House Dems split on how to tackle climate change

House Dems split on how to tackle climate change
© iStock

House Democrats are eager to elevate climate issues when they take over the House majority next year but are facing disagreement on how best to do so.

Lawmakers are split on how to handle the task of confronting climate change, an issue urgently highlighted in a recent United Nations panel report and largely supported by progressive voters.

The division is creating a split in ranks between likely House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump pushes back on impeachment talk: 'Tables are finally turning on the Witch Hunt!' Moulton enters 2020 White House race Trump takes aim at Dem talk of impeachment MORE (D-Calif.), who has suggested re-establishing a select committee to support the science behind climate change, and others who think the committee will either do too little or step on too many toes.

Pelosi’s idea, which she started to push in October, would be similar to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming that ran from 2007 to 2011, when the Democrats last had control.

“I have recommended to my House Democratic colleagues that we reinstate the select committee to address the climate crisis," Pelosi said Tuesday as dozens of young activists occupied her office, demanding strong climate action.

"House Democrats ran on and won on our bold campaign for a $1 trillion investment in our infrastructure that will make our communities more resilient to the climate crisis, while creating 16 million new good-paying jobs across the country."

The idea has generated support from some Democrats who are looking for any opportunity to bring climate change back to the forefront of the national dialogue.

“Trying to elevate that issue, to restore it to consideration on the national agenda, I think, is a good thing,” said  Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyBipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals Concerns mount over 2020 census The Hill's Morning Report - Trump vows to close US border with Mexico this week MORE (D-Va.).

“I think it elevates the issue, and it desperately needs elevation, given the drought [in legislation] we’ve had over the last eight years with a Republican Congress and in the last two with Trump, where we actually have denial of science.”

Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanOvernight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Dems want documents on Bernhardt's lobbying work Overnight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown MORE (D-Calif.) said he understood objections from lawmakers, but nonetheless recognized a “coordinating” function for a special panel.

“We need to understand that climate is an issue that cuts across our arbitrary jurisdictional lines. And if we’re going to really do what we need to do on climate change, we’re going to have policies that I would think involve at least four committees, if not more,” he said.

But others in the House, some of who served when the select committee was last functioning, recall the body as largely symbolic and lacking teeth.

It didn’t have the power to vote on legislation, and the most consequential bill it helped push — the American Clean Energy and Security Act — died in 2010 when the Senate stopped trying to pass its own accompanying legislation.

The new committee would likely also be an investigatory body that could hold hearings and write reports, but not vote on legislation.

Freshman and incoming Democratic lawmakers are instead asking for a select committee focused instead on a more forward looking initiative, like increasing the use of renewable energy.

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a progressive darling who overtook longtime Rep. Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyOcasio-Cortez responds to Trump calling her a 'young bartender': The 'last guy who underestimated me lost' Progressives hammer DCCC over blacklist targeting primary challenges Beto could give Biden and Bernie a run for their money MORE (D-N.Y.) in a primary this year, is backing the idea of a “Green New Deal” and wants the special committee to work toward the goal of 100 percent renewable energy, an idea its backers say would spur job growth.

Ocasio-Cortez pushed the idea along with 150 youth activists Tuesday during a sit-in at Pelosi's Capitol Hill office.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaEnvironmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Lawmakers, tech set for clash over AI MORE (D-Calif) also supported the “Green New Deal” charge for a special committee.

“We can create millions of good paying jobs in places left behind while also saving our planet.” he tweeted of the plan.

Incoming Reps.-elect, Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) threw their support behind the committee idea.

Other lawmakers instead oppose the idea of a new committee altogether, arguing that the House is already well-equipped to discuss climate issues, and must focus its efforts on legislation.

“I think it’s not necessary,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who is slated to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We have very strong champions for addressing climate change — not only on my committee, but the other committees of jurisdiction — that are going to move very aggressively on the issue of climate change,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s necessary to have a special committee.”

Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoAre 23 horse deaths enough to clean up the racing industry? Overnight Energy: Bernhardt confirmed as Interior chief | Dems probing if EPA officials broke ethics rules | Senators offer bipartisan carbon capture bill Dems probing whether EPA officials violated ethics rules MORE (D-N.Y.), who is slated to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment sub-panel, thinks his committee is the right place for climate discussions and legislation.

“I think that we should make our major effort to reduce carbon pollution how best we can,” he said. “I think the subcommittee has been doing tremendous work around table discussion and that should get us to the finish line.”

Pallone made a big move to claim the climate mantle Wednesday, announcing alongside the expected Democratic leaders of the Natural Resources and Science committees that they would hold two days of hearings early next year on global warming.

“We plan to hit the ground immediately with a series of hearings early in the next Congress on how best to combat this growing global crisis,” Pallone said alongside Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of Natural Resources and Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM Pelosi, Dems unveil bill to bind Trump to Paris climate accord MORE (D-Texas) of Science.

“Our committees plan to work closely together to aggressively assess the public health, economic and environmental impacts of climate change and to explore the best solutions to combat this challenge.”

Grijalva said he isn’t opposed to the idea of a select committee. But he doesn’t think it should have the power to pass legislation.

“The last time it happened, it was a clearinghouse: investigative, review. I think the question is, is it a legislative committee as well,” he said.

Grijalva said the Democratic lawmakers in the existing committees care about climate change, so it’s important to not take action that’s seen as removing their authority.

“Everybody that’s on Resources cares about climate change. Everybody that’s on E&C cares about climate change. How do you select? Are you creating a body that is going to create legislation and everybody else holds back? What is going to be the participation of our committees into that process?”