Legislative authority. And the ability to issue subpoenas.
Those are the two most critical issues that hang over the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) announced today. While the move is a revival of a committee with the words “climate” in its title for the first time since the Democrats lost the U.S. House in 2010, it is unclear whether or not this committee will be anything more than an empty gesture to climate activists and the more than 40 members of Congress who called for a committee for a Green New Deal.
That is because select committees – unlike standing committees – traditionally have not had the ability to review and approve legislation. Additionally, while some select committees – such as the earlier House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming – have the ability to issue subpoenas for its investigations, it is not clear that this new committee will have the power to compel individuals to testify at its hearings.
There was no mention of either issue in Representative Pelosi’s statement.
If Pelosi has just created a gutless committee to deal with the most serious threat facing our civilization, that move should not be a surprise to anyone who has watched the leadership of the Democratic Party at the federal level.
Specifically, the creation of this committee comes after the far more consequential appointment of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) to head the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As we stated in an op-ed earlier this month, this move which could provide an effective barrier to any serious moves to expand support for renewable energy at the federal level for the foreseeable future.
Castor as leader
The choice of U.S. Representative Kath Castor (D-Tampa) to chair this committee can also be seen as an indication of a limited degree of commitment that is coming from Democratic Party leadership.
While Castor has sponsored substantial legislation on energy efficiency and other energy issues, she did not join the call for the creation of a committee for a Green New Deal as more than 40 of her fellow Democrats who are members of Congress did, and initially balked before agreeing to a pledge not to take fossil fuel donations.
This pledge was expressed as a litmus test by the Sunrise Movement, but what may be far more important is just how much Castor is willing to commit to pushing the power of her committee.