Democrats Put GOP in Hot Seat With a Month of Climate Hearings

(Bloomberg) -- Democrats kicked off a month of congressional hearings on global warming, a focus meant to put Republicans on the defensive and showcase the need for action amid devastating storms, raging wildfires and intense heat waves.

The hearings -- at least nine are planned -- come as Democrats use their new majority in the House of Representatives to highlight climate change. They are betting voters will side with them on the issue rather than President Donald Trump and others who have dismissed it as a hoax.

The House Natural Resources Committee led off Wednesday with a hearing on the need to act on climate change. At the same time, a House Energy and Commerce panel was holding its first hearing in six years focused on the environmental and economic effects of global warming. House Democrats have even revived a special committee to focus exclusively on the issue.

“Communities across the country have been feeling severe climate impacts for years and hoping for relief from Congress,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona. “Republicans and their industry allies told them it was all in their heads.”

Looming over the proceedings is a plan by Democrats to release as early as this week a “Green New Deal” resolution calling for drawing 100 percent of U.S. power from “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources.” The effort is being led by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive newcomer who has marshaled her political celebrity into momentum for the initiative.

“These hearings mark a sea change in the House of Representatives, as the years of denial and inaction by House Republicans have been replaced by momentum toward real climate solutions,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in an email.

The focus has left Republicans staking out new positions on the issue as former tropes, such as casting doubt on the role of humans in global warming, have drawn skepticism.

Republicans took pains Wednesday to stress their concern about climate change -- a marked shift from the tenor of recent contentious hearings when gavel-wielding GOP lawmakers convened hearings to question the underlying science.

Economic Growth

“Climate change is real. The need to protect the environment is real,’’ said Representative Greg Walden, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Republican, during the hearing. “The need to foster a strong U.S. economy and grow American jobs is also real.’’

Republicans also focused on the immediate, direct health consequences of conventional air pollution -- in contrast to the mounting, longer-term climate threats from carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. For instance, Walden questioned a witness about the health hazards from humans breathing smoky air amid raging forest fires.

Republicans derided regulatory mandates for limiting greenhouse gas emissions and instead recommended alternatives, such as embracing zero-emission nuclear power and accelerating technological innovation.

“What I hope we can do is come up with ways we can actually help people,” Utah Representative Rob Bishop, the Natural Resource Committee’s top Republican said, citing air quality issues in his state. Rather than hurting consumers and running up costs for taxpayers, Congress should encourage more state, local, and private-sector efforts to encourage innovation in fighting pollution, he said.

California Republican Representative Tom McClintock argued better management of forests was needed in the face of his state’s deadly wildfires.

Republicans didn’t shy away from vilifying the emerging Green New Deal proposal as costly and unfeasible.

Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina, described dire energy needs around the globe, with impoverished people in third-world nations suffering the health consequences of inadequate, unreliable energy to power medical equipment, heat homes and refrigerate food.

“These are quality-of-life issues we take for granted here in America that fossil fuel-generated power can provide for people around the globe, but yet we want to vilify and demonize fossil fuels that make our lives so much better,” Duncan said. “It’s not the government’s role to incentivize or penalize companies that aren’t investing in this.”

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