Yesterday both the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change as well as the Natural Resources Committee held hearings to address climate change, which was the first time in nearly a decade that members of the House discussed and acknowledged the issue. Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) both emphasized the dire need to act on climate and that American lives and livelihoods depend on it. In fact, Tonko called the challenge to slow climate change “a new generation’s Sputnik moment”, recalling the Space Race he witnessed as a child and the call to American ingenuity. While a good amount Republicans on both committees acknowledged that climate change is real, likely caused by humans, and that there needs to be Congressional action, they were more in favor of an “all of the above” approach when it comes to our energy mix rather than an expedited push toward renewable energy.

Members on both sides of the aisle indicated that they wanted to work together to “reach a solution” but it’s unclear what that solution would look like as several Republican members skirted around the issue that the only way to truly slow climate change is to drastically limit GHG emissions. One thing was certain, the Green New Deal is not something committee Republicans are keen on which could create difficulties for passing lasting and bipartisan legislation in the future. Either way, both Republicans and Democrats expressed the need for increased energy R&D to help create the technology of the future, which could be a good starting point for the members of the committees.

Additionally, during both hearings, the topic of environmental justice was routinely addressed and both Chairman Grijalva and E&C Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) indicated that vulnerable communities must be represented as we work to form a national strategy on climate change. The Democrats of both committees made the focus of the hearings about people and how Congress must use its powers and authority to help, not forget, at-risk American communities. There were numerous anecdotes and witness testimonies about how climate change is already adversely affecting people and the environment and as part of Chairman Grijalva’s efforts to further learn about these effects, he recently launched an online tool for the public to share climate change stories at https://naturalresources.house.gov/climate-change. The Natural Resources Committee will continue to hold a series of hearings on climate change and the next one will be held this Thursday afternoon to debate climate change and ocean health (check out the livestream).

Why This Matters: It’s critical that our elected leaders not only acknowledge the greatest threat facing humanity but also use every bit of their power to do something about it. We simply don’t have time to slow-walk climate action and the Democratic chairmen set an important tone of urgency. If they can craft bold legislation in their committees and communicate the importance of it, they will be able to use that message on the campaign trail in 2020 to ask voters to entrust them with the Senate and the White House to make it law. We heard a lot today about green job creation, social safety nets and what Congress can do to protect at-risk communities, all important core issues to American voters.

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