Energy & Environment

House climate change panel won’t likely pass bills

Stefani Reynolds

A growing number of House Democrats are backing the idea to create a special committee to fight climate change next year, but it likely won’t have the authority to pass any bills.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers Wednesday that the panel, championed by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), won’t have any legislative jurisdiction.

In the meeting, meant to assuage concerns of incoming committee chairmen that the new climate panel might encroach on their authority, Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised that the select committee wouldn’t have the authority to pass its own bills, according to Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who attended the meeting.

{mosads}Grijalva’s in line to chair the Natural Resources Committee.

“It’s something I’m comfortable with. It’s not a threat to anybody. And I think it galvanizes attention on the issue of climate change, and it’s a good thing,” Grijalva told reporters about the plan for a special committee.

Grijalva has long backed the formation of the committee with the caveat that it be restricted of bill-passing power.

Pelosi had, since before the midterm election, pushed for a select committee on climate change, similar to one that existed from 2007 to 2011, the last time Democrats had the House majority.

That committee, called the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, would focus on highlighting the science that proves climate change is occurring, she told the New York Times in November.

“I have recommended to my House Democratic colleagues that we reinstate the select committee to address the climate crisis. 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,” she said in November after Ocasio-Cortez and youth activists protested at her office on the issue.

Many Democrats have endorsed Ocasio-Cortez’s specific proposal, which would instead charge the panel with coming up with a plan for a Green New Deal — an idea that includes a plan to transition to 100 percent renewable electricity, a universal jobs guarantee and other measures.

But some incoming House chairmen opposed the plan, in part, because they feared that it would step on their toes and that of their committee, especially if it had the ability to pass its own bills.

“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,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the likely next chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said last month.

Pelosi’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the record.

By tradition, House select committees do not have the power to vote on legislation and send it straight to the full House for consideration, as established committees do. A select committee with that authority would be unusual.

Supporters from the Sunrise Movement, an environmental activist group that developed the Green New Deal plan and is backed by Ocasio-Cortez, acknowledged that while they’d like the select committee to have the necessary funding and power to influence Congress’s future climate change plans, it doesn’t need legislative authority.

“They are tasked with drafting a plan, then subsequently creating draft legislation within a 90-day period and then making it open and accessible to the public. They don’t actually have jurisdiction to draft specific legislation to then be voted on,” said Varshini Prakash, the group’s founder.

Hundreds of youth activists organized by the Sunrise Movement swarmed Congress on Monday to rally for the adoption of the New Green Deal special committee.

“We don’t want to infringe on the jurisdiction of the other committees because we hear the concerns of other members around that, but we do want to create a body that has the funding, the time, the authority to do the work that is necessary to create the plans,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, an organizer for the movement.

“And it might be more than one bill that might go through multiple committees because this is a big project bigger than anything else we’ve done in our lifetimes.”

The previous iteration of the committee did not have legislative jurisdiction, but many of its ideas were incorporated into the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The latter bill passed the House but did not get through the Senate.

At a televised climate change town hall last week Ocasio-Cortez said the committee was necessary in order to bring multiple climate change solutions under one roof.

“When we try to solve this issue piecemeal, we will not solve it in time,” she said.

Her website has a draft of a resolution she intends to introduce to create the climate panel. The resolution changed in recent weeks to say that the panel would not have legislative jurisdiction.

Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, characterized the change as a clarification, since the previous version did not specifically grant the panel authority, beyond simply writing legislation.

“The sentiment is exactly the same,” he said. “What we’ve been asking for since the beginning is for this committee to have the power to draft legislation.”

The full House needs to vote on the proposal to create the select committee after Democrats formally take the majority on Jan. 3.

Grijalva said that Pelosi has plans to make a formal announcement about the panel’s details soon.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Climate change Energy Environment House Climate Change committee Nancy Pelosi
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