Democrats will push on climate change
Policies could carry risk for leaders of new House
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.
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.