Environment & Energy Report

Incoming House Chairs Eager for Piece of the Climate Action

Dec. 13, 2018, 12:30 PM

A new House panel focusing on climate change won’t be alone in addressing the issue in the 116th Congress: Roughly half a dozen incoming committee chairs are itching to jump into the fray.

Nearly a decade ago, when Democrats last controlled the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee was front and center on climate. It remains likely to play a role in any broad legislation Democrats try to move in the next two years, but other panels on agriculture, foreign relations, science, oversight, and natural resources also will have new Democratic chairs eager to put climate change and its impacts on center stage.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the front-runner to become House Speaker, has already pledged to resurrect a panel on climate change she launched more than a decade ago, though it couldn’t write legislation. Even that idea has set off resistance from other House chairmen.

Big Plans

In addition to incoming Energy and Commerce chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the presumed leaders of two other panels already have pledged to hold two days of hearings early next year on climate impacts and actions to combat them: Science, Space, and Technology, which will be led by Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), and Natural Resources, which Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) will chair.

The Foreign Affairs panel will put President Donald Trump’s 2017 announcement pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord in the crosshairs, as well as the overall retreat from climate in meetings between world leaders.

“There’s tremendous interest in it from me, and there’s tremendous interest in it from members of my committee,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who is slated to head the committee in January, told Bloomberg Environment.

Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, a senior Democrat on Foreign Affairs, said that among the long list of global issues, climate change “sits, I think, squarely in the center because it affects the entire globe.”

“There’s a question of American leadership and our relationship with our allies around the world on this issue,” Deutch, who last month joined three Republicans in introducing the first bipartisan climate bill in a decade, told Bloomberg Environment.

Carbon Pollution and Transportation

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), expected to chair the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee next year, said his panel can do plenty to accelerate U.S. efforts to cut carbon pollution from vehicles in the next surface transportation bill. He also is considering incremental bills to boost transportation efficiency.

“Obviously, we are going to run into roadblocks in the [GOP-controlled] Senate and in the White House, but we are going to make a case to the American people” for tackling the climate issue, he said.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), is poised to chair the House Rules Committee, which decides what amendments go the the floor. He said his panel will be open to members offering climate-related ones.

The rules panel “is going to be a lot more accommodating to amendments to combat climate change,” McGovern said. “Unfortunately on this issue, under a Republican-controlled Congress we’ve done nothing—we’ve had committee chairs who are climate change deniers.”

At least one Senate GOP committee chairman, however, has plans to look at climate change in 2019. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Dec. 12 that possible topics include energy efficiency for buildings, manufacturing, and farming, renewable energy, and microgrids.

Natural Resources Focus

At the Natural Resources Committee, which oversees public lands and mining, Grijalva said he will press the Interior Department to defend pro-extraction policies that don’t take climate impacts into account.

“The whole idea here is that facts and science should have a role in decision-making,” Grijalva told Bloomberg Environment, “rather than just expediting extraction without considering any consequences.”

Outgoing Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said Republican members will raise the economic costs of climate action. Republicans “will take the opportunity to explore all the other options that his side may not want to bring up,” Bishop said.

On the science panel, Johnson promised to explore “strategies to mitigate the impacts of our changing climate,” citing a federal report this week warning that warming trends are pushing the Arctic into uncharted territory.

‘We’ve Got to Be Careful’

The enthusiasm among committees is tempered by some Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee.

“We’ve got to be careful. We don’t want to be doing things that aren’t going anyplace,” incoming Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told Bloomberg Environment.

Peterson said he doesn’t want to see a replay of 2010, when House Democrats who had taken tough climate votes the year before were hung out to dry when the then-Democratic controlled Senate didn’t vote on it. Republicans took control of the House in 2011.

Spending a lot of time on climate change and a big climate bill “is not popular in my area,” he said.

Peterson said to expect at least a climate hearing or two in his committee next year largely to gauge what actions agricultural industries and communities can support.

‘Green New Deal’

That cautiousness is a warning sign of things to come as Pelosi wrestles with demands for ambitious climate action from mostly newer arrivals, including Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

Pelosi is under pressure from more than 30 Democrats who back a “green New Deal” that would take steps to quickly decarbonize the U.S. economy. The plan calls for upgrading energy efficiency in all residential and industrial buildings and building a national “smart” electricity grid.

Ocasio-Cortez told reporters recently she wants to ensure actual legislation gets moving.

“My goal is to really get things done, and my red line is that we need this legislation by 2020" in hopes of Democrats retaking the Senate and White House, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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