Energy & Environment

Dems lack unified plan for pushing Paris climate bill

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The House this week is expected to pass its first major climate-focused bill in almost 10 years, but some Democrats say the party is failing to put its best foot forward on an issue they consider a top priority requiring urgent action.

The measure, which the House is expected to pass Thursday along party lines, would bind the Trump administration to the carbon-cutting goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement — the international accord that the president vowed to withdraw the U.S. from almost two years ago.

{mosads}Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the Climate Action Now Act shows Democrats are “taking first strong steps to protect our planet and our future.”

But unlike almost every other high-profile bill, no Democratic senator has introduced a companion measure, suggesting further disunity following the divisive Green New Deal championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the bill’s sponsor and chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, told The Hill she was at a loss for why Senate Democrats haven’t been involved.

“I wish I could shed more light on the operations of the U.S. Senate — it confounds all of us on the House side,” Castor said.

Senate leaders on the environment front have not stepped forward to introduce that chamber’s version of the bill, H.R. 9.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement to The Hill he agreed it’s imperative that the U.S. commit to the Paris climate accord, but he didn’t comment on why he isn’t sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate.

“The reality is that we do not have time to wait for President Trump and other climate deniers to come to their senses, we must instead work now in Congress to realize the changes needed to protect our planet for generations to come,” he said.

The House legislation has 224 co-sponsors — all Democrats.

{mossecondads}But some Democrats are hesitant to highlight its likely passage as a major achievement.

Lawmakers have held about 17 climate-related hearings since Democrats took control of the House in January, yet discussions over what form climate legislation should take have led to tension within the party.

Progressives have expressed their preference for comprehensive legislation that would lead to the creation of a green economy and include climate mitigation efforts, similar to the Green New Deal, while more moderate members favor smaller measures that they argue have a better chance of making it through Congress.

Critics say Castor’s bill is neither.

House Republicans plan to hit Democrats on their lack of a next step for the measure, according to a senior GOP House aide.

“This Congress, Democrats have been obsessed with scoring political points instead of solving problems. This is more of the same — a rushed messaging bill with not a prayer of becoming law,” the aide said. “You can expect our procedural positioning to draw attention to that dichotomy.”

A senior Democratic aide in the Senate said that after the House approves the climate bill, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to demand Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) bring it up for a vote, “in addition to the other House-passed bills sitting in Sen. McConnell’s legislative graveyard,” such as measures addressing gun safety, health care and voting rights.

The aide said Democrats are keenly aware of the lack of GOP support for climate bills in the Republican-led Senate and are wary of wasting too much political capital there, calling the House measure a “messaging bill.”

But McConnell has at times held votes on legislation in an attempt to divide Senate Democrats, as was the case last month when the chamber voted on the Green New Deal resolution, a progressive plan to transition the U.S. electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Most Senate Democrats voted present on that measure in a sign of unity that also allowed Democrats with tough reelection bids, like Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), to avoid going on the record on the climate proposal.

Holding a vote on H.R. 9 in the Senate would very well create a similar headache for Senate Democrats, especially with lawmakers like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) opposed to the Paris climate agreement.

“H.R. 9 is going to pass [the House]. That is something that is great,” the Senate aide said.

“We’re also focused on addressing climate change in a way we have leverage,” the aide added, pointing to a potential infrastructure deal.

Pelosi, Schumer and other top Democrats are scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House on Tuesday to talk infrastructure. Democratic leaders on Monday said they want any infrastructure deal to take climate change into consideration.

And while some Democrats are not enthusiastic about Castor’s bill, they say other measures are in the works.

One senior Democratic aide likened the House push behind H.R. 9 to a mutual agreement to support “the lowest common denominator success story.”

“I don’t know any Democrats who think this is the final word on Democratic climate policy for this Congress,” the House aide said.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Charles Schumer Donald Trump Joe Manchin Kathy Castor Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Tom Carper

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