Democrats Take Steps to Address Climate Change in 116th Congress

Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi has selected Rep. Nancy Castor (D-Fla.) to chair the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Two bills that could advance in the House: the Green New Deal and a carbon tax-and-dividend bill, H.R. 7173.

Read Time: 3 minutes

January 2, 2019, 9:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


Rachael Warriner / Shutterstock

"It’s official: When Democrats take control of the House of Representatives [on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019], they will form a special new committee to examine climate change, Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Friday," reports Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers climate change and technology.

Pelosi, likely the next speaker of the House, also announced that the new committee will be named the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. It will be led by Kathy Castor, a seven-term representative from Tampa Bay.

Pelosi has not yet described exactly what the committee will do, but House committees of this type can hold hearings, write reports, and bring public attention to political issues.

The bipartisan H.R.7173 - Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2018, a revenue-neutral carbon tax that returns revenue to tax payers, is sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). unveiled on Nov. 27, and referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, where it has yet to be heard. A companion bill, S. 3791, also bipartisan, has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

"Despite their poor chances of passage anytime soon, the bills represent an increasing willingness from at least some Republicans to address global warming and risk the wrath of many conservatives who view any form of carbon pricing as a tax increase," reports Josh Siegel for the Washington Examiner on Dec. 19.

The un-numbered Green New Deal is associated with Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (scroll down to "Mobilizing Against Climate Change") and appears to have excited many progressives, more so than the carbon tax bill. [See Planetizen: "Are Environmentalists Turning Away From Carbon Taxes?" Dec. 11, 2018.] "The proposal clearly has momentum on the left," wrote Meyer on Dec. 5.

Dissension among climate hawks

"A number of activists on the party’s left have greeted the announcement [of the climate crisis committee] with frustration," adds Meyer.

They had hoped (and protested) for a more ambitious Green New Deal committee. Such a panel, they imagined, might finally draft a unified Democratic climate policy, a plan to improve the lot of American workers while massively overhauling the economy to prepare for climate change.

Déjà vu?

Rep. Castor issued a statement upon receiving the appointment:

"I am humbled by Speaker-designate Pelosi’s confidence in me to lead the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. She is correct to reinstitute the Select Committee and urge action to address this dire crisis that impacts my neighbors in Florida, all Americans and future generations."

In 2007, when Pelosi was elected as the House of Representatives first female speaker after the Democrats picked up 31 seats in the 2006 midterm elections, taking control of the House, she established the House Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming which was dismantled by her successor, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), in 2011. While not a legislative committee, it did have subpoena authority, unlike its successor.

Under Pelosi's past leadership, the House narrowly passed the Waxman-Markey carbon cap-and-trade bill, H.R.2454 - American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, in a remarkably short period of time, about 40 days.

After the bill died in the Senate in March 2010, The Hill reported in July that Pelosi had no regrets over forcing the House vote. The first female House speaker called it a "top priority for her speakership," but The Hill called it "a needlessly tough vote for many House Democrats."

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