Congress has held at least 15 climate hearings since Democrats won the House

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Friday, March 8, 2019


Now House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.). (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

There’s been one on climate change and infrastructure. Another on climate change and publicly owned lands. And there have been two on climate change and oceans.

Now that they have control of the House, Democrats have used their newfound power to pack the calendar in Congress with hearings on what they see as the biggest environmental crisis facing the nation and the world.

In the first 64 days of the new Congress, various congressional committees have scheduled at least 15 hearings explicitly on the causes and effects of — and potential response to — the world’s warming climate.

Democrats want to elevate an issue that they say House Republicans almost entirely ignored during their eight years in power in the chamber.

“Today’s hearing on climate change is long overdue,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said during his panel’s first hearing in the new Congress in early February. “We are feeling its effects now, and the influence of unchecked climate change is becoming more obvious every year.”

Democrats sought to cast February as the month in which they would put a focus on climate, though the hearings are stretching into March. Most of the time, the meetings were not convened to discuss any particular piece of legislation. They also didn’t tackle the nonbinding Green New Deal resolution that has captured the attention of Washington.

They served instead as an opportunity for members to gather testimony from climate experts — and to stump about the urgency needed to address global warming.

One hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee sought to examine how climate-fueled floods and wildfires are disrupting Native American communities. Another in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee looked at how emissions from cars, airplanes and other modes of transportation makes global warming worse.

Showing how deep into the weeds Democrats want to dive, the most recent of those 15 hearings, in the Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, will focus on rules that would increase the energy efficiency of lightbulbs and other devices.

And Democrats are far from done. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reinstituted a special select committee on climate that was disbanded by Republicans when they were in the majority. It has yet to meet, but that panel, chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), will collect facts about climate change from scientists and experts rather than focus on crafting legislation.

“We’re facing the crisis of our generation,” Castor said at one of the other several climate hearings on the Hill in February. “We feel like we’re in the bullseye in Florida.”

Even one Republican chairwoman on the side of the Capitol still controlled by the GOP — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — has joined in the hearing frenzy, convening one this week on advancing new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector.

Like much of the rest of the Arctic, her state has warmed twice as fast as the Lower 48 states, a fact she noted during her opening remarks.

“This has got to be a priority for all of us,” Murkowski said. “Certainly in Alaska we view that there is no choice here.”

During their eight years in power in the House, Republicans largely declined to shine a spotlight on climate change.

When they did, it was often to criticize the climate scientists themselves — as former House Science Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) did when he probed a group of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers.

But some top GOP lawmakers are singing a different tune in response to the new political reality in Washington, calling for action on climate change — as long as it is bipartisan.

At times, Republicans’ remarks even got personal.

Rep. Greg Walden, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce panel, held up a jar of ash during one hearing to illustrate the devastation of wildfires in his eastern Oregon district. And the new top Republican of the science panel, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), cited his experience as a farmer during another hearing as he called for more investment in carbon capture and nuclear energy technologies.

“Drought, heat waves come and go naturally,” he said, “but the changing climate has intensified their impacts.”

But other Republicans are pushing back on the volume of climate hearings Democrats are holding.

Republicans on the House Natural Resouces Committee, led by Rob Bishop of Utah, said Democrats were failing to address issues within the committee’s jurisdiction after holding seven climate-related hearings. During one panel, Bishop jokingly thanked Democrats for picking “the shortest month” to hold the hearings. During another on climate change denial, GOP members even used a procedural tactic to end the meeting only minutes after it began after too few Democrats showed up for its start.

“Many of the Majority witnesses has proposed that the United states undertake a radical transformation to combat climate change, with seemingly no regard to the impact on the economy, jobs, or energy prices,” Bishop wrote to Natural Resouces Chairman Raúl Grijalva this week in a letter on the jurisdictional issue.

In response, Grijalva wrote that the agencies and departments the committee helps oversee determine the federal government’s response to climate change.

“That was clearly your belief as Chairman,” he said. “It is not mine.”