Republicans grill Buttigieg on Green New Deal, Keystone XL

By Maxine Joselow | 01/22/2021 07:07 AM EST

Pete Buttigieg, nominee to lead the Transportation Department, during his confirmation hearing yesterday.

Pete Buttigieg, nominee to lead the Transportation Department, during his confirmation hearing yesterday. Reynolds Stefani/Pool/Abaca/Newscom

Republican senators yesterday grilled Transportation secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg on whether President Biden’s climate agenda would kill jobs and hurt the pandemic-battered economy.

But the tough questioning from some GOP members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee didn’t appear to derail his glide toward confirmation.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay member of a presidential Cabinet — and a key player in Biden’s push for a climate-friendly infrastructure bill (E&E Daily, Jan. 5).


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voiced concern to Buttigieg — the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and past presidential candidate — that Biden revoked a key permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

"That is a major infrastructure project. That is a project that right now today has 1,200 good-paying union jobs," Cruz said.

"What do you say to those workers whose jobs have just been eliminated by presidential edict?" the Texas Republican asked.

Buttigieg responded that Biden’s climate agenda overall would create more jobs in the clean energy sector than it would eliminate in the fossil fuel sector.

"Getting this right means ensuring that there are more good-paying union jobs for all Americans delivered through that infrastructure vision," he said.

"We are very eager to see those workers employed in good-paying union jobs, even if they might be different ones," the nominee added.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) asked Buttigieg about his past support for the Green New Deal, the progressive proposal to wean the country off fossil fuels in a decade.

The former Florida governor said the proposal would cost $93 trillion, citing a bogus figure that comes from a report by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank.

"What impact would that have on our economy and jobs and all of our businesses that are competing globally?" Scott asked.

Buttigieg responded by clarifying that Biden’s climate plan is different from the Green New Deal, adding, "I believe if we get this right, this will also be something that enhances economic opportunity."

‘A major lift’

While some Republicans used environmental policies as a familiar punching bag, Democrats mostly lobbed softball questions on climate at Buttigieg.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, asked how the Department of Transportation would seek to slash planet-warming emissions from transportation.

"The president has made it very clear that he expects all of us to work on delivering a new climate vision, and it’s going to take a whole-of-government approach. And certainly DOT has a big part of this," Buttigieg said in response.

"I think that will have to be contemplated as a central feature of any infrastructure package," he added.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), another climate hawk and an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution, followed up by asking how DOT would increase fuel economy standards and boost electric vehicle deployment.

While he didn’t directly address the part of the question about fuel economy standards, Buttigieg expressed support for Biden’s goal of installing 500,000 new EV charging stations nationwide by 2030.

The goal is "a major lift, but one I believe we can meet," he said.

Confirmation outlook

As the hearing drew to a close yesterday, Buttigieg appeared poised for a swift confirmation by the Commerce panel and later the full Senate.

Democrats now hold a slim 50-50 majority in the upper chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaking vote, leaving Republicans little recourse for blocking Biden’s Cabinet nominees.

And with the possible exception of Cruz, most GOP members of the Commerce Committee appeared inclined to advance Buttigieg’s nomination.

Outgoing Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) offered a blunt acknowledgement of this reality in his opening remarks.

"I’m quite certain he will be confirmed," Wicker said.

This story also appears in Climatewire.