Congress re-boots on climate, Pt. 2: House Democrats’ actions in an inhospitable arena


capitol_domeHouse Democrats pressing for action on climate policy are having to resort to various work-arounds, in a situation where it is difficult even to get a meaningful climate change hearing, and for now impossible to move significant legislation. This could include both defensive actions in the House and support for stronger Executive Branch action by the President.

Between May 2011 and the end of 2012, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Cal.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Ranking Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Subcommittee on Energy and Power, wrote 21 letters to Chairmen Fred Upton and Ed Whitfield requesting hearings on climate change. There was no response.

Earlier this month, Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats called for the Committee’s oversight plan for the new Congress to include hearings on the science of climate change and its impacts on coastal areas. Their proposals were rejected on party-line votes. Instead, Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) intends to hold a hearing soon to question, yet again, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases. Apart from EPA-bashing, the House Majority doesn’t seem to have much of a climate-related agenda.

In 2009, comprehensive climate legislation sponsored by Reps. Waxman and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) narrowly passed the House with the support of a majority of Democrats and just eight Republicans. Following that high point, when partisan majority control of the House changed hands after the 2010 election, the Republican-controlled House took more than 50 votes attacking climate-related efforts, Mr. Waxman has noted.

On January 24, Rep. Waxman and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D, R.I.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced the formation of a Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, “dedicated to focusing Congressional and public attention on climate change and developing effective policy responses.” Reps. Waxman and Markey and Sen. Whitehouse sent a letter to President Obama applauding his recognition of climate change in his inaugural address and urging him to develop a comprehensive climate change plan as expeditiously as possible.

The letter was basically premised on the need for Obama to take executive action in the absence of congressional willingness or ability to act expeditiously. It called on Obama to:

  1. Lay out specific steps federal agencies will take to ensure that U.S. emissions of heat-trapping gases are reduced by at least 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 … and put us on a path to the significantly greater reductions needed in future years;
  2. Accelerate federal investments in innovative clean-energy technology by marshaling the resources of our leading scientific institutions; and
  3. Develop a strategy for protecting the many vulnerable regions of the nation from the worst effects of climate change.

The letter quoted the draft National Climate Assessment, which was released in January for public review:

The implacable scientific reality is that climate change is not waiting until we are ready to deal with it. According to the draft National Climate Assessment released earlier this month:

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.

In another move premised on the need for the President to take executive action, on February 11, the day before Obama’s State of the Union address, 40 House Democrats sent a letter urging him “to appoint a bipartisan blue ribbon panel to develop a comprehensive plan to help local communities prepare for the anticipated impacts of increased climate-related extreme weather.” The letter said the panel’s “membership should include people who led recovery efforts from recent weather tragedies, including governors, mayors, first responders, and business and civic leaders.” The panel would estimate the financial support needed “for communities to develop and implement plans to increase their resilience” to climate-related weather extremes, identify existing federal funding sources for such efforts, and make recommendations for action, including recommending “a dependable revenue stream to provide additional resources for local pre-disaster mitigation planning.”

On February 15, 23 House Democrats announced the formation of the Safe Climate Caucus.  The group includes: Reps. Henry A. Waxman, Earl Blumenauer, Lois Capps, Emanuel Cleaver, Steve Cohen, Donna Edwards, Keith Ellison, Tulsi Gabbard, John Garamendi, Raul Grijalva, Rush Holt, Jared Huffman, Hank Johnson, Barbara Lee, Ben Ray Lujan, Edward Markey, Doris Matsui, Jerry McNerney, Jim Moran, Bobby L. Rush, Paul Tonko, Chris Van Hollen, and Peter Welch.

The Caucus members have made a commitment to talk every day on the House Floor about the urgent need to address climate change. BNA Daily Environment Report quoted Rep. Blumenauer as saying the new caucus “will also be a forum through which we can work with our colleagues to make sure in each committee – on Budget, on Ways and Means, on Commerce, on appropriations bills – we will … try and make some progress.”

Earlier posts:

House Democrats call for hearing on Hurricane Sandy and climate change (November 7, 2012)

GOP continues attacks on new EPA greenhouse gas rules (September 27, 2012)

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3 Responses to Congress re-boots on climate, Pt. 2: House Democrats’ actions in an inhospitable arena

  1. Bridget Turner says:

    I am very interested in this article due to the recent budget cuts within the government. There was an article in the Kansas City Star that addressed specific issues and cuts that the state of Kansas is willing to cut from their budget, and one of them is the study of climate change at an early education level. I find it still disturbing that President Obama is pushing for recognition of climate change from politicians and Americans in general, yet there are still people (politicians, in this case) that doubt there is climate change. In this attached article from the Kansas City Star, Rep. Dennis Hedke, who leads the House Energy and Environment Committee and is a geophysicist believes there is no correlation between human activity and “global warming.” I am curious if there are other politicians (outside of the conservative Midwest) that have doubts about climate change.

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