The inaugural hearing of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis roused passionate and urgent calls for action as the committee heard from young witnesses speaking out on the issue and from Democratic House members who said the time to act is now.
However, there were no Kumbaya unity moments with members on the other side of the aisle, as Republicans on the committee questioned the committee’s focus, argued for the benefits of coal and other fossil fuels, and criticized Democrats on the committee for not working in a bipartisan manner.
“This committee is explicitly charged with finding solutions to solve the climate crisis so we can honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the planet for future generations,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the committee, kicking off the 4 April hearing. “Today, we’re starting with the people who are the most affected by the climate crisis: young people who are growing up in it, who bear the costs and burdens, and who will help find the opportunities before us.”
Youth Speak Out at Hearing
At the hearing, youth spoke out, including Aji Piper, 18, a plaintiff in the climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States, which argues that an atmosphere and oceans that are free from dangerous levels of anthropogenic carbon dioxide are an implied right.
“My generation and generations to come have the most to lose from the sweeping impacts of climate change,” Piper said.
“Climate change is an extra kick to communities and populations that are already down,” said Chris Suggs, 18, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He hails from Kinston, N.C., which was devastated by Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Also testifying was Melody Zhang, 18, cochair of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, who told the committee, “I implore you to respond faithfully and with full force to love God and neighbor by enacting just, compassionate, and transformative climate policies which rise to the challenge of the climate crisis.”
Lindsay Cooper, a youthful policy analyst with the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, recognized the significant role of the fossil fuel industry in the state’s economy and called for “urgency with which we must work together to confront this massive problem” of climate change.
An Agreement for Inaction
Democrats on the committee gave their support to the young witnesses’ call for action.
“Over the last 4 decades, we have had a bipartisan consensus to do nothing. That’s shameful. That’s bipartisan agreement, but it’s an agreement for inaction, at least on the scale that’s required,” said Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.).
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) criticized the White House for continuing to propose drastic cuts to federal climate research funding and for making “blatantly false” remarks about climate change and renewable energy, including President Donald Trump’s statement on 3 April linking windmills to cancer.
“When we ignore facts, when we ignore science, we ignore the duty that we have to future generations,” Neguse said, noting concerns about the impacts of climate change mentioned in a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “The good news is that this generation is paying attention.”
Stopping “Partisan Ridiculousness”
Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La.), the ranking Republican on the committee, applauded the youths’ engagement in the political process.
“I’m really looking forward to getting your input and figuring out how we can work together to next steps to truly try to redefine this issue and stop this partisan ridiculousness that surrounds this issue,” Graves told the young witnesses, “and make progress that we can truly be proud of, and turn over a planet, turn over an environment, to my kids, to the next generation of theirs that we can all be proud of.”
However, Graves said that Congress needs to determine which actions should be taken that “actually make the most sense” and have the biggest impact.
In an interview with Eos following the hearing, Graves criticized committee chair Castor and other Democrats for not working toward bipartisan solutions. He pointed to the Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9), which Castor and other Democrats sponsored without, according to Graves, giving Republicans a heads-up that it was being proposed. That legislation, which would prevent the United States from withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, advanced through the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on 4 April.
“This committee was established to actually come up with bipartisan solutions. Yet the chair of the committee is actually filing legislation without talking to anyone else on our side,” Graves told Eos. “I was really hopeful that we were actually able to work together to come up with recommendations, but they apparently have already come up with their conclusions before we’ve even had our first hearing, which I think is unfortunate.”
Graves said that he has had “numerous discussions with Republicans and Democrats, talking about the narrative on this issue, talking about how you can get Republicans and Democrats to the same table—perhaps for different reasons, but to the same table—by talking about this differently, and I just think it’s unfortunate that that’s not what’s happening today.”
He added that the committee “is apparently designed to be partisan, and I think that’s unfortunate.”
Other Republican Beefs
Other Republicans also criticized the committee’s focus and efforts.
“Coal and natural gas from West Virginia help fuel the world and create good paying jobs for my constituents,” said Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.). “I have seen the devastation that a top-down, one size fits all, government approach can cause. We saw this with the war on coal from the Obama administration. The decimation of the coal industry in my state ravished our economy.”
Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) said that the climate “has always been changing and there are some serious consequences from climate change that we need to be prepared for.” He charged that “if we don’t properly define the problem, if you put all of the emphasis on anthropomorphic impact, and you don’t take into account natural variation and other issues, we are going to suffer.”
Democrats Applaud the Start of the Committee
Castor, however, told Eos that the committee is off to “a good start to hear from Generation Climate, because all across the country young people are demanding that Congress take action” on climate change.
“We’ve waited too long and now the costs are growing,” she said. “H.R. 9 is the bare minimum of what we need to be doing because America must keep its commitments. America cannot retreat from its leadership across the world.”
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) also said that it was a good start for the committee to hear from young people.
“That’s an important frame on this issue,” Huffman told Eos. “It makes it harder, even for some of the cynical, shriveled hearts in Congress, to say we shouldn’t do anything to give these young people a livable planet and a chance to realize their aspirations.”
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer