Democrats up their climate offensive

Source: Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2019

Democrats spent the morning signaling their climate virtues to the environmental community, as Capitol Hill cools down after yesterday’s Green New Deal vote in the Senate.

On the House side, a gaggle of committee chairs and establishment members gathered with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to announce H.R. 9, leadership’s first big climate bill.

The measure, dubbed the “Climate Action Now Act,” would effectively prevent President Trump from pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and require the administration to come up with a plan to meet emissions targets within 120 days.

It’s not the kind of sweeping climate proposal progressive activists have been pushing for, and it has little chance of getting a Senate vote. But Democrats said it would be an easy first step and a signal to the administration that Congress does not approve of its climate policies.

“We are going to do whatever we can to say to the president, ‘Look, you say you’re going to withdraw from Paris. What is your plan? How are we going to address these climate issues?'” Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) told reporters.

The Green New Deal was not mentioned at the Democratic news conference, despite the attention it has gotten from the GOP and progressives in recent weeks.

But the rhetoric sometimes mirrored that of Green New Deal supporters, who have attempted to frame the climate debate in terms of a broader economic and social transformation.

“This is about jobs,” Pelosi said. “It’s about good-paying green jobs.”

The news conference mostly consisted of Democrats thanking each other for their leadership and using phrases such as “existential threat,” “climate crisis” and “bold action.” They left without taking questions, though a few members stuck around afterward.

They plan to move quickly on the bill, just as they have with their other major messaging bills. A leadership aide indicated it would be marked up in the Energy and Commerce Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee and brought to the House floor during the last week of April.

Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) added that he’s planning to hold a hearing next week on the effects of climate change on national security.

And Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the lead sponsor on the bill, will hold an organizational meeting for her panel tomorrow morning.

H.R. 9 immediately drew praise from major environmental groups, many of which spent millions of dollars in the 2018 midterms in hopes Democrats would move on climate change.

“Voters elected a new House majority in 2018 that promised to hold this administration accountable, and the Climate Action Now Act is an important first step against one of the most irresponsible and dangerous decisions made by President Trump — the decisions to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement.

The leadership-backed measure is the most-hyped of several Democratic climate bills that have been floated this week.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) are planning to announce the reintroduction of the “Healthy Climate and Family Security Act,” their cap-and-dividend bill, tomorrow morning.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) also introduced a measure, S. 868, aimed at addressing the disproportionate impact that climate change has on women. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced a companion, H.R. 1880, on the House side.

And on the other side of the aisle, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) took aim at common GOP targets with H.R. 1881, which would prohibit U.S. funding for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and Green Climate Fund.

‘A nice platform’

On the Senate side, Democrats gathered to announce a Special Committee on Climate Change, made up entirely of Democrats and led by Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz.

During floor debate on the Green New Deal, Democrats attempted to get Republicans to agree to a bipartisan select committee, similar to the one in the House.

The GOP rejected that offer, but Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) this morning thanked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for forcing a vote on the Green New Deal.

“We Democrats were always going to talk about and demand action on climate change, but he has created this nice platform, and already we’re off to a great start,” Schumer told reporters at a news conference. “Leader McConnell’s cynical stunt backfired.”

The Green New Deal has sparked an unusually large fervor around the issue since Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced it earlier this year.

But Schumer dodged a question about whether he supports the resolution, and Democrats said they want to keep their eyes on the process.

Schatz said the details are still being worked out, but the Democratic committee plans to hold hearings, whether they’re at the Capitol or in the field.

The other members of the committee are Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Tina Smith of Minnesota and Markey.

The idea is to force the Senate GOP’s hand on appropriations, infrastructure and other bipartisan measures that need 60 votes to clear the Senate.

“On those issues, they need 60 — they need our votes,” Schumer said. “We’ve thought about this carefully. And we have certain leverage points.”