Calls for Green New Deal select committee get cold shoulder from Democratic leadership

Panel focused on broad-based climate and jobs legislation now seems like a long shot.

Climate change activists with the Sunrise Movement urge House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to support panel on Green New Deal in the Cannon House Office Building on December 10, 2018. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Climate change activists with the Sunrise Movement urge House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to support panel on Green New Deal in the Cannon House Office Building on December 10, 2018. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

With just over a week left before the new Congress convenes on January 3, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has yet to offer her support for the creation of a House select committee on a Green New Deal.

Supporters of a select committee were caught off guard when news came out last Thursday that Democratic leaders had picked Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) to lead a House panel on climate change — but not a committee formed specifically to craft Green New Deal legislation. The climate change panel would be similar to the one formed in 2007 that was headed by then-Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), who is now a U.S. senator.

Castor has a strong environmental record but is not one of the 43 House members who pledged to back a select committee to draft a Green New Deal, according to the most recent count from the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group that has emerged as a key backer of the idea.

The Green New Deal proposes to combine efforts to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions through fundamental changes to the economy, with guarantees that working class and marginalized populations in the U.S. will benefit from the transition. The select committee of House members, under the proposal, would be required to develop a plan for a Green New Deal by January 1, 2020.


Pelosi and the Democratic leadership have not issued any public statements on whether they also plan to approve the creation of a separate select committee on a Green New Deal.

“We reached out to them following the announcement [last Thursday] to get a better understanding of what’s happening and we haven’t heard back yet,” Sunrise Movement spokesperson Stephen O’Hanlon told ThinkProgress.

Pelosi’s office had not responded to a request for comment from ThinkProgress on the status of a select committee for a Green New Deal in the new Congress.

The creation of the committee has been a goal of incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who made urgent action on climate change a top priority of her successful 2018 congressional campaign.


A draft resolution of what a blueprint for the deal might look like began circulating soon after the midterm elections in early November. Proposed by Ocasio-Cortez, the Sunrise Movement, and the political action committee Justice Democrats, the draft establishes a select committee with the authority to create a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” allowing the United States to swiftly become carbon-neutral.

Since the midterm elections, momentum has built for the creation of a select committee to hammer out the details of a Green New Deal.

More than 40 of Pelosi’s fellow Democrats in the new Congress have affirmed their support for the creation of the select committee. Even Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), who is in line to become the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, offered his support for the select committee for a Green New Deal.

Yet despite widespread support, efforts to take the next step through creating a new select committee appear stalled.

“It’s definitely a disappointment and deeply frustrating that Democratic leadership didn’t take this opportunity to take action on the scale that we actually need if we’re looking seriously at the science,” O’Hanlon said.


But until Pelosi officially makes a decision on whether to create a select committee for a Green New Deal — between now and January 3 — the Sunrise Movement will continue to pressure representatives to sign on in support of it, according to O’Hanlon.

Similar to resistance against the climate panel formed by Pelosi in 2007, some longtime Democratic members have expressed concern that a select committee for a Green New Deal would take power away from them, even though they have so far been unable to pass a comprehensive plan to address climate change and its impacts on the economy in their years in office.

“It’s a slap in the face for some of us who have been fighting on this issue for the last eight years,” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL.), incoming chairman of the Energy subcommittee, told Politico. “Is this some kind of a way to appease certain newly elected members of Congress? I think that’s wrong-headed.”

In 2007, for instance, former Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), one of the longest serving Democrats on Capitol Hill, was not pleased with a House vote that year to create the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, at the urging of Speaker Pelosi.

Dingell, who was a strong supporter of automobile manufacturers in his Michigan congressional district, chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Similar to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the incoming chairman of the same committee who is lukewarm about the creation of a Green New Deal select committee, Dingell viewed the climate change panel has an incursion on his committee turf.

With the growing likelihood the Democratic leadership will reject the idea of a select committee, climate action advocates are still hopeful about the possibilities for major change through other avenues.

The committee to be led by Castor would look far different than what the supporters of a select committee for a Green New Deal wanted. It would not have a mandate to craft a Green New Deal by 2020 and would likely allow House members who accept donations from fossil fuel interests to sit on the committee — counter to another key demand from the Sunrise Movement for only individuals who have pledged not to accept fossil fuel money to be part of the committee.

Dr. Sonali McDermid, assistant professor in the department of environmental studies at New York University, told ThinkProgress she would be disappointed if the Democrats choose not to form the select committee for a Green New Deal in the new Congress. Nevertheless, McDermid maintained she’s still optimistic because the terms proposed by the Green New Deal appeal widely to the public — particularly the jobs emphasis — and to many in Congress.

The Green New Deal also appeals to policymakers and activists who want justice for communities at risk of climate change, environmental damage, and pollution, according to McDermid.

“I think it would be a myopic and missed opportunity for this incarnation of the climate change committee to disregard that, and I’m hopeful that they’ll agree,” she said.

No matter what happens on Capitol Hill, the Sunrise Movement intends to campaign in communities across the nation for comprehensive climate and jobs legislation.

“We put the Green New Deal on the map by taking action in Washington D.C., but it’s clear to us that we will win the Green New Deal by organizing and building public support all across the country — in Appalachia and the Rust Belt and in places like Florida and California that have been ravaged by climate disaster,” O’Hanlon said.

In October, the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that policymakers must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent of 2010 levels within 12 years to limit warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. And regardless of what happens with the decision to form a select committee, there are other pieces of legislation that treat climate change with a sense of urgency that corresponds to the calls for action in the latest report from the IPCC.

“We are very supportive of the broad principles being laid out in the Green New Deal movement,” Seth Gladstone, spokesperson for environmental group Food & Water Watch, told ThinkProgress. “But regardless of what the committee landscape looks like in the new Congress, we will be focused on moving real legislation that sufficiently addresses the urgent climate condition we face.”

The Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act), for example,  was introduced in September 2017 by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and has 45 co-sponsors.

This legislation would mandate a complete transition to clean and renewable energy generation in America by 2035, according to Gladstone, and would be achieved “without false-solution, market-based carbon trading or pricing schemes.”

“This has been our aim all along, and it will continue to be our aim in the new Congress beginning in January,” he said of passing legislation with these sorts of strong targets.

Along with piecemeal legislative proposals, the idea of a broad economy-based campaign to prevent climate catastrophe and help marginalized populations remains appealing to a large segment of the community concerned about climate change.

“While the timeline to kick fossil fuels for the Green New Deal was tight — reflecting recent climate assessment reports — I worry that a rejection of the Green New Deal and a deference back to a general committee on climate change might hinder the urgent progress we need,” McDermid said.

The Sunrise Movement’s O’Hanlon said he and his colleagues knew that getting long-time House Democrats to support a Green New Deal committee would be a long shot. But the overwhelming support offers a glimmer of hope for the new year.

“When we sat in in Nancy Pelosi’s office just over a month ago,” he said, “we had no idea that this many members of Congress, presidential hopefuls, people all across the country would come out in support of the movement and make this a major issue heading into 2019 as well as the 2020 presidential election.”