How new chairmen will shape energy and environment policy

Source: George Cahlink, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2019

The last time Democrats were in charge of the House, the first iPad had just been released and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was fresh on everyone’s minds.

Since then, there has been significant turnover, not the least of which was the 40-seat blue wave that propelled Democrats into the majority this Congress.

New chairmen and chairwomen are taking the gavels controlling the legislative and oversight agendas for the next two years, at least.

Here’s a look at how these men and women could use their newfound clout to affect energy and environmental issues:

Administration: Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)

Lofgren will hold the unofficial title of “mayor of Capitol Hill” as head of a low-profile committee that oversees the day-to-day operations of the Capitol complex.

When Democrats last controlled Congress, they used the panel to promote a greening initiative that eliminated Styrofoam from House cafeterias and promoted energy-efficient technologies in House buildings.

Lofgren, 71, is a liberal who has focused on immigration and technology issues over her 13 terms representing San Jose.

Agriculture: Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)

Peterson is a conservative Democrat who is not popular with greens because of his willingness to side with farming interests over the environment.

Peterson has by far the lowest League of Conservation Voters lifetime score of any incoming chairman at 32 percent. He opposed the 2009 cap-and-trade deal in the House, saying it gave EPA too much clout over farmers.

He could use his chairmanship to warn against climate actions that would increase regulation of the agricultural community. Peterson, a co-chair of the Biofuels Caucus, is a strong backer of the renewable fuel standard.

While Peterson’s positions often put him at odds with his party, they ensured the 74-year-old lawmaker won a 15th term in a rural district that candidate Donald Trump carried by more than 60 percent in 2016.

Armed Services: Adam Smith (D-Wash.)

Smith calls climate change one of the “gravest” national security threats. He will likely use his post to push for Defense Department action on it.

As Armed Services Committee ranking member, Smith supported provisions calling for the military to establish climate resilience plans. He also favors protecting critical habitat and species on military training bases.

Smith is likely to clash with Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has dismissed the Pentagon’s efforts on climate change and warns that species protections can harm military readiness.

A member of the centrist New Democratic Coalition, Smith, 53, was recently elected to his 12th term in a district that covers Seattle and a portion of its suburbs.

Appropriations: Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)

Lowey will lead the Democrats’ pushback on Trump administration attempts to cut EPA and federal renewable research spending as the leader of the panel that controls the federal purse strings.

She has decried cuts in environmental spending as undermining clean and safe drinking water programs. A liberal who regularly sides with greens, she’s been critical of GOP cuts to international efforts aimed at fighting global warming.

In her 16th term representing a wealthy New York City suburb that’s home to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Lowey, 81, has joined with moderate Republicans to preserve spending on conservation programs and investments in Energy Department renewable research.

A protege of the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D), she’s the first woman to lead the Appropriations Committee.

Budget: John Yarmuth (D-Ky.)

Yarmuth will be the party’s leading voice on fiscal issues where he’s likely to tout the economic benefits of Democratic priorities such as addressing climate change and infrastructure spending.

A co-chairman of the Bourbon Caucus, Yarmuth has noted the impact warmer summers and less rainfall are having on one of his state’s leading exports.

Also a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Yarmuth has bucked his state’s coal interests by opposing mountaintop coal mining.

In his seventh term representing Louisville, Yarmuth, 71, is the only Democratic House member from the Bluegrass State.

Education and Labor: Bobby Scott (D-Va.)

Scott is likely to press for job-training programs and worker protections. He’s long seen federal spending on infrastructure as a way to create jobs.

He has sponsored legislation extending whistleblower protections to offshore oil and gas company employees, a response to the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling spill. He also has backed efforts to ensure miners’ pensions are preserved even if their employers go out of business.

He’s shown interest too in coastal resilience programs given the low-lying nature of his Hampton Roads, Va., district. Scott, 71, is entering his 13th term.

Energy and Commerce: Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)

Pallone will shape any energy and environmental legislation that emerges in the new Congress and lead increased oversight of the Energy Department and EPA.

While skeptical of the creation of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Pallone’s first hearing as chairman will focus on how to fight global warming.

