Oceans & Forests Blog

A greener day at State Department?

Posted Jan. 24, 2013 / Posted by: Lisa Matthes

Kerry expected to lead on tar sands pipeline, global climate policy

Friends of the Earth: Obama's nominee must live up to inaugural pledge

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Senator John Kerry’s confirmation hearing opens today, President Obama has set high expectations for his nominee to lead the State Department with a rigorous commitment to combating catastrophic climate change. But for  Kerry to live up to the promises in the president’s inaugural address, he must reverse the often-disappointing direction taken by outgoing Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.  

“Senator Kerry has spent many years calling for more ambitious and decisive action to combat climate change,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “As secretary of state he will have the chance to turn those words into reality.”

Kerry’s first test will be assuring that the new, supplemental environmental impact statement conducted by the State Department will fully assess the climate impact of allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline -- an assessment that would clearly show that permitting the pipeline would be an environmental time bomb. More broadly, it will fall to Secretary Kerry to assure that the U.S. position at international climate negotiations is dictated by science and equity, not congressional paralysis. Kerry’s starting point for climate policy, at home and abroad, should be in line with the role the U.S. occupies as the country most responsible for causing the climate crisis.

On Tuesday, the State Department announced that it was again delaying a decision on granting a permit for the pipeline, which would carry carbon-intensive tar sands oil from Canada to Texas refineries. During Clinton’s tenure, the pipeline debate was tainted by Secretary Clinton’s ties to a lobbyist for TransCanada Pipelines and her own premature statements backing the pipeline.

As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry signaled his commitment to assuring such a climate assessment of the pipeline. In October 2011, in response to questions about his position on the pipeline, Kerry said, “There's a lot at stake here and I’ll do my best to leave no question unanswered including every possible economic and environmental consideration before a final decision is made.”

At State, Kerry can also revitalize the agency’s lackluster performance at United Nations climate negotiations. Since President Obama’s direct involvement in Copenhagen in 2009, the administration has been cited by numerous other countries as being disruptive and resistant to establishing meaningful limits on carbon emissions and to providing funds to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change.

“Senator Kerry should make clear that as Secretary of State, he would hit the reset button on the U.S. approach to international climate policy,” said Pica. “The world simply cannot afford four more years of U.S. obstructionism at United Nations climate talks, leading the world in a race to the bottom.”

CONTACT:

Adam Russell, (202) 222-0722, arussell@foe.org

Damon Moglen, (202) 222-0708, dmoglen@foe.org

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