The biggest impediment to Democrats pushing bigger climate action could be...Democrats?
Incoming House majority leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Wednesday that while there’s a plan to reinstate a select committee on climate change, his expectation is that it would lack subpoena power that the former iteration of the committee had. Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has championed reinstating the committee and using it to craft policy proposals for a Green New Deal, a plan to wean the US off fossil fuels that appears to be widely popular across the political spectrum.
But without subpoena power, such a committee wouldn’t have legal authority to request documents or compel testimony. That would make it largely ceremonial at a time when Democrats need to be taking climate change policy seriously, and laying the groundwork for what they can accomplish if they regain control of the White House in 2020 or beyond.
“I don’t know that they think they need subpoena power. They’re going to have experts who are...dying to come before them,” Hoyer said to reporters, according to The Hill.
It’s true that there are plenty of scientists, economists, and advocates who will be stoked to appear before Congress and talk about climate change. But removing subpoena power also means that the select committee won’t be able to get recalcitrant parties to appear at hearings. Off the top of my head, I can think of dozens of people who wouldn’t want to show up and face questions about their role in backing policies that make climate change worse ranging from Trump appointees to executives from fossil fuel companies and utilities.
It’s of course possible Democrats leading other committees—all of which have subpoena power—could call those people to testify. But the attempt to kneecap the select committee seems like a shortsighted cave to powers within the Democrat party that have opposed it.
Corbin Trent, spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez, told The Hill, “We’ve been pretty clear about what we want the committee to have, and subpoena power is one of those things. We think that the committee needs to have the authority and the capacity to develop a plan for a Green New Deal to transition our economy to a zero-carbon economy in a 10-year timeframe.”
Groups that have backed Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive Democrats at the front of the climate fight were also quick to reject the weakened select committee.
“The Democratic Party establishment never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” Waleed Shahid, a spokesperson for Justice Democrats said in a statement. “Instead of seizing the opportunity right in front of them, they have decided to violate the norms of most select committees by stripping away its power to bring the barons of the industry to account.”
The rules governing the committee aren’t final yet so there’s still a chance leadership could backtrack, particularly given that at least 40 representatives and representatives-elect have voiced their support for a Green New Deal. Democrats will approve a final rules package once they officially take control of the House after January 3.