Democrats will push on cli­mate change

Poli­cies could carry risk for lead­ers of new House

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Led­yard King

WASH­ING­TON – Capi­tol Hill Democrats who soon will run the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are pri­or­i­tiz­ing cli­mate change nearly a decade af­ter their at­tempts to slow global warm­ing helped whisk them out of power.

Party lead­ers vowed to hold hear­ings on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ag­gres­sive ef­forts to undo Obama-era cli­mate rules and de­manded in­ter­nal doc­u­ments on ad­min­is­tra­tion de­ci­sions to scale back re­stric­tions on fos­sil fu­els that con­trib­ute to global warm­ing.

Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is vy­ing to re­gain her role as House speaker, said she planned to re­vive a spe­cial con­gres­sional panel de­signed to ex­am­ine cli­mate change. The Se­lect Com­mit­tee on En­ergy In­de­pen­dence & Global Warm­ing was shelved af­ter Repub­li­cans took over the House in 2010.

That ur­gency grew af­ter the re­lease Fri­day of a dire gov­ern­ment re­port that cli­mate change poses an in­creas­ing risk to the planet in the form of ex­treme weather, wors­en­ing health con­di­tions, the spread of new dis­eases, in­creas­ing drought and famine and eco­nomic de­cline.

Trump said Mon­day that he’s not buy­ing the Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment’s warn­ing that the ef­fects of global warm­ing could re­duce the na­tion’s GDP by as much as 10 per­cent by 2100.

“I don’t be­lieve it,” he said when asked about the con­clu­sions of the re­port, which was writ­ten by dozens of top sci­en­tists from 13 fed­eral agen­cies in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Though they won back the House dur­ing the midterm elec­tions by cam­paign­ing largely on health care, Democrats got the back­ing of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups that poured tens of mil­lions of

dol­lars into their cam­paigns and reg­is­tered lib­eral vot­ers.

The quandary for the party lead­ers when they take back power Jan. 3 is how ag­gres­sively to pur­sue an is­sue that con­trib­uted to the tea party wave that fu­eled the Re­pub­li­can takeover of the House in 2010. How pre­pared are they to ad­dress ar­gu­ments that “alarmist” cli­mate change poli­cies would in­crease en­ergy prices and re­duce con­sumer choice? How will­ing are they to take on a pres­i­dent who was elected two years ago on an Amer­ica First plat­form that promised to “bring back coal” as part of an en­ergy in­de­pen­dence agenda?

For now, Democrats are con­tent to build a case through fierce con­gres­sional over­sight and the power to subpoena ad­min­is­tra­tion records, know­ing that any ma­jor leg­is­la­tion they could pass prob­a­bly would be ve­toed by the pres­i­dent even if it got past the Repub­li­can­con­trolled Se­nate.

Law­mak­ers led by in­com­ing En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Frank Pal­lone, D-N.J., de­manded doc­u­ments re­lated to En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency pro­pos­als to let states reg­u­late their power plants, freeze fuel-ef­fi­ciency stan­dards for cars and light trucks and roll back re­quire­ments on the power in­dus­try to check and re­pair meth­ane leaks.

“The tragic and hu­man and fi­nan­cial costs of unchecked cli­mate change are high and in­creas­ing fast, and un­for­tu­nately the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions for the last two years are only ex­ac­er­bat­ing th­ese con­di­tions,” Pal­lone wrote in a let­ter Nov. 20 to EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor An­drew Wheeler.

The em­pha­sis on cli­mate change – which Trump has la­beled a “hoax” per­pe­trated by China – comes amid a cas­cade of sci­en­tific re­ports, in­clud­ing from the United Na­tions, that por­tend cat­a­strophic so­cial, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences within decades if global tem­per­a­tures keep ris­ing.

Ef­fects are al­ready be­ing felt through stronger hur­ri­canes, more in­tense wild­fires, melt­ing glaciers and loss of habi­tat, re­searchers say.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has made ex­pan­sion of fos­sil fu­els, in­clud­ing more off­shore oil and gas drilling and min­ing, a cen­ter­piece of its en­ergy and eco­nomic agenda. The pres­i­dent also pushed to undo Obama-era steps aimed at ad­dress­ing cli­mate change: propos­ing a new Clean Power Plan rule to give states more au­thor­ity to reg­u­late the in­dus­try; rec­om­mend­ing a freeze on mile-per-gal­lon stan­dards for cars and light trucks af­ter the 2020 model year; and with­draw­ing from the Paris Agree­ment, the in­ter­na­tional ac­cord to grad­u­ally re­duce emis­sions of green­house gases such as car­bon diox­ide and meth­ane.

“This agree­ment is less about the cli­mate and more about other coun­tries gain­ing a fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage over the United States,” Trump said June 1, 2017, when he an­nounced the with­drawal from the Paris ac­cord.

An EPA spokes­woman said the agency was re­view­ing Pal­lone’s let­ter.

David Doniger, a cli­mate change ex­pert with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, said forc­ing records into the light of day could pres­sure the EPA to with­draw rules or Con­gress to pass laws if they show the agency se­lec­tively used in­for­ma­tion or im­prop­erly skewed cost-ben­e­fits analy­ses to fa­vor the fos­sil fu­els in­dus­try.

“It’s al­ways im­por­tant to know ... more about the real in­flu­ence and the real rea­sons and the real ben­e­fi­cia­ries of th­ese de­ci­sions,” he said. “The pub­lic has a right to know that.”

Pelosi was speaker in 2009 when the cham­ber nar­rowly passed a “cap and trade” bill to ad­dress cli­mate change. Por­trayed by op­po­nents as lit­tle more than an en­ergy tax that would hit con­sumers’ wal­lets, the mea­sure never came up for a vote in the Demo­cratic-con­trolled Se­nate and helped fuel the tea party wave that pro­pelled Repub­li­cans to take con­trol of the House in 2010.

Some House Democrats are con­tent with mod­est ef­forts to ad­dress global warm­ing.

“It’s go­ing to be, I think, more of an op­por­tunis­tic strat­egy, where, in var­i­ous pieces of leg­is­la­tion across the board, we’re go­ing to insert mea­sures that ad­dress cli­mate change,” Rep. Gerry Con­nolly, D-Va., co-chair­man of the House Sus­tain­able En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment Coali­tion, told The Hill news­pa­per.

Even if the House did pass an ag­gres­sive plan, it’s doubt­ful the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate would take it up.

AP

In­com­ing En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Frank Pal­lone, D-N.J., plans to press the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on its push to ex­pand fos­sil fuel pro­grams.

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