House climate change committee sets hearing for hectic week on climate

Source: By Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2019

Democrats have been chomping at the bit to take on climate change since they won the House in November, and after a brief delay due to the partial government shutdown, they will finally get their chance next week.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change will hold its first hearing on the topic Feb. 6, subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and full committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) announced in a joint statement last night.

The Natural Resources Committee is planning its own climate hearing the same day — just about 24 hours after the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The House hearings have been in the works for weeks, and they will likely mark the first formal shots in the long-brewing battle between Democrats and the Trump administration, which has eagerly pulled back climate regulations and openly denied climate science.

The two House panels will soon have help from Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who has been talking over strategy with Pallone and Tonko.

“It is long past time for this Committee to begin seriously examining how climate change is affecting our communities, environment and economy, and take action to reduce its harmful effects,” Pallone and Tonko said in the statement. “The science has been indisputably clear for years now — climate change is real and caused by human activity including burning fossil fuels.”

E&C Democrats say the hearing, titled “Time for Action: Addressing the Environmental & Economic Effects of Climate Change,” will be the first to specifically address the topic on the committee since 2013. Republicans largely ignored the issue when they controlled the panel.

This month the committee hired an attorney to deal with climate and air issues. Dustin Maghamfar joins the panel from the Justice Department, where he spent more than eight years in the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Maghamfar, who did not respond to questions last night about his new role, worked in the division’s environmental defense and appellate sections, representing federal agencies in dozens of cases involving the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other laws.

Most recently, he represented the Army Corps of Engineers in litigation over an electric transmission project near historical sites in Virginia. He also defended an Obama-era EPA rule designed to phase out the use of planet-warming hydrofluorocarbons.

A hearing witness list and more information are due in the coming days, but Castor, who sits on Energy and Commerce, said Tonko wants to zero in on “the cost of inaction.”

“Over past decades, the dirty fuel folks have created this narrative that climate is too expensive for us to tackle, that the average working person is going to pay a lot more,” Castor told reporters yesterday. “But see, they’re already paying an enormous amount — air conditioning bills for longer summers, hotter summers, property insurance bills going up, flood insurance, here in the Congress trying to get emergency bills through.”

Castor is expecting to get the Democratic roster for the climate change select committee any day now, but she said she’s already had meetings with Tonko and Pallone to work out a path forward on climate legislation.

“We’re starting to put together that plan: What can we bring to the floor, how we press and work other committees, getting ready for appropriations,” she said. “Things like that.”

Progressive lawmakers have been helping lead the push for strong action on climate this year. Last night, Axios reported that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) would unveil legislation related to the “Green New Deal.”

Reporter Ellen M. Gilmer contributed.