17 members who will help shape energy, green policies

By George Cahlink, Nick Sobczyk, Kellie Lunney | 01/30/2019 06:55 AM EST

A centrist Texas Democrat and a onetime progressive activist against offshore drilling both landed on the Energy and Commerce Committee, while a Republican with ties to the Koch brothers gained a prized slot on Ways and Means. These are just a few of the changes taking place as the new Congress organizes.

(Left to right) Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Nannette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Ron Estes (R-Kan.) are lawmakers whose committee assignments will give them a say in energy and environment policy.

(Left to right) Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Nannette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Ron Estes (R-Kan.) are lawmakers whose committee assignments will give them a say in energy and environment policy. U.S. House/Wikipedia

A centrist Texas Democrat and a onetime progressive activist against offshore drilling both landed on the Energy and Commerce Committee, while a Republican with ties to the Koch brothers gained a prized slot on Ways and Means. These are just a few of the changes taking place as the new Congress organizes.

With 435 members and 21 permanent committees in the House to fill, it’s always a political jigsaw puzzle for party leaders at the start of a new Congress to match members’ political strengths and legislative interests with the right assignments.

Here’s a look at 17 members and their new assignments, men and women who are likely to play key roles shaping the energy and environmental direction of the 116th Congress.



Charlie Crist (D-Fla.)

Crist, 62, a centrist former Republican governor of Florida, aims to pair his work on the A-List committee, with the expected push by Democrats for climate action.

He’s personally close to Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the new chairwoman of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and hopes to find ways those two panels can work together on fighting global warming.

The second-term lawmaker from the Gulf Coast also said a priority will be delivering more funding for federal research into algae blooms, which have been a scourge on Florida’s waterways.

As governor, he brokered a high-profile deal to have the state purchase a large swath of land in South Florida from a sugar company as part of an ambitious Everglades restoration project, an effort that eventually fell apart.

Armed Services

Elaine Luria (D-Va.)

A seat on Armed Services is almost an obligatory role for the freshman Democrat, given that she represents one of the biggest military hubs in the country in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.

One of her first acts in Congress was to co-sponsor a bill from fellow Virginia Democratic Rep. Don McEachin to ban offshore drilling from Virginia’s coast.

She’ll likely stay active on energy and environmental issues on Armed Services, as Democrats look to make them a bigger part of the committee’s portfolio, including the impact of sea change on military bases.

Luria, 43, spent two decades on ships as a naval officer, and in Congress, she’s already started making her name as a centrist willing to work across the aisle.

During the partial government shutdown this month, she circulated a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asking for a vote on Trump’s proposed border wall in exchange for an end to the impasse.

Energy and Commerce

Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.)

Barragán, 42, who successfully fought offshore drilling plans along the California coast before coming to Congress, is expected to bring a progressive approach to pushing for tighter environmental laws.

"I always tie climate change and air pollution to public health. In communities of color, I talk about it as a public health crisis," said Barragán, who landed seats on the panel’s Environment and Climate Change and Health subcommittees to highlight that connection.

She’ll also reintroduce a bill she authored last Congress creating a mandatory 1,500-foot setback for any oil and gas wells.

She’s the only new member of Energy and Commerce to refuse fossil fuel donations. The second-term lawmaker from south Los Angeles is only the second Latina to serve on the committee, and the first since then-Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) left Congress to become Labor secretary a decade ago.

Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.)

Gianforte, 57, a conservative who replaced Ryan Zinke in the House, is the only new Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee this Congress.

The second-term lawmaker gave up his seat on Natural Resources for the slot. He said he still expects to work on the "responsible development of energy resources."

He’s been critical of Obama-era environmental regulations, particularly those promoting the study of the social cost of carbon, but also favors limits on mining near Yellowstone National Park.

Gianforte is one of the wealthiest members of Congress after founding and then selling a software company, where Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines worked for him as a top executive.

Don McEachin (D-Va.)

McEachin, 57, has become a top voice for environmental justice advocates on Capitol Hill, and now he’ll have a prominent perch on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"It’s funny how the Lord works," McEachin told E&E News this month. "I think I sort of stumbled into that role, but I’ll lift it up proudly."

The former state legislator will also keep his seat on the Natural Resources Committee, where he was a prominent opponent of offshore drilling last Congress as Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations ranking member.

