After virtually ignoring the nation's biggest environmental issue for years, Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are planning a major hearing on climate change on Sept. 18 and are inviting leaders of 13 federal agencies to testify. It will be the first time since President Obama unveiled his climate action plan in June that administration officials will testify on Capitol Hill about the agenda.
Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., who will preside over the hearing, sent out letters Aug. 6 inviting testimony from leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency; the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Interior, State, and Transportation; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Commerce Department; NASA; the U.S. Agency for International Development; the Export-Import Bank; and the White House Office of Science and Technology.
In the letters, Whitfield asks nine questions about how each agency devotes its time, money, and resources to climate-change policies and requests each official to include answers in his or her written testimony at the hearing. The subcommittee had asked the agencies to respond by Wednesday about who will testify. By press time Wednesday evening, only the Defense Department had confirmed it will provide a witness, although a Pentagon spokesperson was not able to provide the name. The subcommittee expects to confirm more witnesses in the coming days.
If it provides a witness, EPA will likely be the star of the hearing. Administrator Gina McCarthy had not confirmed by Wednesday evening whether she or someone on her behalf would testify. EPA regulations are the centerpiece of Obama's climate plan, and by the time the hearing occurs in mid-September, EPA should be just days away from announcing draft rules for controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants. When Obama announced his climate plan in June, he gave EPA a Sept. 20 deadline to announce these regulations, which will be repurposed from ones the agency initially proposed last year.
The hearing, entitled "The Obama Administration's Climate Change Policies and Activities," will touch on the science underpinning global climate change. A draft of a major United Nations report leaked to Reuters earlier this week showed that the panel of scientific experts writing the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is at least 95 percent certain that human activity — primarily burning of fossil fuels — is the biggest cause of global warming since the 1950s. The IPCC is the primary guide countries use when deciding how to confront climate change.
"The idea is to focus it on the administration's climate-change policy; obviously science is an integral part of that," said a Republican committee aide, who added that it will be "quite a production" covering a wide array of issues related to climate change.
Over the past two years, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Whitfield have ignored numerous letters from Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Energy and Power Subcommittee ranking member Bobby Rush, D-Ill., requesting a hearing on climate change and the latest science surrounding the issue. In the last Congress, the two Democrats sent 21 letters, according to their count. Upton and Whitfield responded to just one of those requests, in March of this year.
"We absolutely should hear from Administration witnesses about the threat of climate change," Waxman said in a statement to National Journal Daily. "We also should be hearing from the nation's leading scientists. Ever since the Republicans took over, the Committee has been AWOL on the biggest energy issue facing the nation. It's an embarrassing record that needs to change."
The agency heads the subcommittee has requested to testify are: McCarthy; Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx; Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Secretary of State John Kerry; USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah; Export-Import Bank Chairman and President Fred Hochberg; White House Science and Technology Director John Holdren; NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan; and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr.