Trump transition presses another government agency about its climate spending

This time it’s the State Department that is under the microscope.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Thibault Camus, FILE
CREDIT: AP Photo/Thibault Camus, FILE

The Trump transition team sent a letter to the State Department requesting that the department disclose the amount of money provided each year to international environmental groups, according to the Washington Post. This most recent round of climate-related inquiry comes despite stiff backlash, including a call for a Congressional investigation, following a leaked memo that was sent by the Trump transition team to the Department of Energy asking for names of staffers who had worked on certain key Obama administration climate policies.

According to department staffers familiar with the request, the Trump transition team has asked “How much does the Department of State contribute annually to international environmental organizations in which the department participates?”

The State Department currently contributes to international climate action through a litany of programs, from helping smallholder farmers in Africa adapt to changing climate conditions to helping increase energy efficiency in Asia. According to a 2014 report, the State Department spent $1.8 billion on programs to help with climate adaptation between 2010 and 2013. Much of that money goes towards helping the least developed countries and South Pacific Islands — the countries most at risk from climate change, and also the countries least responsible for carbon pollution — fund mitigation projects.

The State Department also handles payments to the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund, which is a pool of money funded by developed countries to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate impacts. President Obama pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, but thus far has only paid $500 million.

It’s unclear what, exactly, the transition team means by “international environmental organizations in which the department participates,” but information on specific international environmental programs funded by U.S. government agencies is publicly available online. A majority of foreign assistance money sent to international environmental organizations is doled out through the Peace Corps and the United States Agency for International Development, both independent government agencies.

It’s possible the Trump team simply wants a list of all climate-related activities carried out by the State Department — a strategy that suggests climate-related budget items could be the first to go in a Trump administration. Some State Department officials told the Washington Post that they found the question “troubling,” but one senior official seemed unfazed by the inquiry.

“It’s legitimate. It’s normal. It’s responsible. If they weren’t doing it, you’d be asking questions,” the official said.

Unlike the memo sent to the Department of Energy, the State Department question does not single out a particular project or agency within the department, nor does it ask for a list of names of specific employees. The transition team called the Department of Energy memo unauthorized, and said that the person who sent the memo has been “properly counseled.”

Trump has pledged to cut spending to international climate projects, including payments to the U.N. Green Climate Fund. He claims that cutting “wasteful climate change spending” would save $100 billion over 8 years, though he does not account for precisely how that money would be saved.

The State Department under President Obama has made considerable progress on climate change, culminating with the U.N. Paris agreement entering into force in early November of this year. Under Trump, it’s almost certain that the United States will no longer try to be a world leader on climate action, especially if Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, is the one leading the department.