As Paris deadline looms, Dems lay out their demands

Source: By Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Senate Democrats are demanding that the Trump administration justify its decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, just weeks before the U.S. can begin the process of withdrawing.

In a letter sent Friday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and other Democrats asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to provide Congress with “comprehensive justification” for the decision to withdraw and to detail why the United States would be better served outside an agreement that nearly every country in the world has signed.

“The United States Congress, American people, and the international community need to understand how the President is conducting climate change diplomacy and acting to combat global climate change — beyond just dogmatic skepticism of his predecessor’s work,” they wrote.

President Trump announced his intention to pull out of the Paris Agreement in a Rose Garden speech in 2017, but the U.S. cannot formally begin the withdrawal process until next month, and it cannot formally exit until Nov. 4 of next year — the day after the 2020 presidential election.

Senate Democrats made a similar request in February to no response from the Trump administration. Signatories of last week’s letter include Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

The group noted that Trump at one point expressed tentative interest in working with Democrats to renegotiate the landmark international climate agreement to make the deal “fair” for the United States.

“So we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair,” Trump said in his 2017 Rose Garden speech. “And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”

Other world leaders and experts, in large part, said after the announcement that revamping the agreement to meet Trump’s terms would be impossible (Climatewire, June 2).

But Democrats nonetheless said in the letter that they want the administration to show Congress Trump’s idea of a counterproposal, with just weeks to go before the withdrawal process begins.

“Although we strongly object, it is certainly the President’s prerogative to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, and ‘to negotiate a new deal’ with Democrats,” they wrote. “Therefore, we urge you to provide Congress with the President’s proposed ‘new deal’ (alternative to the Paris agreement).”

Adapting the VA

Meanwhile, two other Senate Democrats took aim yesterday at a decidedly different area of the Trump administration’s climate policies: the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In a detailed letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) asked for an update on how the department is addressing the effects of climate change.

The VA’s Obama-era climate adaptation plan detailed risks to infrastructure and the health of veterans, but the senators said the department does not appear to have taken on the issue since that report was written in 2014.

Warren and Schatz, ranking member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, offered up a list of questions about how the VA is thinking about climate risk.

“The VA, like all federal agencies, has finite resources and must balance competing budget priorities,” they wrote. “However, those priorities must include adapting VA infrastructure and operations to climate risks.”