While the national media focuses on U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-San Francisco) dismissive comments towards the Green New Deal resolution put forward by freshman U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC, D-New York) and Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), Pelosi’s nominations to the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis tell a different story.
Yesterday Pelosi named the eight additional members who will join chair Kathy Castor (D-Tampa, Florida) on the committee, and among them are three of the 43 U.S. Representatives who signed on in support of a resolution to establish a committee for a Green New Deal.
As such, Green New Deal supporters will not make up a majority of the committee, but will be well represented; only 18% of Congressional Democrats signed the resolution, but Green New Deal supporters make up 1/3 of the Select Committee.
New committee members Jared Huffman (D-California), Mike Levin (D-California) and Joe Neguse (D-Colorado) were not the first representatives to sign onto the Green New Deal resolution, organized by the Sunrise Movement. In naming Select Committee members, Pelosi passed over not only AOC but the other Our Revolution- and Democratic Socialists of America-backed incoming members of Congress including Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), who were some of the first to join the call.
However, the three were not exactly late-comers either, with all among the first 20 representatives to sign on. Mike Levin, who defeated long-time U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R) to take a seat in conservative Orange County, is an attorney focused on energy and environmental issues, a former board member of the Center for Sustainable Energy and has been particularly outspoken on climate issues.
Energy Twitter gets a seat
In addition to these three, Pelosi named freshman U.S. Representative, scientist and clean energy entrepreneur Sean Casten (D-Illinois) to the committee. Casten may the the first member of Congress who has been an active participant in energy discussions on Twitter, dubbed “Energy Twitter”, and took to the social media platform to celebrate his joining the committee.
Having spent the last 20 years profitably reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I'm proud to have been named to the Select Committee on Climate Change and look forward to working with my colleagues to address THE existential challenge to our species. https://t.co/8s6OW6jKUF
— Sean Casten (@SeanCasten) February 7, 2019
Besides these four, the other five members of the committee can be seen in light of Congressional norms where seniority is often prized above passion. But this does not mean that they do not bring relevant experience, and all have substantial environment and/or energy experience. This includes U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján, who in addition to ten years in Congress and being named assistant U.S. Speaker to Pelosi, was chair of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.
As pv magazine has previously noted, the members of the committee may be less important than other factors, which are likely to prevent any ambitious moves on climate and energy at the federal level. Notably, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis does not appear to have the power to draft legislation, and also may not be able to issue subpoenas. As such, it may be more of a paper tiger.
But this is only the first barrier to getting anything done at the federal level. Not only is the U.S. Senate controlled by politicians from the Republican Party, many of whom participate in active denial that man-made climate change is even a problem, but even if the Democratic Party wins a majority in the Senate in 2020, the party has put Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) as its top member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and he is likely to ensure that no serious action on climate ever sees the light of day.
As such, as we have said many times before, there is no reason to expect any ambitious climate and energy legislation – let alone something as radical as the Green New Deal – to become law even if Democrats take the presidency and/or the U.S. Senate in 2020.
But what Pelosi’s appointments to the Committee on the Climate Crisis show is that the Democratic Party is slowly incorporating demands for more aggressive action on energy and climate into its workings, and this could mean changes in the future. It remains to be seen if that future comes too late.