The measure to block climate deals in trade negotiations was added at the request of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, another Wisconsin Republican, a spokesman for the congressman confirmed. The New York Times first reported that Sensenbrenner asked for the amendment Wednesday evening.
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"The language is just to ensure that the trade deal is not a vehicle to minimize congressional involvement in a future international agreement on climate change," Bart Forsyth, a spokesman for Rep. Sensenbrenner explained.
Andres also noted that the provision was added in response to concerns raised by the congressional delegation from West Virginia, a coal-rich state heavily dependent on fossil-fuel extraction.
Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia has previously warned that the president could use fast-track to advance a radical environmental agenda.
"If given this fast-track authority, what could President Obama include in a trade agreement? He could mandate a reduction in the use of natural gas and coal at home and abroad, implement his controversial climate-change agenda, and impose radical environmentalist regulations," McKinley wrote in an op-ed in a West Virginia newspaper in February.
Greg Dolan, a spokesman for Rep. David McKinley, said the congressman did not ask for the amendment. A spokesman for Rep. Alex Mooney similarly said that the congressman did not request the amendment. A spokesman for Rep. Evan Jenkins did not return a request for comment.
Environmentalists—many of whom oppose the trade deal to begin with—quickly attempted to mobilize a counterpunch. The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council sent a joint letter to House members Wednesday flagging the amendment and urging a "no" vote on the customs bill and fast-track.
"We need global trade deals to do their part in the fight against climate change by eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies, and this new language would prevent that entirely," said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for the grassroots environmental group 350.org, adding that the provision might sink the effort to pass the trade bill by eroding Democratic support.
Progressive Democrats, labor unions, and environmentalists strongly oppose fast-track, warning that the sweeping international deals the president is working to negotiate could erode key environmental and labor safeguards, and even worsen climate change.
Obama, however, sees the completion of the trade deals as critical to his economic legacy. The White House and the U.S. trade representative have fought to cast the deals as beneficial to the environment, touting the fact that they have been negotiated to restrict illegal wildlife-trafficking and fishing.
The president wants to see Congress pass fast-track legislation to ensure that any trade deal would not be subject to a barrage of amendments in Congress. But the road to passage has not been smooth.