Panel Challenges Obama Payment to Climate Fund

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By Dean Scott

April 7 — House Oversight Committee Republicans in a letter called on the Obama administration to explain its authority to transfer $500 million to a climate fund for developing nations without specific congressional permission to do so.

The April 6 letter, from House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, concerns the half-a-billion-dollar payment the U.S. made last month to the Green Climate Fund.

The House Oversight Committee chairman is seeking all “documents, such as legal memoranda, outlining the Department's position that it is authorized to send these funds” even though Congress never specifically authorized the spending.

The $500 million was a down payment of sorts to a larger $3 billion total the U.S. pledged—over a four-year period—to the GCF in 2014 ahead of international climate talks in Lima, Peru.

Obama's pledge was meant to prod developing nations to sign on to a global climate change agreement, which was ultimately reached at the December 2015 negotiations in Paris.

No Specific Authorization?

Chaffetz wrote that the recent U.S. transfer of the $500 million to the fund was done “despite the fact that Congress has never authorized nor specifically approved funds for the GCF.”

The Republican-led committee also is requesting a briefing for the oversight panel on the legal authority the State Department is claiming “to make this transfer and also what mechanisms are in place to ensure proper oversight” of the use of taxpayers' money for the climate aid. The funding is aimed at helping developing countries and island nations adapt to climate impacts and develop low-carbon economies.

The letter refers to recent statements by Heather Higginbottom, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, in defense of the administration's authority to transmit the funding.

Higginbottom told members of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March that the department had reviewed “the authorities and opportunities available to us” to make the payment and believes it is “fully compliant” with existing law .

Obama requested a total of $750 million for the Green Climate Fund in fiscal 2017 .

Other Signers of Letter

The letter also was signed by Rep. Jim Jordon (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules Chairman; Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who chairs the Subcommittee on the Interior; and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who chairs the Subcommittee on National Security.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

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