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Americans Are Calling for Climate Action, and the New House Leadership Is Listening

Insights + Opinion
Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts appear before the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 6. C-SPAN

By Rhea Suh

Wednesday marked a watershed moment in the national fight against the growing dangers of climate change, with two governors—a southern Democrat and a northeastern Republican—kicking off the first of a raft of hearings on the central environmental challenge of our time.

Appearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts laid out the stakes, for the people of their states and for the country, in standing up to this global scourge, in a hearing aptly titled "Climate Change: Impacts and the Need to Act."


The same morning, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hosted its first climate hearing in six years, focusing on the environmental and economic effects of our warming planet.

You read that right: The Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hadn't held a climate hearing in six years. That's an appalling abdication of responsibility by Republican leaders in Congress and their banner carrier, President Trump, who delivered another disappointing State of the Union address last night without once mentioning the mounting perils of climate change.

No one is surprised, but let's be clear. A president who ignores threats that gather before our very eyes is failing at job one for any leader: to prepare our people for a brighter, more hopeful, and more secure tomorrow.

A great tide, though, is turning. In the House, where Trump delivered his speech, new leadership is listening to the American people, about seven in ten of whom understand the growing dangers of climate change and expect national action to fight it.

Wednesday's climate hearings are the first of nearly a dozen already scheduled in the House or expected in the weeks ahead. The link between climate change and ocean health is the focus of a hearing Thursday afternoon before the Committee on Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. And climate change will be very much on the agenda when the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing Thursday morning on "Energy Trends and Outlook." Among the witnesses: Amy Myers Jaffe, program director for energy security and climate change with the Council on Foreign Relations, and Ethan Zindler, head of Americas and policy analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The House Natural Resources Committee is making a major push to frame up the environmental justice aspects of the climate debate, with a stress on whose stories are being heard, whose are being ignored, and how all voices might be raised. With that approach being emphasized at the level of the full committee, the subcommittees—Federal Lands; Energy and Mineral Resources; Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs; Oversight and Investigations; and Water, Power, and Oceans—are each planning climate hearings to address areas of their specific jurisdiction.

These hearings are important. They provide a way for our political leaders and the American people to connect the dots between what the science is telling us about climate change and what we're reading about in our papers, watching on our televisions, and seeing out our kitchen windows. And they provide expert guidance to policymakers searching for solutions to this overarching environmental challenge.

We just wrapped up the hottest four years since global record keeping began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reported Wednesday morning. The impacts are all around us. Seas are rising. Croplands are turning to deserts. We're losing entire species faster than at any other time since the dinosaurs disappeared some 60 million years ago. Storms, floods and wildfires are raging. The Great Barrier Reef is dying.

All of this will get worse—much worse­—unless we cut the dangerous carbon pollution that's driving this global scourge. And we haven't got much time.

That's why NRDC is so excited about the movement to create a Green New Deal, a comprehensive slate of policies aimed at helping us shift, as quickly as possible, to 100 percent clean energy in a way that provides a just and equitable transition away from the dirty fuels of the past and to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.

Developing a Green New Deal will take time. Some of the broad contours will start to take shape, though, in the form of a joint House-Senate resolution being crafted by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). We're thrilled by the new urgency and the new ideas behind this national movement for change, and we look forward to seeing an ambitious plan.

What's coming together is a national call to action for the policies we need in order to rapidly move to a thriving clean-energy economy that creates millions of high-quality American jobs, reduces inequality and poverty, and safeguards our communities from environmental harm. Every American needs to get behind the growing momentum for climate action that will capture the urgency of the moment, rise to the challenge we face and promote the low-carbon transition we need.

We must press for congressional action that enables the country to keep the promise we made as part of the landmark 2015 Paris agreement. We cannot break that promise and leave our children to pay the price.

And we need to work, through the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and all the House committees that have jurisdiction in areas that impact our climate future, to put in place the policies that can help us invest in the just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

We're excited to see what unfolds in the coming weeks and months, on Capitol Hill and across the country. What's important is that we seize this moment to build on the growing momentum for action—while we've still got time.

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