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Climate Change Committee Likely to Be Revived by Democratic House

CEO of Masdar Initiative Sultan Al Jabe testifies before the former House climate change committee in 2008 before Republicans dissolved it in 2011. KAREN BLEIER / AFP / Getty Images

Back in 2010, jeggings were the hot new fashion trend, the world learned to loathe vuvuzelas and the U.S. House of Representatives had a climate change committee.

Now that the Democrats have retaken the House, one of those things is coming back. In an interview with The New York Times Wednesday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi laid out the party's plans for the next two years, including resurrecting the committee:


Ms. Pelosi said that she would urge her caucus to revive a select committee focused on climate change, similar to the one that Democrats financed from 2007 to early 2011, to "prepare the way with evidence" for energy conservation and other climate change mitigation legislation. Republicans defunded the panel when they took the majority, but Ms. Pelosi said it was clearly still needed to educate the public about the impact of more frequent extreme weather events.

Senior Democratic aides confirmed the plan to Bloomberg News Thursday, but asked not to be named before an official announcement is made.

The former Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming could not propose legislation, but it could call hearings to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and the development of renewable energy. That information helped the House develop a cap-and-trade bill that it passed in 2009, though the bill ultimately failed in the Senate.

A resurrected climate change committee could focus attention on the results of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warning policy makers that they have 12 years to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to halt warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above industrial levels.

It would also be a way for Democrats to highlight President Donald Trump's refusal to seriously address climate change as they prepare for the 2020 elections. As Quartz explained, climate change is a growing priority for voters:

Not only are more Americans worried about climate change than ever before, for the first time, a significant portion of the electorate rates climate change as a top issue. In 2016, climate change was the sixth most important issue for liberal Democrats, according to Yale and George Mason University, while today it's their fourth most important issue. It may be higher still. A recent Marist poll found that, among all Democrats, climate change is the second most important issue, trailing only health care. And it's not just Democrats. In particularly vulnerable parts of the country, like Florida, Republicans are worried too.

But Trump has not acted like the issue matters, promising to withdraw from the Paris agreement, rolling back Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions and dismissing the most recent IPCC report by asking, "Who drew it?"

With Florida, a key swing state, beset by both nuisance flooding and increasingly intense hurricanes, this attitude may come back to bite him in two years if Democrats keep bringing it up.

"[T]he select committee can have as many messaging hearings as their little hearts desire," to "address wildfires, hurricanes and sea level rise," Anna Burhop, an environmental policy expert with Bracewell LLP, told Bloomberg News.

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A second U.S. jury has ruled that Roundup causes cancer.

The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The decision comes less than a year after a jury awarded $289 million to Bay-area groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson over similar claims. The amount was later reduced to $78 million.

"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."

Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.


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