Secretary Pompeo Will Further Erode U.S. Climate Leadership

The U.S. Senate narrowly voted to confirm Mike Pompeo as America’s next top diplomat, despite historic opposition from across American society and the likelihood that he will further erode American global leadership on climate change.

The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Mike Pompeo as America’s next top diplomat despite historic opposition from across American society. The 57-42 vote in the Senate comes despite Pompeo facing an outpouring of opposition from over 180 national organizations representing tens of millions of Americans across the country, including groups working on national security, civil and human rights, nuclear non-proliferation, public health, poverty, womens’ rights, faith, labor, and environmental issues.

NRDC, along with six other leading environmental organizations, sent a letter to senators urging them to vote against Pompeo due to his extreme anti-environment record. Our letter and the groundswell of civil society opposition clearly demonstrate that a vote for Pompeo is a vote to further abandon America’s global leadership role on critical environmental challenges including climate change.

Compared to previous holders of the office of Secretary of State, Pompeo stands stark in his anti-environmental views. In fact, the last four long-tenured Republican Secretaries of State have all acknowledged the importance of American global leadership on environment and climate change issues. Secretary George Schultz helped to negotiate the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use of ozone-depleting chemicals that is widely seen as one of the most effective environmental treaties to date. Secretary James Baker has recently led the charge, along with Secretary Schultz, for a conservative solution to climate change through a carbon tax. Secretary Colin Powell has seen first-hand and repeatedly stressed the need for America to engage with other countries to solve climate change. And Secretary Condoleezza Rice has called on polluting nations to “cut the Gordian knot of fossil fuels.” Each of these Secretaries of State has represented the U.S. on the world stage and viscerally understands the importance of environmental issues in the context of American global leadership and their diplomatic importance to the international community. Unfortunately, it looks like Secretary of State Pompeo won’t be following in this tradition of global leadership.

As a Congressman, Mike Pompeo demonstrated an extreme anti-environmental record on issues relating to public health, biodiversity, energy development, and climate change. Regarding public health, he consistently opposed efforts to address issues caused by harmful pesticides and water pollution. He voted to delay vital ozone and smog standards and sponsored legislation to weaken the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. While in Congress, Pompeo consistently voted in favor of policies that threaten biodiversity, like weakening the Endangered Species Act and promoting harmful development in ecologically sensitive areas. When it came to energy, Mr. Pompeo voted to accelerate fossil energy projects while stifling policies that supported clean energy. With such disregard for domestic environmental health, imagine how little he will care about the environmental and public health of other countries.

Finally and vitally, on climate change Pompeo has repeatedly denied climate science and voted against policies to address climate change including the social cost of carbon and even climate education. In his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, Pompeo would only concede that there is a “likely” human component to climate change and the Department of State that he now oversees “ought to be involved.” Pompeo’s weak stance on climate change science and disregard for American global climate leadership could encourage Trump to act on his impulse to leave the U.S. as the only nation in the world not at the negotiating table of the Paris Agreement—a striking example of where “America first” actually means America alone.

Not only would undermining U.S. environmental leadership diminish our reputation and credibility, it would also weaken our diplomatic leverage to advance our interests in other important international forums such as trade and nuclear deterrence. During the confirmation hearing, Senator Cardin of Maryland pointedly asked Pompeo about how being the only country that says we don’t want to talk about climate change would make his job more challenging, only to have Pompeo parochially reply that sometimes we disagree with our allies. However, 195-1 isn't just disagreement; it's the wrong side of history.

Leading America’s diplomatic efforts requires balanced and tactful engagement on a range of critical environmental issues that deeply affect our relations and standing in the world. Mike Pompeo’s extreme anti-environmental record and the resounding opposition he faces from civil society groups will only hinder Pompeo from fulfilling his responsibilities as Secretary of State and weaken America’s diplomatic leverage and influence abroad. Only time will tell if Pompeo will come around to join his fellow Republican Secretaries of State in acknowledging the indispensable role of American global leadership on challenges of the environment and climate change. Unfortunately, the climate doesn’t have much time to wait.

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