(This January 17 story fixes attribution in 8th paragraph to GAO’s David Gootnick instead of anonymous GAO official)
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said in a report released by the investigative arm of Congress on Thursday it may recommend President Donald Trump revoke an Obama-era order directing federal agencies to consider climate change in international development programs.
Such a move would deepen the Trump administration’s already broad rejection of former President Barack Obama’s policies on global warming, which Trump has repeatedly suggested is not as serious as scientists claim.
In the 2014 executive order, Obama directed the State Department and other agencies to factor climate resilience into development programs to help vulnerable populations around the world protect themselves from the effects of droughts, floods, and storms exacerbated by climate change.
The State Department said in the General Accountability Office, or GAO, report published Thursday that its foreign assistance and budget bureaus “will begin working with stakeholders to consider whether to recommend that the Secretary (Mike Pompeo) ask the President to rescind” the order.
The State Department’s comment came in response to a GAO recommendation that it improve guidance to foreign bureaus on the geopolitical risks of climate change.
The GAO report said the State Department has identified migration of vulnerable populations in countries that face conflicts as a risk of climate change, but that Obama’s executive order has in effect been weakened because missions are not assessing the risks.
The State Department said “it does not oppose” the GAO’s recommendation. But if Trump reverses Obama’s executive order, it would not be required to improve the guidance.
The State Department’s response to the GAO was a highly unusual way for a federal department to signal potential policy initiatives, said David Gootnick, a GAO director of international affairs.
Trump has made reversing Obama-era executive orders and regulations on climate a priority since his early weeks in office, mainly as a way of reducing the regulatory burden on the oil, gas and coal industries.
The GAO report was commissioned by Democratic Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Dianne Feinstein and others.
The State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Tom Brown