The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Green protests at Pelosi's office signal rift over Democratic climate strategy

with Paulina Firozi


On Tuesday, about 200 young activists protested in the office of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Their demand: That the expected House speaker take the threat of climate change as seriously as they do. 

The climate demonstrators were joined by one of the new faces of the party's progressive wing, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who ousted 10-term Rep. Joseph Crowley in a Democratic primary. “Should Leader Pelosi become the next speaker of the House, we need to tell her that we’ve got her back in showing and pursuing the most progressive energy agenda that this country has ever seen,” Ocasio-Cortez said during the sit-in in Pelosi's office, where 51 activists were arrested by Capitol Police.

The protest may be a preview of a coming tug-of-war between competing parts of the Democratic coalition as the party readies to retake the House in January. Democrats, new and old, will be debating exactly what they should do with their newfound power to address climate change — and other issues like health care — at a time when Republicans still control the Senate and the White House

The task of managing those factions falls to Pelosi, who on Tuesday turned what could have been a tense encounter into an exchange of pleasantries. The experienced Democratic leader welcomed the protesters on Twitter while Ocasio-Cortez thanked her for doing so:

For the next two years, House Democrats will do what their GOP counterparts largely had refused to: debate legislation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and adapt to warming temperatures, rising seas and their other effects.

But any bill or set of bills probably will wait until Democrats control enough levers in the federal government to actually enact legislation.

“We're not trying to ramrod legislation through,” said Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the environmental group Sunrise Movement, which organized the protest. “We understand that obviously with Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling the Senate there's no chance in hell” their wish list becomes law.

In the meantime, the Democratic House majority will have to decide how best to highlight the climate issue with hearings and probes into the Trump administration's rollback of Obama-era environmental rules meant to address global warming.

“The main priorities are infrastructure and climate change,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who is slated to lead the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. “On climate change, we're focused on holding the Trump administration accountable for things the that they are doing,” including President Trump's vow to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and undo Obama-era rules on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Pelosi cast action on climate change as an opportunity to create jobs. "House Democrats ran on and won on our bold campaign for a $1 trillion investment in our infrastructure that will make our communities more resilient to the climate crisis, while creating 16 million new good-paying jobs across the country," she said in a statement.

But the party's progressives, while acknowledging the realities of Trump's Washington, are agitating for even more aggressive legislation. Among the Sunrise Movement's demands is the creation of a select committee on climate change to spearhead legislation taking the entire nation to 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years while rapidly decarbonizing manufacturing, agriculture and other sectors of the U.S. economy. ​​​​

They and other groups brand the plan as a “Green New Deal.” 

“Science mandates that we actually have a massive and rapid wartime economic mobilization” to stop the crisis, Prakash said. She cited a recent report from a panel of international scientists describing how the world has only a dozen years to cut carbon emissions and limit global warming to moderate levels.

That United Nations report seemed to be animating many of the protesters on Tuesday, some of whom wore T-shirts with the words "12 years” to Pelosi's office.

Pelosi has said she “strongly” supports reinstating a select climate committee, which House Republicans scrapped after they took power in 2011. But that stance alread puts Pelosi at odds with Pallone, whose committee already has jurisdiction over a wide swath of energy and environmental issues.

“I don't think it's necessary to have a select committee because there are already four committees that have jurisdiction over climate change, and we have climate change champions leading all these committees,” Pallone said.

Committee chairmen like Pallone — including former Reps. John D. Dingell (Mich.) and Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) — have a history of bucking Pelosi's efforts to form the select committee on a subject they think their own panels can handle.

Another environmental group called the Citizens' Climate Lobby, which flooded the Capitol with 600 of its volunteers Tuesday, worries about a different cleavage: the one between Republicans and Democrats. They are concerned about Democrats using climate change to attack their GOP opponents rather than  trying to work with them on the issue.

Daniel Richter, the group's vice president of legislation and research, said that climate-related legislation will be durable only if it is supported by both parties.

“This is too important for partisanship,” he said. 


— EPA moves to strengthen truck pollution standards: The Environmental Protection Agency announced it plans to toughen restrictions on pollution from heavy-duty trucks, a move that one environmental advocate said may be “the first thing this EPA has done that will actually reduce air pollution.” “Nearly two decades have passed since the EPA last updated its standards for emissions of nitrogen oxide, or NOx, that govern the nation’s heavy-duty trucking fleet,” The Post’s Brady Dennis reports. “On Tuesday, the EPA appeared to be carrying on that work to scale back emissions of the poisonous gases, which form when fuel is burned at high temperatures.”

What environmental and industry interests are saying: Both welcomed the announcement, Dennis reports. Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said it was “good that they are moving forward, because heavy-duty NOx is a huge problem, both as a precursor to ozone and fine particles.” Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, said in a statement the “initiative sets the pace for the next generation of advanced diesel technology.”

— In other EPA-related news: A grand jury in Jefferson County, Ala. indicted the agency's southwest regional administrator, Trey Glenn, for violating ethics laws in the state. Before being appointed to work as the EPA's Region 4 administrator, he worked with law firm Balch & Bingham and a client Drummond Co. “to fight EPA efforts to test and clean up neighborhoods in north Birmingham and Tarrant,” according to “Likewise, former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips worked with Balch to oppose the EPA. Phillips and Glenn worked together in a company they co-owned, Southeast Engineering & Consulting, at the same time Phillips served on the commission.” State ethics laws say it is “illegal for a lobbyist or a lobbyist’s client, called a principal, to give a public official a thing of value, including a job,” per the report.

