President Donald Trump's nominee to be the next U.S. envoy to the United Nations on Wednesday defended her record on climate change, saying it is a "real risk to our planet" that must be addressed.
Kelly Knight Craft told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she believes human behavior has contributed to climate change and she'll push countries to deal with it. However, she also said the United States should not have to bear an "outsized burden" in mitigating its effects.
"I acknowledge there is a vast amount of science regarding climate change and the tools and the role that humans have played in climate change," she said. "If confirmed, I will be an advocate for addressing climate change."
Her comments came in response to questions from Democrats on the panel prompted by previous remarks she made doubting the causes and severity of climate change and suggesting that climate change skeptics have valid arguments. Democrats were also concerned about possible conflicts of interest as she holds extensive investments in fossil fuels.
"Climate change needs to be addressed as it poses real risk to our planet," she said. "Human behavior has contributed to the changing climate. Let there be no doubt: I take this matter seriously, and if confirmed, I will be an advocate for all countries to do their part in addressing climate change."
The Trump administration has been criticized by environmentalists and scientists for rolling back regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and announcing its withdrawal, effective next year, from the Paris Climate Accord that aimed to limit climate change.
She also said that withdrawing from the Paris agreement did not mean the administration was ceding a leadership role on climate change.
"We don't need to be a member to show leadership," she said, arguing that developing countries like China and India were not being asked to make the same contributions as the United States.
Craft is a longtime GOP activist from Kentucky who is currently U.S. ambassador to Canada. She and her husband, Joe Craft, have donated millions of dollars to Republican presidential and other political candidates and if confirmed, she would be first major political donor to occupy the top U.N. post for any administration. Joe Craft is the chief executive of Alliance Resource Partners, one of the largest coal producers in the country.
In response to questions from Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Craft tried to allay climate-related conflict-of-interest concerns.
"Senator, as we discussed, where there is the issue of coal and or fossil fuels, I will recuse myself in meetings through the U.N.," she said."
Craft's response did not satisfy some on the committee.
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said after the hearing that he would oppose her nomination. "With Kelly Craft's nomination, we have been sent a nominee who will personally profit from the continued burning of fossil fuels and who infamously proclaimed that there are 'good scientists on both sides' of the climate debate," he said.
Craft has been credited by supporters with playing a major role in her current role in helping to secure a proposed new trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico but has been criticized for frequent absences from Ottawa.
The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, called the amount of time she spent away from the embassy to be "staggering," ''very troubling" and "an abdication of leadership."
Craft testified that all of her travel had been approved in advance by the State Department, that much of it was work-related and that she and her husband had paid for all personal trips. Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, downplayed the significance of her absences and pointed to her involvement in trade negotiations as one reason for the time away.
In addition to climate change and travel, Craft also faced Democratic questions about her relative lack of diplomatic experience, which her Republican supporters said was belied by her nearly two years as serving as the top envoy to a close ally and neighbor.
Craft vowed to continue the efforts of Trump's first ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, to push for reform at the world body and to fight against anti-Israel resolutions and actions by the United Nations and its affiliated agencies. During Haley's tenure, the administration withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. educational and scientific agency for adopting positions it deemed to be hostile to Israel.
Trump nominated Craft to replace Haley after his first choice for the job, former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew from consideration.