Climate

10 U.S. Senators Travel To Paris To Show Their Support For An International Climate Deal

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michel Euler

U.S. Senators from left, Senator Tom Udall, New Mexico, Senator Ben Cardin, Maryland, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire, attend a media conference at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget north of Paris, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015.

With the first week of the U.N. climate summit coming to a close, the world appears increasingly nearer to reaching to an international deal on climate action.

Back in the United States, a coalition of Republican senators and representatives have been hard at work to stymie such a deal, voting to derail President Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan and threatening to hold climate funds hostage in the year-end budget.

But in Paris, a group of 10 Democratic senators lead by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) had a different message: President Obama has strong support for an international climate deal.

“What you see here are people who are going to protect what the president is putting on the table here in Paris as a promise from the American people to the world,” Ed Markey, (D-MA), said during a press conference held Saturday. “We are going to back up the president every step of the way.”

As the Guardian pointed out, Markey, a long-time champion of climate action who co-wrote a 2009 climate bill that passed through the House, was hardly the only long-time advocate of climate action to make the journey to Paris, as he was joined by both Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has given over 100 speeches related to climate change on the floor of the Senate, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who recently co-sponsored a bill that would end the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Al Franken (D-MN), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Tom Udall (D-NM), rounded out the coalition.

“We are moving in the right direction and we are not going to back down,” Udall said. “We have the president’s back and we are going to make sure we keep moving in the right direction.”

Republicans have threatened to undermine the climate talks for months, but recently have begun to take concrete steps towards that end. Last week, the House passed two joint resolutions that would essentially kill the Clean Power Plan, largely considered to be Obama’s signature climate policy. A similar pair of resolutions also passed in the Senate last month. Republican senators have also threatened to deny Obama any climate funds in the 2016 budget, something that Obama has previously requested. Such a move could potentially undermine the United States’ position at the bargaining table, causing key players like India to be more reticent in agreeing to a deal. Obama has threatened to veto any attempt to override the Clean Power Plan, and Democratic legislators have been vocal in their opposition to Republicans denying funds via the year-end budget.

Still, the Democratic senators’ visit to Paris comes at a crucial time in the negotiating process, as a draft of a potential deal was recently sent to the ministers of participating nations. The draft, which observers are calling more “streamlined” than previous drafts, will serve as the basis of upcoming negotiations.

Environmental groups praised the senators’ trip, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune calling it a “clear message to COP21 negotiators.”

“American leadership has helped drive momentum around the globe to ensure these negotiations would be successful, and it’s clear that American leadership will help ensure the implementation of a strong agreement that will grow our clean energy economy and protect our families and our communities,” Brune said in a press statement.