On cli­mate change, ‘a race against time’

New panel chair­woman to put is­sue in spot­light

The Arizona Republic - - News - Led­yard King

WASH­ING­TON – The warn­ings about cli­mate change are dire: big­ger floods, larger fires, larger storms.

Most ex­perts agree there’s lit­tle to pre­vent these catas­tro­phes with­out swift ac­tion on cli­mate change.

En­ter Rep. Kathy Cas­tor, the Flor­ida Demo­crat that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cho­sen to chair the new Select Com­mit­tee on the Cli­mate Cri­sis.

A Capi­tol Hill vet­eran and clean en­ergy cham­pion with a back­ground as an en­vi­ron­men­tal lawyer, the Tampa Demo­crat plans to shine a light on the very cli­mate is­sues many Demo­cratic can­di­dates ran on in Novem­ber to win back the House.

Over the next 15 months, the panel will make pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions, push for leg­is­la­tion and cast a spot­light on the grow­ing dan­gers of man-made global warm­ing that’s spelled out in a chill­ing a fed­eral re­port re­leased in Novem­ber.

“We are in a race against time,” Cas­tor, 52, told USA TO­DAY re­cently.

The com­mit­tee al­ready faces ob­sta­cles:

❚ Repub­li­cans, who have con­sis­tently down­played the ef­fects of cli­mate change, say the panel is un­fairly par­ti­san (nine Democrats vs. six Repub­li­cans).

❚ Pro­gres­sives, who sup­port a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach known as the Green New Deal, worry the com­mit­tee won’t be ag­gres­sive enough.

The panel will only be able to do so much.

It won’t have the power to sub­poena doc­u­ments or de­pose wit­nesses. It ul­ti­mately will have to rely on stand­ing com­mit­tees to adopt its rec­om­men­da­tions. And any am­bi­tious mea­sures are un­likely to win pas­sage in the Repub­li­can-held Se­nate or be signed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has dis­missed global warm­ing as a “hoax” and made en­vi­ron­men­tal dereg­u­la­tion a cor­ner­stone of his eco­nomic agenda.

Cas­tor spoke with USA TO­DAY about the charge of her com­mit­tee and the chal­lenges it faces:

Ques­tion: Much of the in­for­ma­tion on cli­mate change is out there. So what do you hope to ac­com­plish with this new com­mit­tee?

Cas­tor: We’re go­ing to press for dra­matic car­bon pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion. We want to win the clean en­ergy fu­ture to de­fend the Amer­i­can way of life and avoid cat­a­strophic and costly weather events that have dire im­pacts.

Q: What are some of the is­sues you want to pur­sue and how will you work with the stand­ing con­gres­sional com­mit­tee to achieve them?

A: Right off the bat, we will tackle fuel econ­omy stan­dards, make sure the Com­merce Com­mit­tee and the (Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee) are fo­cused on that. The Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has to do a flood in­sur­ance re­form bill. We will be in­volved in that as well.

Q: You men­tioned flood in­sur­ance. Rep­re­sent­ing a coastal dis­trict, you know what flood­ing and storms can do. Should we re­build along the shore?

A: We shouldn’t be in­sur­ing at tax­payer ex­pense homes and busi­nesses that have been de­stroyed re­peat­edly on the shore. Folks know full well that they’re in hur­ri­cane’s path or flood’s path and they do that on their own. I’m con­cerned the (flood) maps are not upto-date, that states and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties are not act­ing fast enough to adopt poli­cies to re­vise maps.

Q: Is there a con­cern you may get­ting in the way of stand­ing com­mit­tees who are al­ready charged with en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and cli­mate change is­sues?

A: No, we’re go­ing to be com­ple­men­tary. This is a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort. It’s just be­ing el­e­vated be­cause the threat to our way of life is at stake. It’s all hands on deck.

Q: What’s your re­sponse to Repub­li­cans who say the panel will be stacked with Democrats and have too much lat­i­tude to go after is­sues be­yond its scope?

Cas­tor: Look, we’ve had so much de­lay and Repub­li­cans have had their heads in the sand here in the Con­gress. I’ve just been through a time in the mi­nor­ity on (the) En­ergy and Com­merce (Com­mit­tee) where they re­fused to have even one hear­ing on the cli­mate or hear any leg­is­la­tion deal­ing with the es­ca­lat­ing cost of cli­mate of ex­treme weather events. And I do see our ju­ris­dic­tion as be­ing very broad. We’re talk­ing about the planet.

“What­ever we can press to ac­com­plish as soon as pos­si­ble, we will do that.” Rep. Kathy Cas­tor, D-Fla.

Q: How will the com­mit­tee go about high­light­ing the con­se­quences of cli­mate change?

A: We in­tend to tell the sto­ries of com­mu­ni­ties that are tak­ing ac­tion de­spite the in­ac­tion from the Con­gress and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. There are some con­ser­va­tive, ru­ral ar­eas that are go­ing re­new­able and re­duc­ing car­bon pol­lu­tion, and we’re go­ing to shine a light on their good work. And for bad ac­tors that know bet­ter, we in­tend to make sure they’re fa­mous as well.

Q: Even if the House passes am­bi­tious mea­sures, their chance of be­com­ing law is slim given the po­si­tions of the pres­i­dent and the Se­nate. So why try?

A: We don’t have time to wait. What­ever we can press to ac­com­plish as soon as pos­si­ble, we will do that.

JOSE LUIS MA­GANA/AP

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, ad­min­is­ters the House oath of of­fice to Rep. Kathy Cas­tor, D-Fla., right, dur­ing a cer­e­mo­nial swear­ing-in on Jan. 3. Cas­tor will chair the new Select Com­mit­tee on the Cli­mate Cri­sis.

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