Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wasn’t on the Democratic ticket this year, but he’s set to gain some additional influence in Washington thanks to the Obama-Biden victory. With Biden leaving the Senate for the vice presidency, Kerry will become the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and today he told reporters that climate change will be an issue that is “front and center” for the panel next year.

Kerry is heading to Poznan, Poland, next week for the United Nations climate talks, and he said today that he will carry with him the message that Congress and the new president are serious about action on climate change.

“It’s a moment we’ve been waiting for, many of us, for some period of time. For eight years, to be blunt,” Kerry told reporters. “And we intend to pick up the baton and really run with it here.”

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“I have both the chairmanship of the committee as well as a president to work with,” he continued. “The President-elect made it very clear that after eight years of denial and delay, the United States is going to confront this global challenge.”

Kerry, who traveled to last year’s international climate talks in Indonesia, will be accompanied to Poland by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. George Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) may also make the trip.

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While Obama is not attending the talking or sending an official delegation (because, as he said last week, there is “only one president at at time”), the president-elect has said he has directed the members of Congress attending to report back to him on what they learn.

Kerry’s committee would be the first to debate any treaty that comes out of the United Nations process next year. “It’s important we play a hand in what those negotiations will be,” said Kerry. “We cannot repeat the mistakes of the Kyoto protocol … where president signed a treaty that the senate would never ratify … I’m really looking forward to participating in those initial discussions in Poznan in the next days.”

The talks in Poznan won’t be actual negotiations for a new treaty — that will take place in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 — but it is intended to lay the groundwork by fleshing out more of the challenges to reaching an agreement. It’s about “trying to find the best framework for all of us,” said Kerry, who added that he hopes that the baseline from which to start their emissions cuts could be one of the elements worked out at this year’s meeting.

Kerry also noted that he has been meeting with a range of interest groups, including oil company executives and the members of United States Climate Action Partnership (US-CAP), to begin addressing their ideas and concerns about a new climate pact. “Obviously, there are going to be economic challenges, we all understand that, but you can’t back off what sciences tells us is going to be a global disaster. And so you have to turn this challenge into the economic resurgence … I think President Obama is poised to show America how a green economy, a transformational economy … is a way to save the economy.”

He also said he is optimistic about working with Biden and Hillary Clinton, who is expected to be tapped for the post of Secretary of State any day now, on an international climate treaty.