Hailing from a state riddled with environmental cleanup sites, Pallone is expected to be champion of the EPA Superfund program and to back expanded environmental protections. On energy,

Pallone, whose district includes a chunk of coastline, will oppose any offshore drilling. He favors expanded renewable production and tax credits.

Pallone, 67, is entering his 15th term representing northern New Jersey and his first as chairman after four years as ranking member.

Ethics: Ted Deutch (D-Fla.)

Deutch, a leading voice for action on climate change, will have the delicate task of helming the committee that polices lawmakers and their staffs.

Liberal groups that have raised concerns about the outsize impact of campaign contributions from energy interests on Republicans could find a sympathetic ear with the new chairman who oversees campaign finance matters.

Deutch, 53, is in his 10th term representing a portion of the southeastern Florida coast.

Financial Services: Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)

A leading liberal voice, Waters could use her perch to push Securities and Exchange Commission regulations that would require publicly traded companies to disclose economic risks tied to climate change.

She’s also expected to press for a permanent renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program with a focus on making it more affordable for middle- and lower-income property owners.

Set to enter her 16th term representing some of the poorest parts of Los Angeles, Waters, 80, has been a fierce critic of President Trump.

She told the president recently to “shut his mouth” after he criticized the state’s wildfire management.

Foreign Affairs: Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)

Engel is expected to highlight concerns regarding the Trump administration’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

An internationalist, Engel believes withdrawing is an abdication of U.S. leadership and describes climate change as a “global crisis.” A co-chairman of the Oil and National Security Caucus, he’s argued for years that the nation’s security is closely tied to reducing its dependence on overseas oil.

The New York Democrat also holds the No. 4 slot on the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he’s pushed for automobiles that run on energy sources other than gasoline to reduce overseas oil dependence.

Engel, 71, is entering his 16th term representing northern New York City and some of its wealthy suburbs.

Homeland Security: Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)

Thompson will continue his calls to have the federal government account for climate change as part of its disaster planning.

He held a series of hearings as the panel’s ranking member on public health preparedness in the wake of devastating hurricanes that have hit Puerto Rico and Texas during the past two years.

Thompson is already moving aggressively in seeking the reauthorization of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, a decade-old effort designed to prevent terrorist attacks on chemical plants. He is also likely to continue bipartisan work on power grid cybersecurity.

Thompson, 70, is entering his 13th term representing the Mississippi River Delta.

Intelligence: Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

Schiff will devote much of his energy to the ongoing investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 election, but as chief overseer of the U.S. intelligence community, he could press spy agencies to consider the impacts of climate change in their national security assessments.

He has said there is “no issue more critical to the future of our world and community than protecting the environment and ensuring that we are investing in clean and renewable energy.”

An ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Schiff is seen by some as a future speaker and has also expressed interest in running for the Senate. Schiff, 58, is in his 10th term representing parts of Los Angeles and Hollywood.

Judiciary: Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)

A combative liberal, Nadler will push aggressive Democratic oversight of the Trump administration. His panel would handle the drafting of any articles of impeachment against Trump.

Nadler has been a critic of the administration’s rules-cutting panels for lacking transparency and has raised pointed questions about the legal defense fund created by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

He has been a leading Democratic opponent of Judiciary efforts to streamline environmental permitting, an issue likely to be sidelined under his chairmanship. Nadler, 71, enters his 14th term representing parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Natural Resources: Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

Grijalva, a longtime progressive activist before coming to Congress, will lead the Democratic pushback against Trump administration land policies.

He’ll be a critic of GOP efforts to shrink national monuments, limit the Endangered Species Act, and expand offshore drilling and energy production on federal lands.

Grijalva could find common ground with Republicans on reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund and addressing the maintenance backlog at national parks. He has clashed with former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and has not ruled out investigating his various ethics flaps even though he has left the administration.

A backer of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, Grijalva, 69, is in his ninth term representing southwestern Arizona.

Oversight and Reform: Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)

A respected voice on both sides of the aisle, Cummings will lead oversight and investigations of Trump and federal agencies.

Cummings has said to expect aggressive oversight but has added he is not at war with the White House and won’t issue subpoenas indiscriminately.

Already, Cummings has sent out 51 requests to agencies for more information on topics, including on Pruitt’s ethics woes at EPA and the Flint, Mich., drinking water crisis.

