Climate Official's Work Is Questioned

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 5, 2005

Environmentalists are unhappy with the job the lead U.S. climate negotiator, Harlan Watson, has been doing in the ongoing Montreal talks on how to combat global warming.

Watson has spent the past week in Montreal touting the administration's record on climate change. He said there is no reason the United States and other countries that oppose mandatory carbon dioxide limits should have to talk about what should be done once the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to cut global greenhouse gases by 7 percent by 2012, expires.

Watson's position and the environmentalists' reaction should hardly be surprising -- considering his apparent popularity with the oil industry.

A Feb. 6, 2001, fax sent to the White House by oil giant Exxon Mobil proposed involving Watson more closely in international climate negotiations.

The document -- which Exxon Mobil spokesman Russ Roberts said was sent by the company but not written by any of its employees -- suggested asking House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to make Watson, who at the time worked for the House Science Committee -- "available to work with the team" of Americans attending international climate change meetings.

Exxon Mobil has consistently opposed mandatory curbs on greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

The memo noted that Watson "has been recommended for the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans position." Bush ultimately picked Watson in 2001 for the lead negotiator's job.

The memo, which was provided last week to The Washington Post by the advocacy group Environmental Defense, also urged the Bush administration to appoint to prominent international posts several Americans who have questioned dire global warming scenarios. The proposal to appoint Watson was first reported by the London Telegraph in 2002.

The company's senior environmental adviser at the time, Arthur G. Randol III, sent the fax to the Council on Environmental Quality in 2001. But Randol has retired and Roberts declined to say Friday who might have written the document.

"Even if we knew the names of the authors of that material, it would be inappropriate for us to provide you that without their permission," Roberts wrote in an e-mail. "ExxonMobil, as the largest energy company in the US, is frequently asked by government officials to comment on substantive issues. We take that responsibility seriously and we provide our perspective on critical issues on energy, environment, etc."

State Department spokeswoman Susan Povenmire declined to comment on the memo Friday.

Activists such as Annie Petsonk, international counsel for Environmental Defense, say they are concerned that the memo means Watson is too closely allied to oil companies to conduct good-faith climate negotiations with foreign countries.

"One has to wonder who he's representing -- the U.S. or some of those oil executives who did not testify under oath last month before Congress," Petsonk said.

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