Dems Fret as Trump Wavers on UN Carbon Deal

The administration hasn’t made a decision yet on a hydrofluorocarbon agreement, even though industry groups support it.

Companies such as Honeywell support the UN deal on hydrofluorocarbons.
AP Photo/Mike Derer
Dec. 4, 2017, 8 p.m.

The U.S. is wavering on whether to remain in an industry-backed, global environmental deal, and some Democrats say a growing Republican disdain for international accords is to blame.

The deal, known as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, scales down hydrofluorocarbons dramatically over the next several decades.

But the Trump administration is moving tepidly toward ratification, and Republican senators appear either opposed or disinterested. That uncertainty prevails despite staunch support in the refrigeration and air conditioning industries.

Honeywell International, Johnson Controls, and Carrier—which struck an agreement last year with then-President-elect Trump to retain domestic jobs—say the deal will boost demand for cutting edge, environmentally safer U.S. technologies.

“We have invested nearly $900 million to invent, commercialize, and build manufacturing facilities to produce the broadest possible portfolio of solutions available today to help countries achieve aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” said Josh Byerly, a spokesman for Honeywell. “Global demand for our products continues to rise as countries begin to focus on adopting environmentally preferable and energy-efficient technologies to meet the goals of the Kigali Amendment.”

The United Nations adopted the Kigali Amendment in October 2016. The deal calls for a phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons, a set of greenhouse gases more damaging to the ozone than carbon dioxide but also far less abundant, by more than 80 percent over the next three decades.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the emissions of those gases are expected to increase dramatically in the coming years because of growing use of air conditioning and refrigeration in developing countries. The phase-down could reduce global warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

State Department envoy Judith Garber signaled support for the pact during the Thanksgiving holiday at a convention in Montreal, but Republicans are already hitting back.

“I don’t agree with the White House on that, but no one seems either interested in it or [knows] anything about it,” said Sen. James Inhofe, one of the upper chamber’s fiercest critics of policy to address climate change.

A spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council said the administration is actually undecided on the pact despite the envoy’s support. “If the administration decides to support the amendment, the Senate will get the final say on its ratification,” the spokesman said. “The Trump administration will not repeat the practice pursued by the previous administration of circumventing the Congress.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, the former chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee who stepped down from the committee post in 2015 amid corruption charges, said Republican reservations over the Kigali deal fall in line with a long-standing antipathy towards international accords.

“They are concerned that somehow the U.S. cedes sovereignty in the process, and while I don’t think that’s a real, legitimate claim, they are driven by that,” Menendez said. “I have a great deal of respect for [Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker]. He and I have worked on a whole host of things together, both when I was chairman and ranker, but on treaties, I just couldn’t get past first base with him.”

Corker’s committee will hold a hearing on international treaties writ large Tuesday. Democrats largely back environmental treaties like the Kigali Amendment, as well as a range of other accords.

Sen. Ben Cardin, the committee’s ranking member, said committee staff members are discussing a path forward.

“We going to try to find a constructive way to be able to move forward,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re together.” The Constitution requires two-thirds of senators to sign off on treaties. A spokeswoman for Corker didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

As committee chairman, Menendez tried to push Senate approval of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a suite of agreements on peaceful relations in international waters that boasts nearly 170 member countries, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a pact with similar support globally. The U.S. hasn’t ratified either.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, is trending towards even greater opposition to such treaties. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced Saturday that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Global Compact on Migration, citing a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

Many coal groups praised the Trump administration decision to withdrawal from the Paris climate accord this year. That pact put in place a voluntary framework to draw down fossil-fuel-linked greenhouse gases, which most climate scientists ascribe to rapidly increasing global temperatures. But the Kigali Amendment differs from the Paris pact because U.S. industry is uniformly urging accession.

“We, along with others in the industry, have been supportive of the Kigali Amendment as a practical approach to implement the phase-down of HFCs and have invested significantly in next generation products to meet these requirements,” said Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for the air-conditioner producer Johnson Controls.

Garber echoed that position in a speech in Montreal on Nov. 23.

“The United States believes the Kigali Amendment represents a pragmatic and balanced approach to phasing down the production and consumption of HFCs, and therefore we support the goals and approach of the amendment,” Garber said.

A State Department spokesman declined to provide further details, as did a spokeswoman for the EPA.

One Senate Democratic staffer involved with treaty policy said the process so far isn’t building confidence in the Trump administration’s commitment.

“It’s been frustrating because we know this is something that should have bipartisan support,” said the staffer, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s about climate change but not about fossil fuels, and it’s widely supported by industry. Why is it taking so long?”

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