Republicans cross aisle to fund climate treaty

Source: Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, September 8, 2017

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee today crossed the aisle to vote for an amendment to fund two international climate bodies in a fiscal 2018 spending bill.

It happened during a Senate Appropriations Committee markup this afternoon on legislation to fund the State Department and foreign programs.

The votes by Alexander and Collins break with President Trump’s budget request, which called for zeroing out funding for climate change efforts tied to the Obama administration.

During the budget’s rollout in March, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney dismissed climate science spending as “a waste of your money.”

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley’s climate amendment passed 16-14. The entire spending bill — worth more than $51 billion, much more than Trump requested — passed unanimously.

The bill includes $51.2 billion in discretionary funding. Of that, $30.4 billion is allocated for “enduring costs” and $20.8 billion for overseas contingency operations.

The Merkley amendment would transfer $10 million from development assistance to both the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The UNFCCC is the negotiating body responsible for the Paris climate accord, from which Trump said he plans to withdraw.

The IPCC is the leading global entity providing climate science to policymakers. Neither received funding in the fiscal 2017 measure that Congress passed last May.

The Senate’s fiscal 2018 legislation would cancel funding for the U.N. Green Climate Fund, despite President Obama’s pledge of $3 billion, of which $1 billion has been delivered.

Trump has ruled out additional contributions and slashed the fund in his budget request. Spending legislation in the House also shuns the program.

The Senate measure does seek to maintain funding for U.S. Agency for International Development environmental programs at fiscal 2017 levels and would provide $136 million for the Global Environment Facility, which is $33 million above the budget request.

Putting members on the record

During the markup, Merkley tepidly offered his amendment to maintain funding levels for the UNFCCC.

The measure “fits with Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson’s desire that we both continue to monitor the changes in the world’s climate and that we keep seated at the table,” he said. “It would be quite satisfactory to have a voice vote.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) then demanded that lawmakers go on the record about climate change, asking for a roll call vote.

“This is important, you know, the world is at risk,” she said.

Feinstein chided her colleagues for not taking climate change seriously. She said oceans are warming, storms are on the rise and the ice in Antarctica is melting.

“Just take a look at National Geographic, with the huge sections of Antarctica that’s breaking off and melting because the sea is melted, and their prognostication is that a huge piece is now rifting and if and when it breaks off it will raise the sea levels by 10 feet,” she said. “And yet we, year after year, do nothing.”

Feinstein added, “Our electorate should know who is voting to do something about climate change and who isn’t.” Collins and Alexander were the only GOP senators to vote “yes.”

More climate amendments

Republican senators voted against an amendment from ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would have provided $750 million to fulfill the next installment of the U.S. pledge to fund the GCF.

“A number of senators of both parties have recognized the need for a new budget agreement to free us from the stranglehold of the Budget Control Act caps. We should act before it is too late,” Leahy said in offering his amendment.

“The culprit here is not the leadership of the Appropriations Committee,” he said, “but rather the inflexible and unworkable budget caps under which we are forced to operate.”

Senate appropriators would also provide $79.2 million for the administrative costs of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC), which has historically funded renewable energy projects. The administration sought to scale back funding.

Joe Thwaites, an associate at the World Resources Institute’s Sustainable Finance Center, said cutting OPIC doesn’t make sense because the entity has no net cost to taxpayers and has provided $2.1 billion to the Treasury since 2010.

“The OPIC operates at no net costs, it collects around $350 million a year, it pays for itself but also reduces the deficit and supports renewable energy,” he said.

Thwaites said it is “quite heartening” the Senate Appropriations Committee has restored most of the State Department’s funding and he hopes the move will become law.

“It’s critical House lawmakers recognize the importance of climate funding to secure America’s security and global influence,” he said. “We hope they look to the Senate’s recommended environmental funding levels when these bills reach conference.”

The House Appropriations Committee, which passed its State Department bill by voice vote in July, would allocate $47.4 billion, a $10 billion cut from fiscal 2017 enacted levels when counting additional funds provided by the Further Continuing and Security Assistance Appropriations Act of 2017. That represents a 14 percent cut to State (E&E Daily, July 20).

While Trump’s budget requested $102 million for the Global Environment Facility, the House bill would remove money.

As the U.S. steps back its involvement in international climate efforts, the international community is mobilizing to compensate for Trump’s anti-climate, anti-global stance.

This week, the Netherlands and Norway pledged to double their contributions to the IPCC. The European Union will give €1.7 million now and €4 million in 2019. Switzerland, Japan and South Korea will also increase their contributions. The panel is meeting this week in Canada, where additional pledges are expected.

Separately, Senate appropriators this morning approved a bill to fund the Department of Labor, including $552.7 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration and $373.8 for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, both levels equal to current levels.