Energy and Commerce chair to skip COP28

By Emma Dumain | 12/06/2023 06:19 AM EST

Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers had been set to attend the climate summit with a bipartisan delegation but will miss it because of a scheduling conflict.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers arrives for a House Speaker candidate forum on Capitol Hill.

House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) on Capitol Hill. Francis Chung/POLITICO

The high-profile congressional delegation scheduled to attend the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, later this week will no longer be led by House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

The Washington Republican told E&E News on Tuesday she would not be attending the conference, known as COP28, citing a scheduling conflict.

“Unfortunately, Chair Rodgers’s schedule has changed,” her spokesperson, Sean Kelly, said in a follow-up statement.


Replacing her at the helm of the delegation will be Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), the vice chair of E&C.

“She is thrilled Vice Chair Armstrong will be leading the delegation in Dubai in her place,” Kelly said of McMorris Rodgers.

The switch-up came as a surprise to many House Republicans, who had been cheering the significance of McMorris Rodgers’ leadership of the delegation to COP28 and the message it sent that the party was perhaps ready to engage in a conversation about how to tackle the climate crisis and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, at a hearing of an E&C subcommittee Tuesday, McMorris Rodgers was talking up the “message that Energy and Commerce plans to carry to the world stage at COP 28 … a message about building on America’s energy leadership, to demonstrate a path to a cleaner, more secure world, and more prosperous and resilient communities.” At the same time, Democrats and Republicans were pointing out where they have made bipartisan inroads on climate action, for instance in promoting nuclear energy to lower emissions.

More than a dozen Republicans are currently signed up for the trip to Dubai, many for the first time, including Armstrong. McMorris Rodgers was due to make her inaugural COP appearance as well.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong speaks to a reporter holding up a phone.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) is seen outside the Republican Steering Committee meeting Jan. 9 at the U.S. Capitol. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

The number of Republicans scheduled to attend COP28 is also, for the first time, due to eclipse the number of Democrats traveling with the E&C delegation — a lopsided ratio that has Democrats grousing about being sidelined from the annual climate talks, which are also being hosted by the president of the UAE’s state-run oil company.

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), the chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus, had originally planned to travel to COP28 with the Conservative Climate Foundation, as he did the previous two years. A member of E&C, Curtis instead opted to travel as part of McMorris Rodgers’ delegation, enthusiastic about the participation of the Republican chair of the powerful panel.

In a statement Tuesday, Curtis said that “although I was looking forward to attending COP with Chair Rodgers, I’m pleased that Kelly Armstrong, an active member of the Conservative Climate Caucus, will be leading the group of bipartisan members to the event.”

Armstrong signaled to E&E News that, as delegation leader, he planned to promote a similar agenda as McMorris Rodgers: celebrating U.S. emissions reductions, asserting domestic energy dominance, demanding other countries do better and pushing back against deals that could result in regulatory burdens back home.

“We have a great story to tell; North Dakota has a great story to tell; the U.S. has a great story to tell,” Armstrong said in an interview Tuesday. “We lowered carbon emissions, and we have supplied the country and the world with reliable fuel, and we’re going to continue to do that, and we’re not going to apologize for that.”

Armstrong was also unapologetic about the GOP’s defense of fossil fuels, which many Democrats say must be phased out as soon as possible to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis.

“With the exception of democracy, nothing has lifted more people out of poverty than cheap and reliable energy, and that is going to continue into the 21st century,” said Armstrong. “Two things can be true: The world is going to drive more electric cars in 10 years, and the world is going to need more oil and gas in 10 years.”

A ‘tool,’ not a ‘silver bullet’

The Republican sentiment ahead of COP28 was on full display at a hearing earlier Tuesday convened by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, Climate and Grid Security, titled “America’s Future: Leading A New Era Of Energy Dominance, Security and Environmental Stewardship.”

“As we continue our path towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner air and water, we cannot lose sight of the role energy plays in assuring our economic future, our nation’s security, and the security of our allies,” subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said in his opening statement. “We also cannot lose sight of the fact that the world will demand more energy, not less, in the future.”

It followed a hearing from the previous week, held by the Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Minerals Subcommittee, which was also an opportunity for Republicans to refine their messaging in advance of COP28.

Unlike in the first hearing, however, where Democrats accused Republicans of worshiping fossil fuels and prioritizing “polluters over people,” many Democratic members of the subcommittee Tuesday suggested there were opportunities — if modest ones — for common ground, at COP28 and on Capitol Hill.

Texas Democratic Reps. Marc Veasey and Lizzie Fletcher, whose state’s economy relies on the oil and gas industry, both said it was worth acknowledging the gains the United States has made in reducing its carbon footprint through new innovations, even if there’s more work to be done.

And Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the Energy, Climate and Grid Security Subcommittee ranking member, agreed with Duncan that there was cause for celebration around their bipartisan bill — H.R. 6544, the “Atomic Energy Advancement Act,” which would combine a number of bills passed by the Energy, Climate and Grid Security Subcommittee to bolster the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s ability to license new reactors into one legislative package.

It was reported out of the full E&C Committee in a 47-2 vote later Tuesday afternoon.

She said she hoped their bill could “get to the floor as quickly as possible” and help support a new initiative the U.S. agreed to join at COP28 — the “Net Zero Nuclear Initiative, which is a commitment to tripling global nuclear capacity by 2050.”

“Nuclear energy is currently responsible for almost half the carbon-free electricity we produce here in the U.S.; it’s part of our clean energy transmission toolbox,” said DeGette, though she cautioned it was “not the so-called silver bullet that will solve the climate crisis,” stressing a meaningful reduction in fossil fuel use was critical.

‘Low-hanging fruit’

DeGette also spoke about the new EPA rule to put more of the onus on individual companies to control methane emissions, a highly potent greenhouse gas, and the extent to which the oil and gas industry is embracing its role in helping the U.S. continue its distinction as being “a leader” in reducing methane emissions.

“We should be agreeing on methane here,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said. “The industry has described how they’re leading in the reduction of methane emissions, and it’s not because of Joe Biden’s ‘rush to green’ agenda; it’s because of customer demands.”

In developing new technology to measure and limit methane emissions, Peters continued, “the oil and gas industry is doing a lot of what my Republican colleagues say we don’t need to do. … It’s a low-hanging fruit.”

McMorris Rodgers herself, in a statement on the announcement of the methane rule over the weekend, expressed skepticism about the new regulation but also some restraint, saying it “could” — not that it certainly would — “dramatically expand the [EPA’s] regulatory reach in a manner that will stifle innovation, increase operational costs, and increase the price of energy.”

Anne Bradbury, the CEO of the American Exploration and Production Council, blasted the new rule in her prepared opening remarks, saying it would “disincentivize the use of many … advances in technology and approaches in favor of the older, less efficient approaches” to controlling methane emissions, with a “chilling effect” on innovations around new methane detection and maintenance technologies.

But in response to a question about what she thought the new rule would mean for her industry, specifically, Bradbury was a bit softer.

“The United States oil and gas companies are leading the way in reducing methane emissions, and industry has stated that we could support the reasonable and workable regulation of methane,” she said. “The final rule was dropped this weekend and is 1,600 pages long, and so we are still trying to get our arms around it.”

Reporter Nico Portuondo contributed.