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Environment & Energy Report

Lame-Duck Session Grounds Senators From Poland Climate Talks

Nov. 29, 2018, 1:33 PM

Democratic senators who long have jetted to United Nations climate summits are grounded this year.

The senators are staying in Washington, because their votes may be crucial to keeping the government open in the lame-duck session. This year’s U.N. climate summit runs Dec. 2-14 in Katowice, Poland.

The likely no-shows for the U.S. congressional delegation—which in some years has included Democrats and Republicans—stands in contrast to 2015, when 10 Democratic senators arrived in Paris to urge nearly 200 nations to seal the international agreement on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions.

The official U.S. delegation to Poland—made up of White House and State Department officials as well as a trio of EPA staff—will include Wells Griffith, tapped in the spring to a top White House international climate adviser post, according to several Trump administration officials.

Scheduling Constraints

But it’s a different story for the usual congressional climate-watchers. Congress faces a Dec. 7 deadline to finish a budget package to keep government running through next fall.

“It’s the schedule—I would go otherwise. It’s just too uncertain, in terms of what votes are going to be needed here,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told Bloomberg Environment.

Other senators who made the trip to recent climate summits—including Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.)—said they’ll be no-shows this year. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said they’re undecided but doubtful.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who some speculate are eyeing 2020 presidential campaigns, said they aren’t planning to go, but wouldn’t rule it out.

U.S. Footprint

While President Donald Trump wants the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, the White House and State Department will still have a significant footprint at this year’s summit.

The U.S. can’t technically get out of the Paris deal until after the 2020 presidential election and for now remains at the table as nearly 200 nations work out rules and objectives to implement the climate accord.

Griffith, the Trump administration climate appointee, is to be the top White House official on the ground at the two-week Poland summit. He’ll be joined by three Environmental Protection Agency staffers and a team of State Department negotiators likely headed by Judith Garber, an acting assistant secretary who headed the negotiating team at last year’s talks in Bonn, Germany.

Two long-time State Department negotiators—Trigg Talley and Kim Carnahan—will address what are mostly technical issues on the table in Poland, such as ensuring nations are transparent in reporting their emissions and the actions they are taking to reduce them.

Three EPA representatives are slated to attend: Alex Dominguez, a policy analyst from the EPA administrator’s office; Mandy Gunasekara, senior climate policy adviser to EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler; and James Hewitt, an EPA spokesman, according to a Trump administration appointee familiar with the planning.

Renewed Interest in Climate

At the Poland talks—known as the 24th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change—negotiators will be addressing how nations are to offer updated pledges to address their greenhouse gas emissions in the years ahead.

In Washington, the Democratic takeover of the House is putting climate change back on the front burner there for the first time since Democrats lost control of the chamber in 2010.

That means some Democratic House aides will be in Poland to brush up on the talks as part of the congressional delegation.

Staff It Up

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce, is among those sending representatives, according to a Democratic committee aide.

Republican congressional members are a rarity at climate summits, and the Katowice, Poland, talks won’t be an exception. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)—who has been to several—told reporters this week he’ll stay home.

“Well, let’s just say, it’s not quiet here,” he said.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Steven Gibb at sgibb@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com