The select climate panel House Democrats are resurrecting in 2019 won’t have the power to subpoena Trump administration officials and other witnesses—but its new leader says she can get another committee to do its bidding.
The House is set to formally launch the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, with Democrats picking nine members and House Republicans selecting six, established under the first title of a rules package (H. Res. 6) that determines how bills will be brought to the floor in the 116th Congress. The House voted 234-197 on Jan. 3 to approve that title.
Democrats who now control the House succeeded in relaunching a climate panel they created more than a decade ago that was later killed when Republicans won control of the chamber in the 2010 elections. But the new select climate panel, to be chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), will lack authority to “take legislative action on any bill or resolution,” according to the rules package.
It also won’t be able to issue subpoenas and take depositions from witnesses. Congressional subpoena power has long been regarded as an important tool to compel witnesses to provide evidence under threat of punishment.
Castor told Bloomberg Environment Jan. 3 she lobbied for the select committee to have legislative authority and subpoena power, but that Democratic leadership decided instead to allow the committee to collaborate with standing committees.
“If we need to subpoena anything, that shouldn’t be a problem working with the Energy and Commerce Committee” or other committees that would hold hearings on climate change, Castor said.
Committee Choices Soon
Committee members for the select committee will be announced in the next week or two, Castor said.
The climate panel was directed to report a series of policy recommendations to various committees by March 31, 2020.
Castor expects competition among many Democratic House members to serve on the select panel. But two Democrats active on climate issues told Bloomberg Environment they’re unlikely to seek a spot on the committee.
Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who sits on the energy and environment subcommittees in the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he had little interest on a committee with no subpoena or legislative power.
“I’ve worked pretty hard to get where I am,” Peters said.
A spokesman for Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who will chair the environment subcommittee, said the congressman would focus on enacting climate policies through legislation.
Top-ranking Energy and Commerce Republicans Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan and Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois told Bloomberg Environment they have no interest in joining.
‘A Show Kind of Committee’
The top Republican on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee—which also is expected to focus on the climate issue now that Democrats control the House—also said he won’t seek a seat on the new climate panel.
“I suspect the competition for slots on this committee will be rather intense, and if I remember correctly, with that 2-1 ratio, there won’t be many Republicans,” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told Bloomberg Environment Jan. 3.
Republicans willing to join will “have to have a thick skin and a certain set of media skills because this will become a show kind of committee,” he said, likely to be stocked with House Democrats passionate about combating climate change but not “the best versed in the issues or what the long-term environmental or economic impact” of solutions might be, he said.
Castor said she wants to highlight efforts on the state and local level to lower carbon emissions as federal action has stalled, and “shame” fossil fuel companies that have pushed to continue the use of high-carbon fuels.
She is hopeful that Republicans will support hearings on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, green buildings, energy efficiency, and other topics she will broach.