One of the first orders of business for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was to reinstate the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. This committee previously existed from 2007-2011 as the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming but was not renewed by Republicans when they gained control of the House in the 112th Congress. The new Select Committee will be chaired by Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL).
The Rules of the House for the 116th Congress provide for the establishment of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to be composed of 15 members appointed by the Speaker, six of whom shall be recommended by Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Congresswoman Castor is the only Democrat to have been named to the Select Committee. No Republicans have been named yet.
The House Rules mandate that the Select Committee shall have no legislative jurisdiction or authority to write or take any legislative action and shall have no subpoena power to compel witnesses to testify. Accordingly, the sole authority of the Select Committee shall be to investigate, make findings, develop policy recommendations, and hold public hearings “to achieve substantial and permanent reductions in pollution and other activities that contribute to the climate crisis.”
Speaker Pelosi announced that the Select Committee’s purpose will be to aid Congress’s mission to respond to “the existential threat of the climate crisis.” Chairwoman Castor has stated that the Select Committee will be more action-oriented than investigative, focusing on policy recommendations to House committees, additional action by state and local governments, and potential bipartisan initiatives, such as fuel economy standards.
While some found the establishment of the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to be a positive step toward addressing environmental issues in the new Congress, others have since denounced the committee as falling short. High-profile freshman lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), for example, advocated for a more robust select committee structured as a panel tasked specifically with drafting legislation to address climate change based on the concept of a “Green New Deal.” While we now know that the Speaker declined to grant the Select Committee any legislative authority, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez continues to tout the Green New Deal as a top priority, thrusting the proposition into the national spotlight.
So, what exactly is the “Green New Deal,” anyway? The name invokes “the New Deal” programs and policies enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression. Some credit New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman with coining the term “Green New Deal” in 2007. Others credit its origins to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009, which directed billions of dollars towards initiatives related to renewable energy.
But now, the Green New Deal generally references the concept as popularized by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Her draft framework describes the Green New Deal as a “national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” for climate legislation to promote “economic and environmental justice and equality.” One of the central tenets in the Deal mandates that the United States economy be carbon-neutral and transitioned to 100% renewable energy within 10 years of passing legislation. Other environmental initiatives contained in her framework include building a national, energy-efficient smart grid, upgrading every residential and industrial building to state-of-the-art energy efficiency, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez views the Green New Deal not only as a vehicle to address climate change, but also as “a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty” in the US and to “make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone.” To that end, her framework includes provisions to provide a job guarantee program to ensure a living wage job to every person who wants one, as well as basic income and universal health care programs.
While the Green New Deal continues to gain some traction with Democratic Members of Congress, Democratic presidential candidates, Democratic governors, and outside organizations, Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have already voiced concern over the proposal. The Senate Republican Policy Committee issued a policy paper asserting that the Deal’s goal of carbon neutrality and 100% renewable power within 10 years is both impossible to implement and impossibly expensive, costing $7 trillion. Because implementation of the Green New Deal is outside of the new Select Committee on Climate Change’s purview, it will be incumbent upon other House committees of jurisdiction to choose whether to take up the debate.