House Dems split on how to tackle climate change
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 Pelosi (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 Connolly (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 Huffman (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 Crowley (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 Khanna (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.
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 Tonko (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 Johnson (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?”