WASHINGTON – It does not yet have office space, staff or even Republican members, but Florida Rep. Kathy Castor is confident a special House committee on climate change will play a leading role on one of the most daunting challenges facing the planet.
Castor, who chairs the new panel, says those early obstacles can be overcome as lawmakers move to reduce carbon pollution and create clean-energy jobs.
“The Democratic caucus is unified under the belief we have to take bold action on the climate crisis,” Castor said in an interview.
While that can take many forms, the transition to renewable energy such as wind and solar power is “job one,” she said.
Castor, who's in her seventh term, said Congress has a “moral obligation” to protect future generations from the costly effects of climate change, including more severe hurricanes, a longer wildfire season and a dangerous sea-level rise.
The climate panel is similar to one House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created when Democrats last controlled the House from 2007 to 2010. The panel was eliminated when Republicans took the majority in 2011.
While the previous panel played a key role in House approval of a landmark 2009 bill to address global warming, Castor said the new panel is likely to focus on a variety of actions rather than a single piece of legislation.
She and the eight other Democrats named to the panel “are ready to stand up to corporate polluters and special interests” as they press for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move toward a clean-energy economy, Castor said.
The climate panel is separate from an effort by Democrats to launch a Green New Deal to transform the U.S. economy and create thousands of jobs in renewable energy.
Castor dismissed the idea that the Green New Deal – put forth by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and veteran Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts – will conflict with the climate panel.
Pelosi invited Ocasio-Cortez to join the climate panel, but she declined, saying she wants to focus on the Green New Deal and other committee assignments.
Republicans have not named anyone to the climate committee, but six are expected to join this month.
Most invited witnesses will be eager to testify, Castor said, and those who resist – including members of the Trump administration – can be compelled to appear by other committees such as Energy and Commerce or Natural Resources.
While the earlier climate panel focused on establishing the threat posed by climate change, Castor said the time to debate climate science is long past.