With Democrats taking control of the House in January, what is the outlook for progress on climate change?
"Being realistic, it may be tough for legislation to be approved by this administration, but there are many acts to building a legislative agenda,” said Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), who is likely to become chairman of the Environment Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“We'll be looking into an agenda that would advance efficiency, grid modernization, and maybe rolling it into a larger infrastructure bill that addresses both improving resilience for adaptation and investing in our infrastructure with issues like [electric vehicle] charging deployment," he told POLITICO.
We can expect the full Energy and Commerce Committee to tackle this central challenge, too. Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) is probably going to serve as chairman and said, if so, he'll examine the impacts of climate change on communities and the economy.
Come January, the House Science Committee no longer will be run by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who publicly questioned the integrity of federal climate scientists and routinely questioned whether humans are contributing to climate change. He often spoke of what he considered the benefits of carbon dioxide emissions. Smith’s likely successor is a rather different Texan, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who released a statement promising to restore “the credibility of the Science Committee as a place where science is respected and recognized as a crucial input to good policymaking.”
On top of those switches, there are expectations that the Select Committee on Global Warming, which the Republicans abolished when they took control of the House in January 2011, will be brought back to life. That panel was not authorized to advance its own bills, but it used dozens of hearings to evaluate advancements in renewable power and the consequences of climate change.
In addition, there will be more oversight of EPA, Interior, and other government agencies, making it more difficult for the Trump administration to undo regulations that were put in place to fight climate change.
The GOP casualties of the midterm election included at least 14 members of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus. Eight others are retiring, so the 43-Republican roster has been cut in half. The most notable loss was Caucus Co-chairman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL).
Executive Director Mark Reynolds of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, which helped create and promote the caucus, issued a post-election statement insisting that "reports of the death of the Climate Solutions Caucus are greatly exaggerated… We’re confident other Republicans will step up to lead, and the existing and potential members are invested in continuing bipartisan work on climate.”
Florida Congressman Francis Rooney, a caucus member who was reelected, said, "I definitely want to see it continue. The ...caucus has brought some Republicans into the discussion of sea-level rise and climate change. It's healthy to have more people involved in that discussion."
Rooney told The Washington Post that he believes there would be bipartisan support for adaptation to sea-level rise. "There may be debate about long-term climate cycles and manmade CO2 and all that," he said. "But I don't know how you get around the fact that they've measured the change in the level of the seas."
Though the caucus has been criticized for failure to score any significant legislative points and has been mocked by some as primarily a “greenwashing” vehicle, its existence is crucial for depoliticizing the climate issue, according to Bob Inglis. The former Republican congressman from South Carolina now runs republicEn, a group seeking free-market solutions to climate change. "The thing to keep in mind is in order for climate action to be durable it has to be bipartisan," Inglis said in a Post interview.
Last summer Curbelo introduced a carbon tax bill, which was cosponsored by Rooney and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), a caucus member who barely survived a Democratic challenge last week. Rooney wants to reintroduce a version of that bill. "I'd like to see a way to roll it out with a little more fanfare and a little more media support," he told a Washington Post reporter.