Climate science-policy champion Rep. Henry Waxman to retire

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Waxman_official_portrait_111th_CongressWith Rep. Waxman's (D-California) announcement that he will retire at the end of his current term, I'm reminded that, seven years ago today, I testified before this champion of climate science and policy when he held his first hearing as chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on "Allegations of Political Interference With the Work of Government Climate Change Scientists." (video below) With so many accomplishments on so many issues during his long career on the Hill, Mr. Waxman's reputation as one of the great members of Congress is secure. His extraordinary skill and tenacity in pursuing government reform and progressive public policy is an act that will be exceptionally difficult for a successor to follow.

The Washington Post reports (Henry Waxman to retire at end of congressional session):

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), one of the most prolific and successful lawmakers of the modern era, has decided to retire at the end of this congressional session.

“Forty years have gone by very quickly. I have a great deal of satisfaction in our legislative accomplishments. There’s obviously more to be done,” Waxman, 74, said Wednesday in an interview. “But I’m in good health, and my family is in good health. This is a good time to move on and have another chapter if I am to do anything after Congress.” ...

For all the finesse he showed at writing laws as he rose on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman was also legendarily aggressive in his role as the Democrats’ chief inquisitor on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

With one of the most highly regarded staffs on Capitol Hill, he led investigations that delved into the tobacco-industry marketing practices, the use of steroids in professional sports, the 2008 collapse of Wall Street and the flawed intelligence that was used to justify the Iraq war. ...

The scope and number of legislative achievements that Waxman can claim — through Democrats and Republicans in the White House, and while serving in both the majority and minority in the House — would seem nearly unimaginable in today’s gridlocked, polarized Congress. ...

“For the most part, those laws have been very important and successful and are now taken for granted,” he said of his accomplishments. “People don’t realize that it was a big fight over many years to get a Clean Air Act adopted and signed, which is one of the most effective environmental laws that we have ever had in this country. And it took a long time just to get nutritional-labeling information so that people can follow their diets and control what they eat. ...

"Allegations of Political Interference With the Work of Government Climate Change Scientists." Hearing held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, January 30, 2007:

h/t D.R. Tucker for the link to the hearing posted on YouTube.

My opening statement at the hearing and written testimony are here.

In December 2007, Chairman Waxman released a committee majority report on Political Interference with Climate Change Science Under the Bush Administration. The report presented the results of a 16-month investigation. It drew on more than 27,000 pages of documents obtained by the Committee from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Commerce Department. It used and validated information I and others had provided, and included material that has not previously been published. On the corrupting influence of CEQ, I told Greenwire: “Everybody was complicit. Everybody knew what was going on, although nobody had the full story, because the tentacles of CEQ were out in so many different directions.” (The Republican minority on the Committee refused to endorse the report, although they were well-aware of the problems it discussed.)

Some earlier posts:

Last month, we noted Mr. Waxman's call for congressional hearings on methane emissions from natural gas (December 20, 2013). The rate at which methane leaks into the atmosphere from natural gas production “is a critical question that we must answer,” said Reps. Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush, in calling on the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings on this issue.

At the start of the current Congress, we noted (House Democrats’ actions in an inhospitable arena) that House Democrats pressing for action on climate policy were 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.

In February 2013, 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.) indicated his intention to hold hearings to continue an attack on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulation of greenhouse gases.

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 noted.

On January 24, 2013, Rep. Waxman and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D, R.I.), Chair 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 -- prefiguring that shift in the President's approach to climate policyaking. The letter also prefigured the announcement in June 2013 of Obama's Climate Action Plan, calling on Obama to:

    • 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;
    • Accelerate federal investments in innovative clean-energy technology by marshaling the resources of our leading scientific institutions; and
    • 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, 2013, the day before Obama’s State of the Union address, Mr. Waxman and 39 other 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.” This was followed in November by Obama's Executive Order on  “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change”, which continues the development of a national climate change preparedness process, something we first called for in March 2008.

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