House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton this week kicks off a wave of high-profile hearings and markups aimed squarely at attacking at the Obama administration’s signature policies – the healthcare law and global warming regulations. Also in the firing line is the administration’s key technology initiative, the FCC’s decision on net neutrality.
Upton has had a rocky transition from rank-and-file moderate to his new position as the Republican leadership’s point man, heading the charge against the major portions of the White House agenda. The influence in the GOP of tea party conservatives has prompted Upton to take a hard tack to the right – a position which some colleagues who have worked with him for years say may not always be a good fit.
That discomfort was in full display this morning at a National Journal Live event, at which National Journal editorial director Ronald Brownstein questioned Upton on his plans for the powerful committee’s agenda – and on some of his own views.
Upton has in the past called climate change “a serious problem” – a phrase he deleted from his web site last year after declaring his intent to run for committee chairman. Tomorrow, his panel holds the first hearing on his draft bill to gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. The bill’s language would ban EPA from any regulation concerning “possible climate change.”
Asked by Brownstein his views on the scientific reality of climate change, Upton repeatedly evaded the question, pointing instead to his opposition to climate policy that could harm the economy and his preference that climate rules come from Congress rather than a federal agency.
“Are you saying you are not convinced that climate change is occurring?” pressed Brownstein.
“If you look at this year the last year was the warmest year on record, the warmest decade on record. I accept that. I do not say that it’s manmade,” responded Upton.
“You believe that the climate is changing but not you’re not convinced human activity is causing the change, is that your position?”asked Brownstein.
Asked if there should be an explicit federal policy to control emissions, Upton replied, “I’m a strong supporter of green energy, including nuclear, which has no emissions.”
Upton’s much-anticipated faceoff with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson at Wednesday morning’s hearing will be the first formal clash between the administration and the new Republican House on the incendiary issue of climate change regulations, and could offer a road map of how each side intends to pursue their position in the coming months. Upton joked that lobbyists are already lining up outside the door to attend the hearing. “It’s $25 to reserve your place in line.”
Upton said he does not yet have a time frame for bringing the bill to the floor.
On the issue of overhauling the universal service fund, Upton said he believes Congress must take the lead on overhauling the universal service fund but added that it’s an issue where Democrats, Republican and the Obama administration can work together.
The Federal Communications Commission was set to vote Tuesday on taking the first step to overhaul the fund, designed to subsidize telecommunications service in rural and high-cost areas, and transform it to support broadband deployment.
Upton said the fund has grown too large and “needs to be capped.” He said he would like to work with the FCC and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on the issue. “Let’s figure out the right uses of where the money should be used,” Upton added.
On the contentious issue of net neutrality, Upton reiterated Republicans’ pledge to try to block the order approved by the FCC in December. While saying that a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act was the most likely the vehicle to do that, he noted that another option available to opponents would be to try to block funding for the FCC to implement the net neutrality rule. Next week’s likely vote on a continuing resolution for government operations is a possible target, he said, but added after the event that he does not know of a proposal that is expected to be offered at this point.
Juliana Gruenwald contributed to this report. contributed to this article.