'Not the Leadership This Moment Calls For': Progressives Blast Nancy Pelosi's New 'Climate Crisis' Committee

Activists occupy the office of Rep. Steny Hoyer to pressure for climate action.
Photo: AP

In one of the clearest signs yet that House Democrats might try doing something, anything at all, about climate change come January, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that Congress would be establishing a new “Climate Crisis” committee, to be chaired by Florida Representative Kathy Castor.

“This committee will be critical to the entire Congress’s mission to respond to the urgency of this threat, while creating the good-paying, green jobs of the future,” a statement released by Pelosi’s office reads. “Congresswoman Castor is a proven champion for public health and green infrastructure, who deeply understands the scope and seriousness of this threat.”

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Pelosi signaled her intention to revive a select committee on climate change—which existed from 2007 to 2011 when Democrats last controlled the House—in the run-up to the midterm elections. But over the last few weeks, a progressive coalition led by youth-run climate activist organization Sunrise Movement and backed by Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been swarming Democratic leaders’ offices and staging protests to call for a more ambitious climate committee that’s focused on developing policy proposals for a Green New Deal, a massive jobs program that would rapidly steer the U.S. energy system off fossil fuels.

Despite polls indicating bipartisan support for the idea, Ocasio-Cortez’s plan for a climate committee with teeth has met a lukewarm reception from establishment Democrats. Last week, incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled that a revived climate committee would probably lack subpoena power, a move that would kneecap it by taking away its legal authority to demand documents and call recalcitrant witnesses to testify.

The Hill also reported last week that while the committee might be able to draft legislation, Pelosi doesn’t want to give it authority to advance bills. Friday’s statement offers no new insights as to whether the Climate Crisis committee will have subpoena power or legislative authority.

Castor herself has also sparked controversy since rumors began swirling that she would lead whatever committee was being put together. Despite her solidly pro-environment record, she drew the ire of climate activists last week when she suggested congresspeople shouldn’t be disqualified from serving on a climate committee if they’d taken campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

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Still, many Democrats, including some openly supportive of a Green New Deal, took to social media to applaud Pelosi’s establishment of the new committee and the selection of Castor as its leader. Major environmental groups, from the Environmental Defense Fund to the Natural Resources Defense Council, also put out statements praising the decision.

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But the staunchest proponents of the Green New Deal-styled committee are expressing disappointment, both with the language surrounding the committee and the decision to have Castor lead it. Justice Democrats, a flagship political action committee for the progressive left, derided Pelosi’s committee as the “path of least resistance.” The Sunrise Movement, meanwhile, reiterated its position that any select committee lacking a clear Green New Deal mandate is “inadequate.”

“If what we’re hearing is true—that Democrats are pushing for a Select Committee on Climate Change that has no subpoena power, lacks a mandate to confront the climate crisis in line with what the science demands, and will be peppered with fossil fuel-funded elected officials — then such a committee will be even weaker than the one from a decade ago,” Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement emailed to Earther. “This is not the leadership this moment calls for.”

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We’ve reached out to Ocasio-Cortez for comment and will update when we hear back.

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Maddie Stone

Maddie Stone is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.