Thursday, January 17, 2008

Top Senate Republican Opposes Law of the Sea

Copyright 2007 Environment and Energy Publishing, LLC
E&E News PM

October 24, 2007 Wednesday

Lauren Morello, E&ENews PM reporter

The Senate's top Republican has come out against the U.N. Convention to the Law of the Sea.

“I will oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention due to my refusal to subjugate the rights and interests of the United States to the jurisdiction of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or a group of international arbitrators," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) in a statement today.

McConnell "recently came to a decision" to oppose the treaty, an aide said today.

The minority leader's views came to light today at a press conference organized by six conservative Republicans who oppose the Law of the Sea.

"Mitch McConnell just told me on the way up here to mention his opposition as well," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Since the Law of the Sea resurfaced in the Senate this fall, with a pair of hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee and a pledge by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to grant the treaty a floor vote, McConnell has not made any public statements of his position on the treaty.

Law of the Sea, which took effect in 1994, governs how countries manage their exclusive economic zones, sets rules for navigating international waters, and addresses species protection and other environmental issues. The United States is the only major industrialized nation that has failed to ratify the agreement.

The treaty, which stalled shy of a Senate floor vote in 2004, has resurfaced in recent months with support of President Bush, Reid, military leaders, mining interests, the oil and gas industry and environmental groups.

But at today's press conference, a core group of conservative Republicans said they believe treaty supporters lack the 67 votes needed for the Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea.

"This treaty will not be adopted," Kyl said. "There are not the votes to pass it. They only thing that will happen is it will take up a lot of time" on the Senate floor, he said.

Opposition to the treaty centers on concerns that it would impinge on U.S. sovereignty.

"We have seen with our involvement in the United Nations, the World Court, the WTO -- many times countries involved with these bodies don't vote in our interest or even in the world's interest," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Navigation rights at issue

Another lawmaker who opposes the treaty, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said he believes the Law of the Sea "would undermine U.S. military operations ... and impair navigational rights."

Lott's comments contradict statements made earlier this month by top Pentagon and State Department officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Law of the Sea would provide U.S. troops "global mobility ... with no permission slips."

"We owe our soldiers, sailors, marines and Coast Guard treaty-based rights," England added during recent Senate testimony.

Others who have endorsed the treaty include the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all living former chiefs of Naval operations, four former secretaries of state, the heads of the American Petroleum Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the governors of seven coastal states.

But despite the broad base of support in the administration and off Capitol Hill, Lott said he believes the treaty is a lost cause in the Senate.

"I called the White House and told them not to waste any chits on this," Lott said.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Relations Committee abandoned plans to mark up the Law of the Sea this afternoon.

Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.) scrapped a planned vote today at the request of Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

"Sen. Vitter asked that it be held over until the next business meeting, and it is our practice to honor those requests," Biden spokesperson Danielle Borrin said.

The treaty could come to a vote in committee as early as next week, Borrin said.

Biden said last week that he is confident he has the support to move the treaty out of committee.

"It is my expectation that by the end of this month, we finally will have the votes to report out the Convention on the Law of the Sea," Biden said during an Internet question-and-answer session on

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