He backed changing the name of the committee to Oversight and Reform, dropping government from the title to reflect that the panel also oversees the private sector.

Cummings, 67, is entering his 11th term, representing parts of Baltimore and some nearby suburbs, after overcoming some recent medical problems.

Rules: Jim McGovern (D-Mass.)

McGovern serves as an arm of the party leadership and as the head of a committee that decides what legislation and amendments make it to the floor.

A liberal who backs the progressives’ ambitious “New Green Deal,” McGovern has called for avoiding a divide over climate among Democrats by seeking broad input from both traditional committees and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

He’s seen as a serious lawmaker who has been aggressive in fighting the House GOP agenda as the panel’s ranking member during the past year.

McGovern, 59, represents central and western Massachusetts and is entering his 12th term.

Science, Space and Technology: Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas)

Johnson will lead Democratic efforts to raise questions about the Trump administration’s handling of science at EPA, NASA and other agencies.

She says her top three priorities will be making sure science is respected and recognized, keeping the U.S. a leader in global innovation, and addressing climate change.

She is expected to be less overtly partisan than her GOP predecessor, retired Texas Rep. Lamar Smith who repeatedly raised doubts about federal scientific research. She will likely promote Energy Department laboratories.

She also has long sought more opportunities for women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

The first registered nurse in Congress, Johnson, 73, is in her 14th term representing parts of Dallas and its suburbs.

Small Business: Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.)

Velazquez will use her post to help promote small business and entrepreneurs that develop clean and alternative energy as part of a broader “green revolution,” according to her website.

Velazquez has expressed outrage at Trump over his criticism of Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts and for threatening to pull businesses from the island.

A liberal with a pro-business streak, she has backed efforts to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Velazquez, 65, is the first female Puerto Rican in the House and is in her 14th term representing several Hispanic neighborhoods in New York City.

Transportation and Infrastructure: Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)

DeFazio, long a leading Democratic voice on transportation matters, hopes to write broad, bipartisan infrastructure legislation. He believes the new House must act within the first six months on any infrastructure deal, otherwise it will become mired in 2020 presidential politics.

While an advocate for building and upgrading bridges and roadways, DeFazio also sees the legislation as a way to help reduce carbon emissions and has said he would be open to ideas from the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

As for paying for infrastructure, DeFazio see increased gasoline taxes as one way to cover the potentially multibillion-dollar price tag.

DeFazio, 71, is in his 16th term representing a part of the Oregon coastline stretching to the Cascade Mountains.

Ways and Means: Richard Neal (D-Mass.)

Neal could use the tax-writing panel to help pay for Democratic priorities, including an infrastructure plan and perhaps climate action. A moderate with a reputation for dealmaking, he has expressed interest in a broad infrastructure plan but notes there is no consensus on how to pay for it.

He has not endorsed a carbon tax, an approach some Democrats favor to fight global warming, but has said he’d be open to hearings on it. Neal does back renewable tax credits and is expected to push to extend them.

He is sometimes a skeptic of free trade, and his panel will also review the proposed rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade accords. Neal, 69, is in his 16th term representing western Massachusetts.

Veterans Affairs: Mark Takano (D-Calif.)

Takano could use his post to promote green and infrastructure jobs for veterans. He has spoken of the need for more job training and work opportunities for veterans, openings that could come in an infrastructure bill or a “Green New Deal.”

Takano considers himself an environmentalist and has backed efforts in recent years for more federal research into renewables, including battery storage.

He also sits on the House Science panel, where he has argued for an arts component to STEM education programs. Takano, 58, is in his fourth term representing a swath of Southern California’s Inland Empire.

Select Committee on the Climate Crisis: Kathy Castor (D-Fla.)

Castor is expected to aggressively push for action on climate change as head of the newly created panel.

She has stopped short of endorsing the “New Green Deal” favored by progressives but has said Congress has a “moral obligation” to act on global warming.

More pragmatic than progressive, Castor has argued for the economic benefits of environmental legislation, especially as it affects the tourism industry in Florida.

Also a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Castor believes energy companies have had too much sway in shaping the administration’s environmental policies.

Castor, 53, is in her seventh term representing most of Tampa.