican-leaning states who have publicly opposed some of Obama's energy policies may not agree, however. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, for instance, was a co-author of a House-passed bill that would impact coal plant emissions.