WASHINGTON — An archipelago in Kenya is the latest battleground in U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s ongoing fight against global climate change.

In May, Schatz and several other left-leaning senators, including Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders, sent a letter to the African Development Bank urging it to vote against financing a controversial coal-fired power plant in Lamu, Kenya, that’s backed by China.

Their letter underscored Kenya’s strides toward becoming the “undisputed leader” in clean energy initiatives in Africa and highlighted the country’s commitment to reducing emissions under the Paris climate agreement that the U.S. used to be a part of.

Senator Brian Schatz Hawaii State Cancer Plan speech honoring Sen Hirono.
Sen. Brian Schatz has made a name for himself as a leading Democrat on the issue of climate change. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The development of the Lamu Coal Plant would be counterproductive to Kenya’s climate goals and would set back the country’s progress in building a sustainable energy system,” the senators said in their letter.

“The plant’s construction would contribute to global climate change, undermining Kenya’s commitment to reduce emissions under the Paris climate accord.

“Furthermore, emissions from the power plant would result in detrimental health impacts caused by high levels of local air, water and soil pollution. The long lifetime of coal-fired power plants would perpetuate these negative environmental and health impacts for decades.”

The letter exemplifies the ongoing efforts of a group of Democrats, Schatz included, who want to engage the world community on a topic that President Donald Trump has shunned.

Schatz has been a leader on climate change in the Senate, and has traveled to international summits, including last year in Bonn, Germany, to help assuage concerns that the Trump administration would roll back decades of laws and regulations designed to protect the planet.

“People want to hear from United States senators, whether it’s the island nations or our European allies or Japan or India,” Schatz told Civil Beat in a recent interview.

“They’re very anxious to understand what we are up to. And I would say that the desire to hear from the Congress has increased since Trump has been elected because when he’s on the world stage he plays a disruptive and destructive role.”

Schatz added that one of the messages he and his senatorial colleagues — many of whom are on the Senate Climate Change Task Force, a group he co-chairs with Markey and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse — try to impart when meeting with foreign leaders is that American government moves “maddeningly slow.” In this case, he said, the slow pace can be a good thing.

“President Trump cannot by fiat repeal the Clean Air or Clean Water Act. He cannot by fiat repeal the investment and production tax credits for wind and solar,” Schatz said. 

“So the federal foundation for all the clean energy momentum that’s happening at the local, state and regional level cannot be undermined despite what Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump and the Koch brothers want.”

Pruitt is the Trump-appointed administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose main focus has been to roll back Obama-era policies addressing air and water pollution.

The Kochs are a pair of billionaire brothers, Charles and David, whose company, Koch Industries, includes a number of chemical, energy and agriculture ventures. Over the years they helped fund and organize the opposition to climate change initiatives through campaign donations and political activities.

In 2013, then-President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would stop financing overseas coal-fired power plants as part of the country’s commitment to combating climate change.

The World Bank adopted a similar policy. It hasn’t financed a coal-fired plant since 2010.

But Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord as well as other directives aimed at  easing the burden on new fossil fuel projects have led some to worry that other U.S.-backed lending institutions, including the African Development Bank, would reverse course.

Schatz said the senators have yet to receive a response from bank officials.

He noted that the senators had planned to send a similar letter in relation to a Vietnamese company that was seeking financial support for a coal plant in Vietnam from the Export Import Bank of the United States. But the firm backed out of the project.

Read the letter here.

Letter to African Development Bank (Text)

Letter to African Development Bank (Text)

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