Democrats plan to use House majority to prep for major climate change legislation in 2020

After winning control of the House of Representatives Tuesday night, Democrats plan to counter the Trump administration on climate change policy, aiming to convince the American public of the seriousness of the problem ahead of the 2020 presidential election and the urgency of addressing it. “Climate change has to be one of our highest priorities,” Rep. Ro Khanna of California, the newest Democrat to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “We should be voting on a bold new green deal to tackle climate change as one of the first three things we do during our first 100 days.” Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California recently said she would make climate change a major issue with Democrats controlling the lower chamber. She told the New York Times she would resurrect the defunct select committee on climate change, which the GOP killed when it took control in 2011. Pelosi’s lieutenants are amplifying her act-now message, in the wake of a recent United Nations-backed report that warns the worst impacts of global warming are coming faster, and harder, than previously thought. “Democrats recognize that climate change is a significant national security and public health concern that must be addressed,” Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the Democratic Whip, told the Washington Examiner. “Instead of denying climate change is real and taking steps to exacerbate it, we ought to take bipartisan steps to address it.” But that doesn’t mean Democrats expect major legislation to combat climate change becoming law during the next two years, in a divided government led by global warming skeptic President Trump. Democratic leaders say committees with jurisdiction over energy and environmental issues are likely to spend the majority of their time conducting oversight. That means to expect plenty of hearings probing the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks — and what role energy companies might have played — in decisions such as rejecting the international Paris climate accord, weakening former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan to limit carbon emissions from coal plants, and expanding oil and gas lease sales on public lands. “We have serious concerns with how Trump’s EPA has consistently sided with the special interests over people’s health and the environment, and we will look to restore the environmental protections that have been gutted over the last two years,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee who would be slated to take over the panel in the new Congress. Pallone, in a statement to the Washington Examiner, said he would seek to hold “the Trump Administration accountable for dangerous policies that make climate change worse.” Some environmental groups say Democrats should devote most of their focus to oversight, rather than pursuing major climate change legislation such as a carbon tax, or creating a mandate to eliminate fossil fuels from America’s electricity mix. “The most important thing any Congress should do is real oversight,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I don’t think you are going to see sweeping climate change legislation, because it doesn’t have a path forward. That’s a lot of resources and political capital to spend on failure.” Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., a member of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, said Democrats should be careful about acting too aggressively on mitigating climate change, an issue that continues to polarize Americans. He noted the failure of Democrats to pass major climate change legislation the last time they controlled the chamber. Cap-and-trade legislation, setting a ceiling on greenhouse emissions while allowing companies to trade pollution permits, passed the House in 2009, but died in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Democrats subsequently lost the House in 2010 and had not won it back until now. “We all remember the cap-and-trade vote that helped prevent Democrats from keeping the majority,” Soto told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “We know the history of it. That’s why we have a responsibility to find areas of compromise with Republicans without a big bold bill. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.” Retired Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California who sponsored the 2009 cap-and-trade bill, also advised his party to proceed cautiously. “Democrats ought to pay a lot of attention to the issue of climate change because the American people are starting to demand it,” Waxman told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “But it’s hard to imagine a big proposal getting passed. Democrats should be afraid to vote for a bill that’s not going anywhere, and take all the potential losses from people who will distort their vote with negative campaigns. They don’t need to do that.” Other Democrats, however, are signaling they can have it both ways, working with Republicans on incremental steps to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, while also debating and building public support for bigger comprehensive action. “In a split Congress, our role is not only to react to the Trump administration,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “We aren’t going to be able to pass a massive new environmental overhaul, but we can certainly set the intellectual groundwork for it and lay down the science-based foundations it, and hopefully voters notice in 2020,” Connolly said. Democrats say potential areas for compromise include investing in energy efficiency, spending on clean-energy technology — such as carbon, capture, and storage — and bolstering climate change adaptation, or ways to limit the effects of rising sea levels, and higher floodwaters, by building flood walls and toughening development standards. Ryan Fitzpatrick, deputy director of Clean Energy Program at Third Way, a center-left think tank, said Democrats are eyeing a potential infrastructure package as a vehicle to also achieve progress on energy. The Democrats’ “Better Deal” proposal, outlining their major policy priorities, pushes for modernizing energy infrastructure to enable more use of renewable energy. “There are some real things, not just fluff, that can be done immediately to reduce emissions that aren’t just messaging pieces that can get over the finish line,” Fitzpatrick said. Khanna, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, predicted the Democratic base wants bolder action. He said Democrats should vote on a bills like one introduced by Senate Democrats to require the U.S. to transition to 100 percent zero-carbon energy sources by 2050. “I want the House to define the Democratic platform for the 2020 election,” Khanna said

Connolly stressed patience.

“If people think somehow magically we are able to change the world on January 1, they are not realistic,” he said. “I’d rather look for opportunities where we can push the envelope without ripping it up.”
This article appeared on the Washington Examiner website at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/energy/democrats-plan-to-use-house-majority-to-prep-for-major-climate-change-legislation-in-2020

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