While he’s looking to be part of the push for broader climate legislation, McEachin said he wants to use E&C to work on weatherization programs to lower energy costs for low-income households, as well as research and development for advanced nuclear technology. Those, he said, could be bipartisan "low-hanging fruit" for the new Congress.

"Call me Don Quixote, but I really believe in fusion," he said. "Now, will it happen tomorrow? No. But if we don’t get on the path for fusion, it will never happen."

Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.)

O’Halleran, 73, whose district includes the Grand Canyon, is expected to be a moderate Democratic voice on the panel favoring bipartisan approaches on environmental regulations that preserve jobs over sweeping climate action.

He said his priorities will be cleaning up abandoned uranium mining sites and preserving access to clean water, both major issues in his northern Arizona district.

O’Halleran previously served on Natural Resources, where he often worked to bring attention to tribal land and water issues.

A former Republican legislator in Arizona before being elected to the House as a Democrat in 2016, O’Halleran will also serve as co-chairman of the conservative Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition.

Marc Veasey (D-Texas)

Veasey, 48, the only Texas Democrat on the panel, could follow in the footsteps of recently retired Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who for years used a slot on the panel to look out for the state’s energy interests.

A fourth-term lawmaker, Veasey received by far the most money from oil and gas interests than any of the panel’s new Democratic members.

He believes in climate change but tends to favor bipartisan efforts to combat it like more federal research into curbing methane emissions and pursuing coal sequestration technology.

He also talks up a "clean energy future" and is eager to promote wind power, a renewable source that is plentiful in the Lone Star State.

Veasey breaks with the energy industry over urban drilling, saying he personally has seen its negative consequences in his own neighborhood in Fort Worth.

Financial Services

Sean Casten (D-Ill.)

Casten, 47, who founded a waste recycling company before coming to Congress, said he’ll use his seat on the financial panel to make it easier for other clean energy firms to get started.

He said he has had "firsthand, practical experience with the financial barriers to raising and deploying capital for clean energy. Too often, these barriers are the inadvertent consequences of otherwise well-intentioned federal policy."

He also landed a seat on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, where he said he will promote accurate science data and push back against false GOP claims on climate research. Another priority will be increasing money for federal research, including at EPA and the departments of Energy and Agriculture.

A freshman, he represents suburban Chicago.

Natural Resources

Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.)

Cunningham, who won a traditionally Republican district last fall, already has positioned himself as an ardent foe of offshore drilling.

The freshman immediately introduced bipartisan legislation that would ban drilling and exploration off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for 10 years. The bill would impose a decadelong moratorium on oil and gas drilling, as well as seismic exploration using air guns along the Atlantic seaboard, in the Straits of Florida and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

His seat covers a large stretch of Carolina coast, including Charleston and Hilton Head Island.

"We’re here today to not just say ‘no’ to offshore drilling, but to say ‘hell no’ to offshore drilling," the former ocean engineer and lawyer said earlier this month in a news conference (Greenwire, Jan. 8).

Cunningham, 36, said he plans to use his seat on the Natural Resources panel "where I can work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on legislation protecting our vital natural resources" to advance his "Coastal Economies Protection Act."

Deb Haaland (D-N.M.)

When reporters asked Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva which freshmen he wanted on his panel in the 116th Congress, the Arizona Democrat without fail repeated one name: Deb Haaland.

One of the first two Native American women elected to Congress (the other is fellow freshman Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas), Haaland brings a background in small business, law and state politics to the panel. Haaland, 58, traces her ancestry in the state back several centuries and is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, bringing a unique perspective to public land and energy issues in the Western state.

Grijalva has said he wants to raise the profile of Indian Country and tribal communities as chairman of Natural Resources, and Haaland is well-positioned to help lead on that effort.

She has spoken out against issues such as oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier this month, Haaland participated in a Democratic forum with several committee chairs that examined the partial government shutdown’s effect on public lands, parks and indigenous communities.

Haaland will lead the panel’s National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee.

Mike Levin (D-Calif.)

Levin, an energy and environment attorney, is one of several Californians on the Natural Resources Committee.

The 40-year-old, who won an open-seat race to represent former Republican Darrell Issa’s Southern California coastal district, is likely to promote renewable energy and oppose offshore drilling. Combating climate change is one of the freshman’s top priorities: Levin once famously delivered a copy of "Climate Change for Beginners" to Issa at a town hall.

