Lawmakers grilled climate czar John Kerry on Capitol Hill Thursday, asking about his private jet usage and views on China.
Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, defended the cost of President Joe Biden’s climate policies before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on oversight and accountability. The country’s first climate czar is set to travel to China on Sunday to engage in climate talks ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference that will take place later this year.
At the hearing, Kerry said that he doesn’t understand why the “opportunity of the climate crisis isn’t being seized.”
Kerry was pressed on the character of China’s regime, the effect of green policies on Americans, and his own personal role in increasing carbon emissions.
Here are four key takeaways from the hearing:
1. Private Jet Use
The testiest exchange at Thursday’s hearing was over Kerry’s private jet usage.
Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., needled Kerry by saying that he hoped the climate czar wasn’t “inconvenienced” by having to use a private jet to come to the hearing.
“We don’t own a private jet,” Kerry said. “I don’t own a private jet. I personally have never owned a private jet. And obviously it’s pretty stupid to talk about coming in a private jet from the State Department up here. I just, honestly, if that’s where you want to go, go.”
Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., later asked Kerry more questions about his private jet usage and noted a report from February about the Kerry family’s sale of a private jet after accusations of “climate hypocrisy.”
“Mr. Secretary, do you stand by the statement that you’ve never owned or your family … ,” Waltz began to say before Kerry interjected.
“Yes, my wife owned a plane and she sold the plane, I have flown on it,” Kerry responded.
“When we are asking Americans to make serious sacrifices for the common good … that smacks of hypocrisy [and] it actually hurts your cause,” Waltz said.
2. Lack of Transparency
Several congressmen demanded that Kerry be more transparent about his department’s staff and spending. Subcommittee Chairman Brian Mast, R-Fla., said that in the two years Kerry has held the climate czar role, which was not confirmed by the Senate, there’s been almost no oversight or accountability of his work.
“Every time you travel to a climate summit or King Charles’ coronation, or the wedding of the crown prince of Jordan, you’re supposed to document the carbon emissions generated by your trip, your office has failed to do so,” Mast said.
Mast said Kerry only provided the organizational chart of his office once they had been required by lawsuit to do so, and none of the names on the chart had been filled in.
When Mast attempted to go through the organizational chart of senior staff in Kerry’s office, Kerry refused to comply after giving a few names.
“I’m not going to go through them by name because that is not the required process of the State Department,” Kerry said.
3. The China Issue
Several Republican lawmakers questioned Kerry about the nature of China’s regime, its human rights violations, and whether negotiations with the authoritarian country were being conducted in good faith.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that Biden called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a dictator and asked Kerry if he was in line with the president.
“The president called Xi Jinping a dictator, do you believe he wields the power of a dictator today in China?” Issa asked.
“There is no question at all that President Xi is the major decider of the direction and policies of China,” Kerry answered.
Issa asked again if Xi is a dictator and Kerry refused to engage, saying that Xi’s designation is “water off a duck’s back.” He also said that the administration shouldn’t get “tangled up in labels and names.”
Several members of the House committee noted that while the United States is held to strict emissions standards, China isn’t—despite being the country with by far the highest amount of carbon emissions.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said that China being labeled with the designation as a “developing nation,” despite being the world’s second-largest economy, strikes the American people as unfair. The designation allows China to have drastically lower emissions standards than the United States in international agreements, he said.
“This continues to baffle me, that the second-largest economy in the world is somehow treated as a developing nation for the purposes of the United Nations charter,” McCaul said.
This means that China is given preferential treatment when it comes to bank loans, McCaul said, but then it turns around and uses those financial benefits to get “truly developing nations into usurious debt traps.”
“China has said its carbon emissions should peak by 2030, and I assume that’s why you are holding them to this 2030 standard in the Paris agreements,” McCaul said to Kerry, referring to the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty. “But then they say they decline, with the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.”
“The American people understand fairness, and honestly, sir, they do not see this as fair,” McCaul said.
4. Enormous Expense
Kerry was asked about the enormous cost of the Biden administration’s climate agenda.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said that through much of earth’s history there was more carbon in the atmosphere than today and questioned Kerry’s statements about the exact amount of carbon that’s appropriate.
“In December of 2022 you told The Washington Post we need to remove 1.6 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via direct air capture, the direct cost for that is about $1,000 per ton or $1.6 quadrillion,” Perry said.
He asked Kerry why he wants to dump this enormous bill on American taxpayers despite uncertainty about what the actual effects of carbon emissions will ultimately be in the long run.
Kerry said he disagreed with the characterization of the issue and asked Perry why so many other countries would sign on to the reduction of carbon emissions.
“Because they are grifting like you are,” Perry said.
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