Obama Makes $500 Million Climate Payment, Angering Republicans

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By Dean Scott

The outgoing Obama administration made a last-minute $500 million payment Jan. 17 to an international fund to help developing nations address climate impacts, a move that sparked Republican outrage three days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), perhaps the leading Senate opponent of such climate aid, said the payment was an end run around Congress, which had not specifically appropriated the funding.

“The Obama administration is now sending this slush fund another $500 million in its final days in the White House,” Barrasso, the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “This is a complete disregard for the will of the voters and an insult to American taxpayers.”

After reporters asked Barrasso what options the Republican-controlled Congress might have to rescind the payment, the senator said he had no further comment beyond his prepared statement.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the move was not surprising given the number of Obama’s last-minute actions, which he added are not uncommon for an outgoing president. “Yeah, he’s doing a lot of things before he leaves office,” Corker told reporters, adding that he had just been made aware of the $500 million climate fund payment.

Short of $3 Billion Pledge

The State Department announcement—which brings the total U.S. contribution to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to $1 billion—was hailed by environmental groups, who fear it may mark the end of U.S. support for international climate funding.

But it comes as Trump, who vowed during the campaign to withdraw the U.S. from the deal and end international climate aid, is about to take office. It is unclear what options, if any, the new president would have to reverse the funding.

The green fund is only a slice of the $100 billion a year in combined public and private funding pledged by richer nations to developing nations in the run-up to the 2015 Paris climate pact, the first international climate deal to include actions from developed and developing nations alike.

“Republicans in Congress should never have made it so difficult for the world’s wealthiest country to assist the world’s poor as they struggle daily to feed their families and make ends meet on a warming planet,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement.

The Obama administration in 2014 pledged a total of $3 billion over four years to the green fund in hopes of prodding developing nations already being hit by climate impacts to sign on to a global climate deal. But the latest $500 million contribution, combined with the initial $500 million payment the U.S. made to the fund in March, still leaves the U.S. $2 billion short of that 2014 pledge.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee for State Department funding, welcomed the payment, saying it ensures the U.S. keeps a “seat at the table” in talks to implement the Paris climate pact reached in 2015. Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said at a confirmation hearing last week that he supports keeping the U.S. “at the table” in those negotiations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington, D.C., at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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