The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Congress has held at least 15 climate hearings since Democrats won the House

with Paulina Firozi


There’s been one on climate change and infrastructure. Another on climate change and publicly owned lands. And there have been two on climate change and oceans.

Now that they have control of the House, Democrats have used their newfound power to pack the calendar in Congress with hearings on what they see as the biggest environmental crisis facing the nation and the world.

In the first 64 days of the new Congress, various congressional committees have scheduled at least 15 hearings explicitly on the causes and effects of — and potential response to — the world’s warming climate.

Democrats want to elevate an issue that they say House Republicans almost entirely ignored during their eight years in power in the chamber.

“Today’s hearing on climate change is long overdue,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said during his panel’s first hearing in the new Congress in early February. “We are feeling its effects now, and the influence of unchecked climate change is becoming more obvious every year.”

Democrats sought to cast February as the month in which they would put a focus on climate, though the hearings are stretching into March. Most of the time, the meetings were not convened to discuss any particular piece of legislation. They also didn’t tackle the nonbinding Green New Deal resolution that has captured the attention of Washington.

They served instead as an opportunity for members to gather testimony from climate experts — and to stump about the urgency needed to address global warming.

One hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee sought to examine how climate-fueled floods and wildfires are disrupting Native American communities. Another in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee looked at how emissions from cars, airplanes and other modes of transportation makes global warming worse.

Showing how deep into the weeds Democrats want to dive, the most recent of those 15 hearings, in the Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, will focus on rules that would increase the energy efficiency of lightbulbs and other devices.

And Democrats are far from done. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reinstituted a special select committee on climate that was disbanded by Republicans when they were in the majority. It has yet to meet, but that panel, chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), will collect facts about climate change from scientists and experts rather than focus on crafting legislation.

“We’re facing the crisis of our generation," Castor said at one of the other several climate hearings on the Hill in February. "We feel like we’re in the bullseye in Florida.”

Even one Republican chairwoman on the side of the Capitol still controlled by the GOP — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — has joined in the hearing frenzy, convening one this week on advancing new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector.

Like much of the rest of the Arctic, her state has warmed twice as fast as the Lower 48 states, a fact she noted during her opening remarks.

“This has got to be a priority for all of us,” Murkowski said. “Certainly in Alaska we view that there is no choice here.”

During their eight years in power in the House, Republicans largely declined to directly shine a spotlight on climate change.

Some Republicans say they addressed climate change in the last GOP-led Congress through hearings focused on boosting renewable and nuclear energy and promoting energy efficiency.

"Just because the committee did not have climate change in the title does not mean we did not address the topic," said Zack Roday, a spokesman for Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

But on other committees, Republicans often criticized climate scientists themselves — as former House Science Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) did when he probed a group of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers.

But some top GOP lawmakers are responding to the new political reality in Washington by calling for action on climate change — as long as it is bipartisan.

At times, their remarks even got personal.

Rep. Greg Walden, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce panel, held up a jar of ash during one hearing to illustrate the devastation of wildfires in his eastern Oregon district. And the new top Republican of the science panel, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), cited his experience as a farmer during another hearing as he called for more investment in carbon capture and nuclear energy technologies.

“Drought, heat waves come and go naturally,” he said, “but the changing climate has intensified their impacts.”

But other Republicans are pushing back on the volume of climate hearings Democrats are holding.

Republicans on the House Natural Resouces Committee, led by Rob Bishop of Utah, said Democrats were failing to address issues within the committee’s jurisdiction after holding seven climate-related hearings. During one panel, Bishop jokingly thanked Democrats for picking "the shortest month" to hold the hearings. During another on climate change denial, GOP members even used a procedural tactic to end the meeting only minutes after it began after too few Democrats showed up for its start.  

"Many of the Majority witnesses has proposed that the United states undertake a radical transformation to combat climate change, with seemingly no regard to the impact on the economy, jobs, or energy prices," Bishop wrote to Natural Resouces Chairman Raúl Grijalva this week in a letter on the jurisdictional issue. 

In response, Grijalva wrote that the agencies and departments the committee helps oversee determine the federal government's response to climate change.

"That was clearly your belief as Chairman," he said. "It is not mine."


— “Cow’s don’t fart, by the way”: Yet another squabble broke out on the Senate floor over the controversial Green New Deal resolution, as multiple Republicans bashed the resolution in their remarks. Here are just some of the highlights:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), attacked a price tag linked with the resolution, which he said “can be ours for the low-low price of staggering expansion of centralized government and upwards of a mere $93 trillion. This amount of money could rebuild the entire interstate highway system every single year just for the heck of it for 250 years.... Or maybe Americans would rather drive something nicer on the roads we already have. For the comparatively cheap price of just $66 trillion, I’m told the government could buy every American a Ferrari.” McConnell told reporters this week he will hold a vote on the measure in the “next couple of weeks."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) responded to attacks from Republicans. “I just have to say that it’s pretty silly if it wasn’t so serious how the Republican majority and the Republican majority leader is mocking what is probably the most serious issue of our time,” she said. “In addition to that, the Republican Majority Leader said that we want to end air travel and cow farts. Cows don’t fart, by the way, Mr. President, they belch. Just for the record.”

