‘Green New Deal’ vote overshadows slate of hearings

Source: By Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, February 25, 2019

House lawmakers have scheduled a slate of climate-related hearings, as Republicans set up a full-court press against the “Green New Deal.”

Committees will hold at least six climate hearings, beginning with two tomorrow at 10 a.m. and concluding Thursday with an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hearing on the Paris agreement.

Meanwhile, the Senate could vote on the “Green New Deal” as soon as this week, a move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to put moderates in a tough spot and force Democrats to vote on a measure Republicans will inevitably use to brand them as extreme socialists.

The resolution was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) earlier this month. It has since become the focus of intense GOP attacks.

McConnell’s office has not offered any specific timeline yet for the vote. He’s bringing up his own modified version of the resolution, a parliamentary maneuver that allows for speedier debate (E&E Daily, Feb. 14).

McConnell’s announcement that the Senate would vote on the measure spurred on the messaging firestorm. The two parties have butted heads over climate change on the national stage during the last few weeks in a way they rarely do regarding environmental issues.

Republicans have taken to the Senate floor to make questionable claims about the document, which aims to cut out greenhouse gas emissions through a 10-year economic mobilization, and the Congressional Western Caucus is planning a press conference to attack it later this week.

On the other side, organizers with the Sunrise Movement are planning to protest the majority leader on Capitol Hill today.

A video of the group confronting Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that circulated on Twitter late last week demonstrates just the kind of pressure Democrats are facing regarding the “Green New Deal.”

Asked by young activists to vote “yes” on the resolution, Feinstein suggested it would be a fruitless effort in the Republican Senate.

“That resolution will not pass the Senate, and you can take that back to whoever sent you here,” she said.

Most other Democrats have not signaled how they’ll vote yet, and it’s unclear what their strategy will be headed into the roll call. Even Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on MSNBC he was unsure how he would vote.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) wouldn’t say how he plans to vote, either, but said earlier this month that he was happy to have “young people who care about this planet and want to do something about it.”

“The Green New Deal is not perfect — God knows, nothing I have worked on is perfect — but I welcome their enthusiasm and excitement,” Carper said. “They have a point, and their point is we don’t have forever to get to work and be serious about fixing carbon.”

Regardless of how they vote, it’s clear Democrats will try to point out that Republicans have done nothing to combat climate change while they’ve controlled the Senate.

“Since Republicans took control of this chamber in 2015, they have not brought a single Republican bill to meaningfully reduce carbon emissions to the floor of the Senate,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor ahead of last week’s recess. “Not one bill.”

Schumer said the vote amounts to “a game of political gotcha” out of President Trump’s playbook.

“Well, the American people are not laughing. They weren’t laughing when a U.S. senator brought a snowball to the floor of this chamber to mock climate science,” Schumer said, referring to Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe’s famous 2015 stunt. “They weren’t laughing when President Trump called climate change a ‘hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.'”

Hearings on tap

Perhaps the highest-profile House hearing will come tomorrow morning, with an oversight hearing on climate research in the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, and Neil Jacobs, assistant secretary of Commerce for environmental observation and prediction, a top job at NOAA, are both expected to testify.

It will mark the first Democratic oversight hearing on the Trump administration’s climate policies, though lawmakers have already held a number of hearings aimed at shaping future climate legislation.

Freilich isn’t likely to be controversial, but Jacobs before coming to NOAA — which oversees the National Weather Service — was a longtime proponent of privatizing weather data (Climatewire, Oct. 3, 2017).

Jacobs was formerly chief atmospheric scientist for Panasonic Avionics Corp., which he once told House lawmakers could more accurately predict the weather than NOAA.

Also tomorrow morning, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing on “Examining How Federal Infrastructure Policy Could Help Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change.”

Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is hoping to move quickly on an infrastructure bill, a high priority for Democratic leadership. Lawmakers see that as one of the first legislative opportunities to address climate change in a divided Congress, and the hearing will be the first step.

Then, on Wednesday, the Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment will hear from another round of climate scientists in a hearing dubbed “Sea Change: Impacts of Climate Change on Our Oceans and Coasts.”

It will mark the first hearing for that panel under the chairmanship of freshman Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas).

The Natural Resources Committee, meanwhile, will address climate in two hearings tomorrow. The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will examine “the denial playbook,” a hearing that will feature testimony from former National Football League player Chris Borland.

The idea is to link climate science denial to the tactics used by the NFL to tamp down concerns about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurological condition that has been linked to repetitive blows to the head.

The other Natural Resources meeting, in the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee, will highlight the pressures on Western water supplies.

Finally, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change will round out the week with a hearing on the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

The agreement is an easy unifier for Democrats in the sometimes fractured world of climate policy. One of the first climate votes on the House floor could be a resolution offered by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and others that would reaffirm support for the Paris accord (E&E News PM, Feb. 8).

“The Trump Administration’s reckless decision to pull out of the Paris agreement has been a disaster for U.S. global leadership,” Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement with full committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

“As the Trump Administration sits on the sidelines, other countries are stepping up to fill the leadership vacuum.”