Don't cave in on climate policy, Senate leaders urge Obama

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 07, 2014 5:33 PM

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four Senate leaders on Friday urged President Barack Obama not to retreat from promises of strong domestic carbon cutting goals and significant aid to developing countries to combat climate change given new Republican leadership in Congress, which is expected to be hostile to such policies.

The Democratic chairs of four Senate committees - Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works, Finance and Budget - wrote to Obama, asking him to uphold promises he made at a high-profile UN climate summit in September.

"A strong target for American emissions reductions after 2020 will build upon our actions to reduce carbon pollution domestically, and convince other countries to help forge a strong international agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties in 2015," they wrote, referring to the pivotal climate summit set to be held in Paris next year.

Victories in Tuesday's mid-term elections mean Republicans will take control of the Senate and expand their majority in the House of Representatives, putting Obama's priority climate change strategy in peril.

Expected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his first priority will be to "do whatever I can to get the Environmental Protection Agency reined in," he said, referring to the agency's proposed regulations to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

With climate change skeptic James Inhofe set to lead the Senate's environment panel, any financial pledge the United States makes to help developing countries deal with climate change will face challenges.

Inhofe has attended UN climate meetings in the past to blast the international negotiation process and has also decried spending taxpayer dollars for climate projects abroad.

The Democratic senators also asked Obama not to renege on the administration's promise of a significant pledge to the UN Green Climate Fund, a pivotal gesture to win the trust of developing countries ahead of the Paris climate talks.

"These countries will not be willing to join international emissions reduction efforts unless the United States displays a willingness to assist them in adapting to the threat of climate change," the senators wrote.

The letter was signed by Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Patty Murray of Washington.

In October Peruvian Foreign Minister Gonzalo Gutierrez, who will host interim climate negotiations in Lima in December, said Secretary of State John Kerry told him the United States will make a "significant announcement" on its climate fund pledge as soon as this month.

But some analysts think the mid-term election outcome will restrain the White House's ambitions.

"Any budget expenditures have to be appropriated and approved by Congress, so there is no way around it," said Jake Schmidt, director of the international program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Still, Schmidt said he expects Obama to "affirm at a high level that he is committed to his climate agenda" when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing next week.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Editing by Ros Krasny and Ken Wills)