— EPA IG says Pruitt did not consult ethics officials on his fund: The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general found ex-agency chief Scott Pruitt did not communicate with EPA ethics officials about his legal defense fund. The ethics office told the IG it "never had a conversation with Mr. Pruitt or his private attorney about the existence or establishment of a legal defense fund,” reads the letter that acting EPA IG Charles Sheehan wrote to Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). 

E&E News reports Cleta Mitchell, partner at Foley & Lardner LLP and the trustee of the legal defense fund for Pruitt, pushed back on the IG’s findings. “That is not accurate,” Mitchell told E&E News. She said she consulted with the ethics office “several times over months to discuss the creation and operation of the fund,” per the report.

Juan Quintero worked illegally at a property co-owned by Eric and Donald Trump Jr. No one inquired about his employment eligibility, he says. (Video: Dalton Bennett, Alice Li, Jesse Mesner-Hage/The Washington Post, Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

— “All of the years you give them, and they just let you go”: Juan Quintero, the greenskeeper who worked at the Trump National Golf Club Hudson Valley in New York and who was the caretaker for the Trump sons’ private hunting retreat, was an immigrant from Mexico working in the United States illegally. “In January, Quintero lost his golf course job after 18 years of employment — part of a purge of undocumented workers from Trump’s businesses amid revelations that the company relied on illegal labor for years, well into Trump’s presidency. Gone, too, was his side job at the hunting retreat,” The Post’s Joshua Partlow, Nick Miroff and David A. Fahrenthold report. “Quintero said he never directly told Eric Trump about his immigration status. But he said he remained employed by the hunting lodge for more than a year after not providing the owners with a Social Security number when they sought to issue him a debit card.” 

— Gray Wolves could lose endangered species protections: U.S. wildlife officials are proposing to lift protections for the species within the Lower 48 states, citing what they say are rebounding numbers nationwide, the New York Times reports. In a statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the wolves’ recovery is “one of our nation’s great conservation successes.” But the move is expected to prompt legal pushback. “Conservationists and biologists contend that some areas of the country, like the Adirondacks in New York and the southern Rocky Mountains, could be suitable habitats but wolf populations in those regions are vulnerable and still need protection to recover,” the New York Times reports. “The gray wolf populations had dwindled to about 1,000 in the Lower 48 states when they received protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. But since their reintroduction to various regions, mostly in the West, the wolves’ numbers have rebounded to about 5,000.”


— A soggy start to the year: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the United States just had its wettest winter on record, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. There was an average precipitation of 9.01 inches in December, January and February, the meteorological winter. That amount was 2.22 inches above normal and broke the record of 8.99 inches set during the winter of 1997-1998,” he writes. “Both the winters of 1997-1998 and the present featured El Niño events, which tend to increase the flow of Pacific moisture into the Lower 48 states.”

— For Lent, some environmental activism: Several churches around the country have encouraged congregants to give up plastic products, including shopping bags, drinking straws, water bottles, and food containers during the 40-day period of Lent leading up to Easter. “It’s a way to think about it as more than just a personal thing, like chocolate or alcohol that’s enjoyable,” Rev. Sarah Rossing, pastor of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania told The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey. “This is asking people to give up convenience … and be more intentional with things and the Earth.”


— The road ahead for Tesla: Just months after the electric auto company announced the opening of nearly a dozen new stories nationwide, it’s closing most of its stores to cut costs. “The move signaled the broader vulnerabilities of an upstart that for a time was the most highly valued American car company,” the New York Times reports. “A spate of price cuts in the United States points to a slowdown in sales, and the company says it is currently making cars for Europe and China only. But plans to bring the company’s mass-market car, the Model 3, to overseas buyers have been hamstrung by logistical challenges.” University of Michigan management expert Erik Gordon told the Times the “flip-flop” strategy from Tesla “makes it seem like Musk is winging it and the board is letting him wing it.”



  • The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the energy water nexus.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife holds an oversight hearing on threats to the North Atlantic Right Whale.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies holds a hearing on energy workforce opportunities and challenges.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a roundtable on issues related to public lands in the Western United States.

— An ancient tree blooms in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico: Here's a worthy and feel-good story for your week from HuffPost on the ceiba trees in Puerto Rico, which have seen a remarkable comeback after the devastating hurricanes in 2017.