Democratic and Republican climate hawks jostle for attention ahead of recess

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Climate hawks in both parties are angling ahead of Congress’ six-week August recess to demonstrate momentum, even if there is little to show.

The Democratic leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday afternoon are hosting a press conference to introduce a “bold new plan that will guide the Committee’s approach to tackling the climate crisis.”

Environmental groups and other climate-watchers seemed surprised by the press conference’s timing, and unsure of its direction, but said it shows members appreciate the importance of climate change.

“Climate change is a front of mind issue for a lot of Americans between the flooding and extreme heat we have seen recently,” Josh Freed, who leads the clean energy program at the center-left Third Way, told me in an interview.

Looking for clues: Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Representatives Paul Tonko of New York, chairman of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, and Bobby Rush of Illinois, chairman of the Energy Subcommittee, are announcing the new plan.

Tonko, a relative centrist, has not endorsed the progressive Green New Deal, and has released his own “doable” framework to address climate change that contains short-term goals that Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans also support, such as streamlining permitting for building energy infrastructure, investing in EV charging infrastructure, boosting energy efficiency, and R&D spending on clean energy technologies.

Tonko’s staff has previously told me the framework was intended as a starting point for discussion, and would conclude with a formal plan — but not before the Energy and Commerce Committee hosted hearings on some of his proposals, such as carbon pricing.

The committee, however, is only having its first such hearing on Wednesday, with the focus being on “pathways to decarbonize the economy.”

On the other side: Republican groups that support major policies to address climate change are planning their own blitz of activity this week to ensure members fulfill their pledge to take the issue seriously, and prove it with action.

I reported yesterday about the conservative Alliance for Market Solutions hosting a briefing Tuesday afternoon with congressional staff to make the fiscal case for a carbon tax. Separately, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) and the American Conservation Coalition travel to Capitol Hill Wednesday and Thursday for their annual fly-in to meet with Republican offices to push for climate action.

The groups are coming armed with new polling data finding over two-thirds of millennial Republican voters want the party to do more to combat climate change.

About 50 Republican college students are joining the fly-in, with plans to meet with Senators including Joni Ernst of Iowa, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as well as House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Garret Graves of Louisiana, and Greg Walden of Oregon.

“Republicans are light years beyond where they have been before on climate change, but I don’t know if we are seeing all members take advantage of the opportunity,” Heather Reams, executive director of CRES, told me in an interview. “We are bringing a message of, engage if you haven’t already. If you are already engaging, we want to have your back and encouraging you to reach out to members who may be more forward leaning.”

What is this activity really about? With both parties amplifying their climate message going into recess, I’ll be interested to see whether Energy and Commerce Democrats focus their plan on areas of cooperation, or if the goal is to amplify messaging ahead of the 2020 election.

Energy and Commerce Committee Republican leaders Walden, John Shimkus of Illinois andFred Upton of Michigan, were kept out of the loop on details of the Democratic plan being announced Tuesday, GOP sources tell me.

“Ahead of recess, you can imagine Democratic leadership wanting members to come with something in hand to show their base when they return to their districts,” Reams said. “Not a lot has happened on climate. That this is just Democrats announcing a plan is concerning.”

Freed, however, said the onus is on Republicans to show they are serious.

“There are things happening whether it’s support for specific innovation measures, or the continuation of clean energy tax credits,” Freed said. “What we need to see is a broader commitment from Republicans to act on climate and to press their leadership.”