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Environment & Energy Report

Moderate and Coastal-State Republicans Seek Climate Panel Slots (1)

Jan. 24, 2019, 4:29 PMUpdated: Jan. 24, 2019, 5:50 PM

Six spots on the House’s new climate panel are reserved for Republicans. So who wants a seat at a table that Democrats historically have dominated?

A handful of House Republicans—including moderates from the Northeast along with lawmakers from coastal states affected by sea-level rise—are raising their hands.

The lawmakers have introduced legislation to address rising temperatures and extreme weather through carbon fees and other mechanisms. They say the new panel—which lacks the power to subpoena witnesses or write bills—nonetheless could present an opportunity to discuss an issue important to them.

“I would love to serve on it if [House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy] wants me,” Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) told Bloomberg Environment.

Rooney, who is slated to co-chair the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House, has sponsored bills to price carbon emissions, address harmful algal blooms, and ban sugarcane burning. He was one of just three Republicans to co-sponsor a carbon tax bill introduced late last year (H.R. 7173).

Another Florida Republican, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), is also interested in a spot. He was one of 17 Republicans who signed a 2017 resolution acknowledging that “human activities” have had an impact on the global climate and resolving to create and support “economically viable” mitigation efforts.

“When the announcement was made, we started talking about it immediately,” Mast, who cites environmental concerns as a top issue for him, said.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a former coastal protection official in an oil-producing state, is another contender, as is Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who co-sponsored carbon fee legislation in the last Congress.

McCarthy will announce the members of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis once the standing committee rosters have been finalized this week, according to his office.

AOC: Panel Must Be ‘Effective’

The new climate panel resurrects a select committee that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched in 2006. The committee died when Republicans took back the chamber in 2011.

After the 2018 midterm elections handed the House majority back to Democrats, climate advocates including the Sunrise Movement and new member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tried to convince the party to give the committee more authority, including the tools to develop a Green New Deal to phase out fossil fuel energy.

The committee’s lack of power has deflated the enthusiasm of some lawmakers such as Ocasio-Cortez, who asked that the committee’s members refuse campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and for the panel to have subpoena power and the ability to draft legislation.

“We thought those were three things that were pretty common sense in order for it to be effective,” Ocasio-Cortez told Bloomberg Environment. “So we’re trying to see to what extent it can be impactful and if it is, potentially joining it.”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Bloomberg Environment he recommended members of that panel.

But it’s unclear who would serve on a committee with no legislative power when they could write bills through Energy and Commerce. Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee said they weren’t very interested in the select committee.

“If asked to serve, I would serve,” Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), who represents a district that sits on the oil-rich Eagle Ford shale play, said. “But I’m not seeking it.”

A ‘Skeptical’ Case

It’s also unclear whether McCarthy will appoint members of the party’s right wing, which has denied or underplayed the threat of climate change. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) who served as ranking member on the last select committee on climate change, is seeking a spot on the climate panel, his spokesman Chris Krepich said.

Sensenbrenner has questioned whether the planet is warming and opposed action to curb U.S. emissions of heat-trapping gases and is the only House Republican left from the previous climate panel Pelosi created in 2007

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was recommended by House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-S.C.) for the committee. Massie runs his home on solar panels and drives an electricity-powered Tesla but questions that climate change is a “crisis.”

Massie doesn’t see increasing carbon dioxide in the air as a bad thing for the environment. Increasing carbon dioxide stimulates plant production, Massie said—a point often made by skeptics of climate science that mainstream scientists refute.

“I think I could present a very good skeptical case for questioning climate change,” Massie said.

—With assistance from Abby Smith.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington at tstecker@bloombergenvironment.com; 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; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloombergenvironment.com