The former executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party co-founded Sustain OC, which is "helping to accelerate the transition toward more sustainable power generation and transportation alternatives," according to his website, Levin is a member of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition.

As a lawyer specializing in energy and environment issues, Levin could play a prominent role in the committee’s robust oversight of the Trump Interior Department’s policies on oil and gas drilling.

Oversight and Reform

Harley Rouda (D-Calif.)

Rouda, 57, ousted the House’s leading climate skeptic, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, in November. The freshman will now head the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, overseeing Trump administration energy, environment and water policies.

He has stressed the need to invest in clean energy and promote economic incentives to fight climate change. He’s especially interested in coastal protections, given his district covers some of the Golden State’s most prime waterfront property.

A former Republican who donated to GOP candidates in the past, Rouda never ran for office before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to win a crowded primary race last year.

An Ohio native, he moved to Southern California after selling his family’s long-held realty firm more than a decade ago.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

From social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to the front pages of The New York Times, Ocasio-Cortez has been an unavoidable political presence for the last few months, often touting the "Green New Deal" whenever she can.

She’s one of her party’s most powerful messengers, which is why Democrats put her on the Oversight and Reform Committee. Ocasio-Cortez will have a chance to probe the officials responsible for crafting the administration’s environmental rollbacks and those downplaying the impacts of climate change.

She’s one of several rising Democratic stars who will sit on the panel. They’ll face off with Trump allies and members of the conservative Freedom Caucus across the dais in what are expected to be very contentious oversight hearings.

Ocasio-Cortez, 29, will also serve on the Financial Services Committee, which could give her a chance to craft climate adaptation policy through National Flood Insurance Program reform talks.


Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)

Cheney, 52, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is fast moving up the GOP ranks and could use her new clout to push for expanded domestic energy production.

A second-term lawmaker, Cheney was elected GOP caucus chairwoman, the party’s No. 3 post, and landed a seat on the Rules Committee, the panel that controls what bills move to the floor.

As a Natural Resources member, an assignment she’ll keep, she’s pressed for curtailing administrative rules and costs associated with energy exploration, expanded federal land use and limits on endangered species. She’s called coal a "national treasure" and has been a lead critic of carbon tax proposals.

Cheney, Wyoming’s lone House member, is seen as interested in a Senate run if Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) does not seek re-election next year.

Ways and Means

Don Beyer (D-Va.)

Beyer, 68, says the "primary reason" he sought a seat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee was to push carbon pricing legislation.

The second-term lawmaker may own a chain of Volvo dealerships in Northern Virginia, but he’s been a prominent critic of the Trump administration’s fuel efficiency rollback from his perch on the Science Committee.

Beyer will keep his spot on the Science panel, but he said Ways and Means is the "logical" place to consider a carbon tax bill, even if it will have to wait behind other priorities, such as health care, infrastructure and President Trump’s tax returns.

Beyer plans to reintroduce the "Healthy Climate and Family Security Act," a cap-and-dividend bill, with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) this year.

"I want whatever carbon pricing measure will pass both houses," he said in a recent interview. "I know there are three or four or five other good ones out there. I’ll probably co-sign on all of them."

Ron Estes (R-Kan.)

Estes, 62, who replaced Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Congress, could use his new seat on the tax-writing panel to look out for the interests of Koch Industries Inc.

The massive energy corporation is headquartered in his Wichita-based district. Estes was one of the top recipients of cash from the Kochs in the 2018 election cycle, and his wife previously worked for their political arm, Americans for Prosperity.

During his two terms, he’s favored tax cuts backed by most Republicans, including scaling back a wind production tax credit, an industry the Kochs have long opposed.

Estes served as both a state and country treasurer before being elected to the House.

Dan Kildee (D-Mich.)

Kildee, 60, a progressive who championed federal aid for his hometown of Flint, Mich., during the lead water crisis, is now poised to help lead a national push for rebuilding and replacing aging urban infrastructure (E&E Daily, Dec. 7, 2018).

The fourth-term lawmaker believes Ways and Means will be crucial to any broad infrastructure legislation because the tax-writing panel will determine the package’s financing.

He says he has not ruled out any option, including a gas tax increase, but also says Congress should look at more novel financing concepts.

As a county official, Kildee pioneered tax and financing policies for redeveloping properties and land in Flint that he hopes to bring to the national level in the upcoming infrastructure push.