— Another California Republican is out: Democrat Josh Harder ousted Republican Rep. Jeff Denham in California’s 10th district, the Associated Press projected Tuesday night, a week after Election Day. Harder’s victory prevents Denham from returning for a fifth term and adds him to the list of California Republicans picked off in the midterm elections. The Energy 202 wrote earlier this month about how the Trump administration sought to use water policy to support Denham’s reelection efforts.

— “Still got to say the truth”: Rep. Carlos Curbelo, the Florida Republican who one was one of the GOP's few voices on climate change and who lost his reelection bid, called out the president for his remarks about California’s fire-management policy:


— California is burning: By Tuesday evening, 48 people had been confirmed killed by the Camp Fire, already California’s deadliest. And hundreds are still missing. The Camp Fire has burned through 130,000 acres since Thursday and more than 8,800 structures, according to the Los Angeles Times. The town of Paradise is no longer standing. “What becomes of Paradise, once residents are allowed back in to witness the comprehensive devastation firsthand, is a mystery,” The Post’s Scott Wilson writes in this dispatch from an evacuation center in Oroville, Calif. “Many here just simply do not know how bad the damage is.” Wilson adds that two large fires are still blazing in Southern California. “There is no rain in sight at either end of the state.”

As wildfires grow in frequency and intensity in California, President Trump is launching false attacks and threats at the state. (Video: Jenny Starrs, Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

— Even the president’s disaster response is partisan: The president’s response to the deadly fires in California has struck a different tone from those following Hurricanes Florence and Harvey. The disparity in the red and blue states, The Post’s Matt Viser and Seung Min Kim report, “is one that continues to exacerbate the nation’s partisan complexion, injected now even into natural disasters.” Michael Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the George W. Bush administration, said that although forestry management should be debated, he questioned the timing of the remarks. “But in the middle of the fire? That’s not the time to debate it; that’s not the time to make the point. It detracted from what firefighters and California and other governors — red states and blue states — are doing to help protect California.”

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans this week to visit the communities of Paradise and Chico in Northern California along with Thousand Oaks and Malibu in Southern California, which have been impacted by the Camp and Woolsey fires.

Eyes on Pacific Gas & Electric: A securities filing from the state’s largest utility shows its electric power equipment appears to have failed in the same area where the Camp Fire sparked. “The cause of the Camp Fire… remains under investigation,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “But if the company’s equipment is determined to be the cause of the fire, PG&E warned in the filing, it would face potential liabilities beyond its insurance coverage. As a result, the utility said, fire-related liabilities could significantly affect its financial condition.” The utility is still facing the liabilities from last year’s devastating wildfires in the state, as the state’s fire investigators have linked PG&E equipment to 17 of the blazes, per the report.

— Major study on warming oceans had key errors: Scientists behind a major study that said oceans were warming much faster than previously thought now say there were key inadvertent errors. Corrections were submitted to the journal Nature two weeks after the study was published, The Post’s Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report. “The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, home to several of the researchers involved, also noted the problems in the scientists' work and corrected a news release on its website, which previously had asserted that the study detailed how the Earth’s oceans ‘have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought,’” they write. “The central problem… came in how the researchers dealt with the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper’s conclusion about just how much heat the oceans have absorbed over time.”

— Hurricane Florence tops flood records: The devastating storm that hit the Carolinas set at least 28 flood records, the U.S. Geological Survey has found. An agency report “uses preliminary data to show that 18 USGS stream gauges in North Carolina and 10 in South Carolina registered record water levels,” The Post’s Frances Stead Sellers reports. “In addition, the ‘streamflows’ — or volume of water passing a fixed point — at 45 stream gauges in North Carolina and 10 in South Carolina were among the top five ever at those sites.”

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would be traveling to Chicago. Zinke is planning to visit Chico in California.


— Perry blasts Russian pipeline plans: Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Hungary and neighboring nations to reject Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project and stop Moscow from trying to “solidify its control over the security and the stability of Central and eastern Europe.” Perry was speaking at a news conference in Budapest, Reuters reports. “Hungary largely depends on Russia for its natural gas supplies, which now mostly come via a pipeline via Ukraine. Russia is also building a nuclear plant in Hungary,” per the report.



  • The Heritage Foundation holds an event on challenges and solutions to improve federal lands management. 

Coming Up

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Rita Baranwal to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (Nuclear Energy), Bernard L. McNamee to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Raymond David Vela to be Director of the National Park Service on Thursday.
  • The American Council on Renewable Energy, Solar Energy Industries Association and Energy Innovation hold an event on the outlook for clean energy following the 2018 midterms on Friday.

— Boomer 2020: The Post’s Avi Selk profiled, in a manner of speaking, Boomer the golden retriever, who sat beside Republican Rep. Martha McSally and stole the show as the candidate conceded the Arizona Senate race to Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

In a video posted on Twitter, Republican Martha McSally conceded Nov. 12 to Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema in the Arizona U.S. Senate race. (Video: McSally For Senate)