Environment & Energy Report

House Calls for Climate Hearings Met With Busy Signal in Senate

Jan. 31, 2019, 2:24 PM

House Democrats almost seem to be in a competition over who can call for more hearings on climate change, but it is a message that hasn’t gotten very far in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said his panel already touches on climate in infrastructure hearings and in recent confirmation hearings held on Trump administration picks to head the EPA and the Federal Highway Administration.

He and other Republicans also cited a busy agenda, including deals that are needed to avoid the government shutting down again after a short-term spending deal expires Feb. 15 and confirming more Trump judicial and executive branch nominations, such as Attorney General nominee William Barr.

Only one Senate chairman, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), has plans for multiple Senate hearings, saying the Energy and Natural Resources Committee can’t ignore the impact of rising temperatures, melting sea ice, and thawing permafrost that is affecting her state.

Murkowski “intends to hold hearings in the near future on a variety of topics and technologies to help reduce our nation’s emissions and move us toward a cleaner energy future,” committee spokesperson Nicole Daigle said in a Jan. 30 statement.

But over at the Senate environment panel, which under Democratic control repeatedly moved broad climate legislation over Republican objections, most recently in 2010, the chairman doesn’t see the need for a hearing specifically on the climate issue.

“You know, it is brought up in every hearing that we have,” Barrasso told Bloomberg Environment. It was brought up in the nomination for the federal highway administrator on Jan. 29, he said, and during the panel’s Jan. 16 confirmation hearing on Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting chief.

Bipartisan Backing

Barrasso doesn’t see the need “to have a specific hearing on this or that” climate issue, but said he is working in a bipartisan way on climate issues—including backing more incentives for carbon capture with Democrats who see it as a tool to fight global warming such as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

But the environment panel isn’t the only committee keeping hearings climate-free in the Republican-controlled Senate. There is virtually no interest in the Senate Agriculture, Commerce, or Transportation committees, even as Democratic House heads of Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources, Science, Transportation, Oversight, Agriculture, and Foreign Affairs all expect to have hearings in the 116th Congress.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Jan. 30 announced that its Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee will hold what will likely be House Democrats’ first climate hearing Feb. 6, focusing on the environmental and economic impacts of climate change.

Also in the House, even the chairman of the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), is already planning climate hearings in and out of Washington, and Castor doesn’t even have her committee roster yet.

“Yes, we intend to have field hearings to travel to communities that have been severely impacted,” she said, such as “rural areas, agricultural areas, and urban communities that help tell the story and then focus on solutions being developed all across this country.”

Both chambers should be focusing on increasing concerns over the planet’s warming, Castor said, pointing to the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that time is running out for nations that set a global goal to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Other Agendas Cited

House chairmen such as Natural Resources’ Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said they aren’t surprised with the lack of interest in the Senate but vow House hearings will produce climate legislation that will put the onus on the Senate to act.

“It would be nice and it would be a good complement” to have the Senate also focusing on the climate issue, Grijalva said. “But we’re going to do what we need to do here, and in doing so move the pressure and responsibility” to the Senate.

“We can only do what we can do.”

In the Senate, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee only has a slice of the climate issue, including oversight of NOAA, but it hasn’t always been dormant on the issue. In 2012, the Commerce panel, then under Democratic control, moved a bill that President Barack Obama later signed to bar the European Union from extending carbon caps to U.S. airlines.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), now the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, offered compromise language endorsing a “worldwide approach” to curbing the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, which Democrats saw as an important concession endorsing a global solution to a growing source of emissions.

Thune, the Commerce Committee’s former chairman, said whether to hold a climate hearing isn’t exactly a top-tier issue with he and other GOP committee members.

“It’s not, obviously,” he told reporters Jan. 30. “I’d be surprised if there is much support for that,” he said, citing higher priority issues including telecom, internet privacy, transportation, and the U.S. transition to 5G cellular service.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Jean Fogarty at jfogarty@bloombergenvironment.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloombergenvironment.com

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