GOP divided over $500M for climate fund

GOP divided over $500M for climate fund
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Republicans are divided over the future of a major international climate change program. 

The House this week adopted an amendment to block the Obama administration from providing support to the Green Climate Fund, a program to send money from rich nations to developing countries looking to counter the impacts of climate change. 

The Senate, however, has a bill that would not only allow the administration to fund the program, but authorize a $500 million injection into it next year. 

A Republican sponsor of the Senate provision acknowledged that there is an uphill fight to convince the bulk of the party to back the climate fund. But the House and Senate's divergent paths expose a difference of opinion within the GOP over how to assist the world in adapting to climate change. 

“I think there’s a lot of pressure for the U.S. to uphold its end of the bargain. The rest of the world expects the U.S. to do its part, to fulfill its agreement that it helped broker,” said Karen Orenstein, the deputy director of the Economic Policy program at Friends of the Earth.

“I’m hopeful that the full Congress will see the light.”

The Green Climate Fund is a United Nations program designed to help poor countries pay for upgrades to help them deal with the impacts of climate change. The UN hopes the fund will provide up to $100 billion in climate financing annually by 2020. 

President Obama has vowed $3 billion in American money for the fund by 2020, a lofty goal given congressional opposition to his climate change work. Last year, Congress neither funded a U.S. contribution to the GCF, nor blocked the administration from providing money.

The administration did find a funding source in March, when it shifted $500 million from the State Department’s budget. 

Obama came to Congress this year with a $750 million request for GCF funding. Appropriators in both chamber initially decided instead to block transfers from State to the GCF like the one made in March. 

But that’s where the House and Senate split apart. 

Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program A bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law MORE (R-Maine) and Mark KirkMark KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (R-Ill.) and a group of Democrats introduced an amendment to the Senate’s State and foreign operations spending bill to undo the GCF prohibition, and fund the program at a level of $500 million next year. The committee adopted the measure in June.

In the House, though, the Appropriations Committee this week voted down a Democratic amendment to do the same. 

The difference in approaches illustrates an emerging split among Republicans about the future of the fund, one that will likely be decided with help from this November’s elections.

Collins and Kirk have long joined their Democratic colleagues in supporting the GCF, writing a letter to top appropriators this year saying the fund “will foster low-emission and resilient development in developing countries.”

Collins said she personally negotiated the terms of her amendment with the White House, including Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryKerry: Trump's rhetoric gave North Korea a reason to say 'Hey, we need a bomb' Russian hackers targeted top US generals and statesmen: report Trump officials to offer clarity on UN relief funding next week MORE and senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

“I negotiated with the White House, which wanted $750 million, which I thought was far too high, and they agreed to lower the amount to $500 million to secure my support,” Collins said. 

But she acknowledged Republican support for the measure is weak, and that the administration may need to press congressional negotiators hard on including the GCF in future spending packages. 

“Whether this is an issue that the administration reaches a compromise on, I just don’t know. It certainly matters to the administration.” 

Republicans as a whole have different reasons for opposing the GCF. Senators last year said they would withhold funding for it unless they got a vote on the international Paris climate deal, which never came to the chamber for consideration. 

Others say the money is better spent elsewhere; during a hearing last month, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMoore digs in amid mounting GOP criticism Republicans float pushing back Alabama special election Moore defends himself as pressure mounts MORE (R-Alaska) said she’s concerned about there being enough money to help Alaskan villages hurt by climate change, for example.

Rep. Morgan GriffithHoward (Morgan) Morgan GriffithIt's time to eliminate the secretive Pharmacy Benefit Manager pricing practices GOP lawmaker: Mexico will pay 'part of the tab' for wall CBO survives two House amendments targeting funding MORE (R-Va.), who led a House letter against the GCF last year, said the federal government should focus on funding research into cleaner fossil fuel technology instead of sending funding to an international agency. 

“Instead of spending billions of dollars overseas on policies that I don’t think are effective, let’s spend that money here on research,” Griffith said in an interview. 

“That’s where we need to go, because just going out and telling other countries that they ought to do this or they ought to do that doesn’t get it done.” 

Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerHouse passes .5 billion disaster relief package GOP lawmaker: No town halls because of threats against lawmakers Surprise war vote points to shift in GOP MORE (R-Texas), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee’s State Department panel, said at a hearing last week that more members requested a prohibition on Green Climate Fund money than on any other part of the department’s budget. She said other international accounts, such as funding for helping refugees and fighting terrorism in the Middle East, should come first. 

“These programs are a higher priorities for members on this side of the aisle than providing funds for fighting climate change,” she said. 

Members and observes say November’s elections could be the next big moment in the fight over the GCF. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE has said he would undo much of President Obama’s international climate work, while his Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE, has said she should build on it. 

Voters, then, will likely set the path forward for American GCF funding, and Myron Ebell, the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he doubts it’s a winning issue for political candidates. 

“I don’t believe voting for more foreign aid is a winning issue in any state, with any constituency,” Ebell said. 

The bills to which the GCF provisions are attached — the State Department spending bills — rarely come to the floor in either the House or Senate, making a lame-duck negotiation over the fund most likely.

Andrew Linhardt, an associate Washington representative for the Sierra Club, said GCF supporters are in a better position this year than last year, thanks to the Senate’s actions. 

“The White House has been very clear that this is a legacy issue and an administration priority,” he said. “It will be very hard for the anti-GCF folks to keep barring language in any final deal.” 

Ornstein, of the Friends of the Earth, said she hopes Republicans will “come to the table on climate change just because of the physical reality of things that are happening around them.” 

But Ebell argues they’ll consider a fiscal argument above all else.

“What I would tell senators is: are you really in for a much larger sum starting in 2020?” he said. “And if you’re not, this money is totally wasted.”