Many House Democrats remain skeptical of a push by leadership and progressives to revive the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, underscoring divisions about how to address climate change in the new Congress.
The caucus clashed in closed-door meetings this week about whether the select panel is even necessary and how much power it should have, with incoming committee chairmen looking to stake out territory on the issue.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has proposed bringing back the select panel to spotlight the issue with Democrats in control of the House, but progressives — led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — are aggressively pushing for a stronger version of the climate committee that would craft a "Green New Deal" to combat climate change.
Ocasio-Cortez has a resolution in-hand that would establish a Select Committee for a Green New Deal, with the goal of crafting a comprehensive policy by 2020.
But the incoming leaders of the committees of jurisdiction on climate — namely, the Energy and Commerce; Natural Resources; and Science, Space and Technology panels — are not pleased with potentially creating a committee that could leach away their power.
Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), in line for the chairmanship next year, has been the most vocal critic of the idea thus far (E&E Daily, Nov. 14).
That earned him a rebuke yesterday from the Sunrise Movement, the group that organized a protest in Pelosi's office earlier this week. In a statement yesterday, the group called his objections "ludicrous" and pointed to donations he has taken from fossil fuel political action committees.
Pallone has taken in about $20,000 from oil and gas PACs and about $100,000 from utilities in 2017 and 2019, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, though he's also been lauded by the League of Conservation Voters in the past for his work on climate issues.
"Frank Pallone is concerned about holding onto his power and title, not about the future of our generation and human civilization," the group wrote in a tweeted statement.
Pallone said yesterday that a new committee "takes us away from the goal," with his panel and the other committees of jurisdiction already planning hearings on climate change early next year.
"We want to move very aggressively, we've got people in charge of these committees who are very progressive, and I just don't see the need for the select committee," Pallone told reporters. "In part, I think it may actually delay what the progressives are trying to achieve."
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the co-founder of the Congressional Solar Caucus, said the select panel has "definitely" been a topic of conversation among Democrats as they have gathered this week to plan for the 116th Congress.
He said the "sticking point" has been over whether it would have any legislative authority, a move that he said seems unlikely given the clout of E&C.
Krishnamoorthi did not rule out serving on the select panel but said it needed to do more than hold hearings.
"When we were in the minority, we used to have what I'd call all of these mock hearings, but we are in the majority now, so let's get something done," he added.
Pelosi, for her part, doesn't appear bothered by the potential jurisdictional battles, and she suggested yesterday that those issues will get worked out before January.
"That's always been a challenge with the standing committees, and we will have conversations about some of the objections they may have," she told reporters. "But there's tremendous interest on the outside for us to return to that place where the climate issue is pre-eminent."
Weighing the pros and cons
Feelings about the select committee revival are generally mixed among the rank and file.
Several other Energy and Commerce lawmakers expressed skepticism about the need for the select panel after a caucus meeting yesterday, echoing Pallone in arguing their committee is best suited to holding hearings and drafting legislation.
"I know the Energy and Commerce Committee is raring and ready to go," said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), a member of the committee. He said several panel Democrats have already drafted climate legislation but could not even get hearings on their proposals with the GOP in power.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), an Energy and Commerce member, downplayed talk of any rift over the panel, saying there's broad support in the party for action on global warming. She said in closed-door caucus sessions this week the question has been whether the select panel is needed or the full committee can simply act.
"I could be flip and say John Dingell is not here anymore," said Dingell, when asked if the panel was needed.
Pelosi created the original panel in 2007 out of concern that Dingell's husband, John, the legendary E&C chairman, would slow walk climate legislation. The Democratic leader saw the select panel as a way to make sure the issue got attention, a move that rankled the then chairman.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a senior Energy and Commerce member who some have speculated could lead the select panel given her close ties to Pelosi, did not seem sold on the need for it.
"I think we need to make climate change a centerpiece of our agenda, how we do that I don't know yet," said DeGette, noting she had not given any thought to serving on it.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who served on the last version of the select committee, from 2007 to 2010, didn't appear keen on the revival either. He said he's "agnostic" on the issue, though he noted that the caucus is debating the "pros and cons."
Still, plenty of others said they like the idea of a select committee, and some suggested they were looking to stake out a spot.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who was on the original committee, said she would be interested in a second tour.
"The leader has many slots to fill, so we'll see what happens," she told E&E News yesterday.
Speier said she didn't believe such a panel would undermine the authority of other committees with overlapping jurisdiction on climate change, energy and natural resources, for instance.
"It's not that kind of committee," Speier said. "When I served on it before, it was really fact-finding. We went to China to try and get the president to get more engaged and reduce carbon in the atmosphere. We went up to Alaska and dealt with some of the issues the Native Americans were having," she said. "So, no, I don't see it as anything more than helpful."
The stark divide in the caucus could reverberate to leadership battles, particularly for Pelosi, who's facing opposition from a coalition of new and existing members.
Ocasio-Cortez said how party leaders handle the issue will affect who she backs for speaker.
"I think it's important, its very important," she said.