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Trump's UN ambassador confronts ethics questions over climate change

Michael Wilner and Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's new ambassador to the United Nations will decide whether to recuse herself from issues involving fossil fuels on a case-by-case basis after a recent briefing with ethics lawyers, State Department officials said.

Kelly Craft publicly pledged in June to recuse herself from any discussions involving coal, and officials said she will adhere to that pledge.

But the incoming envoy sought clarity last week regarding other fossil fuels, such as oil and gas. She received a briefing from ethics lawyers on Aug. 7 and will "comply with all relevant ethics obligations, including the obligation not to participate in any particular matter affecting her financial interests or those of her spouse," one State Department official told McClatchy this week.

Critics have raised concerns about Craft's ability to do her job at the United Nations, where climate change is a top priority, given her husband's position as a coal executive and the couple's investments in an array of energy companies.

Craft and her husband, Joe Craft, president of Alliance Resource Partners, reported more than $63 million in assets across the energy sector, including in oil, gas and coal. Those fossil fuels are the leading pollutants causing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations considers climate change the "defining issue of our time," and in Craft's inaugural weeks as ambassador there, will convene a major summit on the crisis for global heads of state.

 

Craft's ethics obligations will be a factor as the administration considers how it will participate in the Sept. 23 summit led by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Craft was required to receive the ethics briefing within 15 days of her confirmation, according to her ethics agreement with the Office of Government Ethics. There will be more consultations ahead.

"Ambassador Craft has consulted with State Department ethics officials in the past, and she will continue to do so as questions arise, to make sure she remains in compliance with her ethics obligations," the State Department official said.

Foreign envoys based at the U.N. expressed concern with the Kentucky Republican's nomination before she was even confirmed, telling McClatchy in May that her affiliations with the coal industry had "made an impression" within the diplomatic community in New York.

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