In a March 8 Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing, the U.S. State Department announced it had delivered $500 million to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund (GCF), a program intended to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate changes.
Heather Higginbottom, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, announced the Obama administration had given money to GCF, which drew much criticism from SFRC members because Congress had not approved funding for GCF.
While being questioned by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Higginbottom told the committee the funds were diverted from the department’s Economic Support Fund, which provides economic funding to foreign countries.
“Did Congress authorize the Green Climate Fund? No … We’ve reviewed the authority and the process under which we can do it, and our lawyers and we have determined that we have the ability to do it,” Higginbottom testified.
Senators Threaten Legal Action
In response to Higginbottom’s testimony, Barrasso threatened to sue the administration for the “blatant misuse of taxpayers’ dollars,” saying the Obama administration violated the 1982 Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits the use of funds for programs not authorized by Congress.
Sen. Cory Gardner(R-CO) was also outraged by the State Department’s action.
In a statement Gardner provided to Fox News, Gardner said, “Lawyers cannot replace the constitutional requirement that only Congress can appropriate money.”
Gardner also said department was trying to “wave a magic wand and write a half-billion dollar check to a Green Climate Fund that they admit was never authorized by Congress.”
Gardner says he will conduct a “full legal analysis” of the funds transfer.
The $500 million is seen as a down payment on President Barack Obama’s commitment to provide $3 billion to the GCF by 2020. Obama requested $750 million in funding for the GCF in the fiscal year 2017 budget he offered in February.
Transfer Jeopardizes Future GCF Funding
“The Obama administration’s action is outrageous, and the fact they had to defy Congress and reprogram funds from the Economic Support Fund for the first measly $500 million contribution has enraged many members of Congress,” said Myron Ebell, director for the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “This almost certainly guarantees Congress will never appropriate any funds, let alone tens of billions of dollars per year, for the GCF.
“Sens. Barrasso and Gardner are just the tip of the outrage among Republicans in the House and Senate,” said Ebell.
While Ebell doubts the Congress will enforce the Anti-Deficiency Act in this particular case, he is fairly certain it will impact the State Department’s budget in future years.
“I’m pretty sure Congress will not appropriate any money for the GCF in fiscal year 2017 and will reduce the Economic Support Fund, and perhaps other accounts, so there is not enough money in the State Department budget to reprogram more than a few millions to the GCF,” Ebell said. “I think another attempt at a rider prohibiting funding for the GCF is also likely.
“Appropriators will also have to look at the Treasury Department’s budget, because the president has requested $250 million from [it], as well as another $500 million from [the State Department],” Ebell said.
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.