House Republicans Dismiss Obama's $3 Billion Climate Pledge

Spending bill wouldn't let Obama's international climate fund get off the ground.

House Republicans are taking another bite out of the Obama administration's climate agenda, this time targeting a promise to spend billions of dollars to help poor countries adapt to extreme weather.

President Obama in November pledged to send $3 billion over several years to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which combines public and private dollars with a goal to build a $100 billion fund by 2020. The U.S. commitment was the largest for the U.N. fund, which collected more than $10 billion from world governments.

In the fiscal 2016 budget proposal, Obama called for $500 million to kick off the pledge.

House Republicans, meanwhile, are offering nothing.

An appropriations bill for the State Department and related agencies released Tuesday would zero out the Green Climate Fund and other international climate programs. According to the House Appropriations Committee, the move was made to help clear up funding for military activities in the Middle East and Latin America, as well as a $173 million increase in embassy and diplomatic security to meet needs identified after the Benghazi terrorist attack.

Overall, the bill calls for $47.8 in regular discretionary and Global War on Terror funding, $1.4 billion below the fiscal 2015 enacted level and $6.1 billion below Obama's request. An appropriations subcommittee will mark up the bill Wednesday.

The bill also contains language that would lift partial restrictions on U.S. government financing for coal projects abroad through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, and the World Bank, put in place by the Obama administration in 2013. Environmentalists have praised the restriction for limiting global emissions from coal, but industry groups and Republicans have said it's blocking countries from the cheapest fuel source and hurting the domestic coal industry's ability to export technology.

It would also zero out funding for other international climate spending through the Strategic Climate Fund and the Clean Technology Fund, commitments that were started under the George W. Bush administration. In 2008, Bush pledged $2 billion to the joint World Bank-backed funds, which would help developing countries develop clean energy.

On the whole, the U.S. spends between $800 and $900 million on various international climate programs, mostly through State and the Treasury Department (a February report from the Congressional Research Service breaks it down).

The climate funds have always been a tough sell for Republicans on the Hill, and the House has targeted that spending in the past, only to have it restored by Democrats in the Senate. With Republicans back in charge of the spending process, it's more likely they'll try to kill the funds.

Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he would "do everything in my power to prevent $3 billion in taxpayer dollars from going to the Green Climate Fund, where the money will be spent by unelected U.N. bureaucrats to dictate U.S. policy and hinder developing countries' ability to aggressively address the economics of poverty." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office has indicated Republicans would block the funding.

Republicans had barred spending on the fund in the omnibus spending bill that passed Congress in December, but the administration had not intended to start its pledge in fiscal 2015.

The trade-off between national security and climate spending has been a particularly potent point for Republicans, who say that the State Department is spending too much time focused on the environment at the cost of fighting terrorism.

Failing to live up to the Green Climate Fund pledge won't only hurt the international effort financially, but could mean the U.S. loses face in international talks. David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute's international climate initiative, said there's been renewed momentum heading into the U.N. climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.

"We've seen a fairly important shift in terms of developing countries starting to act and even pledge money themselves in the green climate fund," Waskow said. "Not being able to send this money is certainly going to have a negative effect in terms of maintaining that momentum."