With Green New Deal Committee Neutered, Energy and Commerce Democrat Says “Smash and Grab” Is Over

The Sunrise Movement hopes Chair Frank Pallone will take action on climate policy that fulfills a commitment to science and justice.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 08:  Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee begin work on the proposed American Health Care Act, the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. House Republicans were rushing the legislation through the powerful Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means committees, aiming for a full House vote next week.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee begin work on the proposed American Health Care Act, the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, on March 8, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Energy and Commerce Democrats weren’t thrilled about the suggestion of a new select House committee on climate change, worried that its power would creep into their expansive jurisdiction. Committee leaders flexed what internal muscle they had to make sure that the committee, established at the behest of progressives behind the “Green New Deal,” was defanged, withholding subpoena power and the authority to approve new legislation.

Rep. Bobby Rush, the No. 2 Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Intercept that he was pleased to see the end of a “smash and grab” that’s pushed the committee to cede “too much of our jurisdiction over the years.”

“The grab is over, as far as I’m concerned, in terms of Energy and Commerce, this smash and grab that’s been going on for too long in this Congress,” he told The Intercept in an interview.

“We’re gonna return to regular order as we have exercised it in the past, and we stand on it now. You know, we’re not ceding any of the Energy and Commerce jurisdiction. I’m not in favor of not one measure, not one iota of Energy and Commerce’s jurisdiction to be ceded to other committees.”

Asked what he planned to do with that power, Rush said, “We’re gonna do what we’ve always done. Legislate, deliberate, legislate, move bills to the floor. And we’re going to continue to work hard on behalf of the American people.”

But while Chair Frank Pallone said he understands and shares concerns “about the need for transformational action” laid out in the Green New Deal, he added in a statement to The Intercept that he wants to prioritize “actions we can take this year that will make a difference now.”

That doesn’t square with the Green New Deal’s 10-year plan to get to 100 percent renewable energy, which foresees drafting and organizing around transformative legislation in the next two years, and then enacting it in the beginning of a new Democratic administration. To pull that off, the advocates of the select committee argued that none of its members should take money from fossil fuel companies.

Stephen Hanlon, communications director for the Sunrise Movement, which led the occupation in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told The Intercept that walking and chewing gum was preferable. “With Trump in the White House, we’re focusing on building the public and political support to elect a Congress and president in 2020 that can make the Green New Deal law in 2021,” Hanlon said. “We certainly should take what action we can in the interim, but that is no substitute for putting forward a plan in line with the ambition the latest science says is necessary.”

Pallone argued that the fossil fuel industry dollars flowing through the committee won’t have any impact on the agenda.

The committee’s first hearing will assess the environmental and economic impacts of climate change, Pallone said, and it will be “the first of many hearings on the subject.” He pointed out the “stark difference from past Republican House majorities, which refused to hold hearings on climate change and denied that it even existed.” Asked if oil and gas executives would be called before the committee, a spokesperson told The Intercept that no decisions have been made about specific hearings or who would testify.

Pallone plans to prioritize investing in green energy infrastructure, energy efficiency, and other programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reversing a long list of environmental rollbacks under the Trump administration, he said, which included lifting restrictions on coal plant greenhouse gas emissions and opening parts of the Arctic to oil and gas drilling.

But when asked whether the committee would reconsider how it addresses contributions to members from the fossil fuel industry, Pallone — who took $30,900 in oil and gas money last election cycle — noted his longstanding support of public campaign finance and said he believes that lawmakers should be judged instead by their record and agenda.

Asked if he thought the pledge by incoming Reps. Nanette Barragán and Darren Soto to refuse fossil fuel money would spread to other members of the committee, Rush told The Intercept that he wasn’t sure. “And that’s an individual decision among members of the committee. I would not dare try to dictate their fundraising strategies or techniques,” he said. Barragán took $6,000 in oil and gas PAC money last election cycle. Neither Barragán nor Soto responded to requests for comment.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, former chair of the conservative Blue Dog caucus, took the most money from the oil and gas industry last cycle at $77,500, with $75,500 coming from PACs and $2,000 from individuals. Next is incoming committee member Rep. Marc Veasey, who took a total of $63,050, including $40,500 from PACs and $22,550 from individuals. Rep. Tony Cárdenas took $31,005 from the industry, including $29,000 from PACs and $2,005 from individuals. Rep. Scott Peters took $31,703, including $25,000 from PACs and $6,703 from individuals. Rep. Ben Ray Luján took $23,000 from PACs and $2,150 from individuals. Rep. Gene Green took $24,000 from the industry, including $23,500 from PACs and $500 from individuals.

Additionally, Rep. Paul Tonko took $24,000 in PAC money. Rep. Mike Doyle took $18,000 from oil and gas PACs, and Rep. Peter Welch took $18,000. Rep. Doris Matsui took $17,000 in oil and gas PAC money, Rush took $13,000, and Rep. G. K. Butterfield took $11,500. Rep. Debbie Dingell took $11,000 from PACs and $1,500 from individuals. Rep. David Loebsack took $8,000 from PACs. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester took $7,000 in oil and gas PAC money, and Rep. Donald McEachin took $5,500. Rep. Eliot Engel took $5,450, including $2,000 from PACs and $3,450 from individuals. Rep. Raul Ruiz took $3,000 from PACs and $1,623 from individuals. Rep. Robin Kelly took $3,000 from PACs. Rep. Jerry McNerney took $3,500 from PACs and $1,000 from individuals. Reps. Yvette Clarke and Diana DeGette took $1,000 from PACs. Reps. Anna Eshoo and John Sarbanes took $1,000 from one or more individuals in the industry.

Of 31 Democrats on the committee, those who signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, in addition to Barragán and Soto, are Reps. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. Kennedy took $12,080 from individuals in the industry last cycle, and returned $1,000 in oil and gas PAC money.

Asked if Veasey would continue taking oil and gas money, his office did not answer the question but directed The Intercept to a tweet from his account announcing his support for public campaign financing, as laid out in H.R. 1. Schrader did not respond to a request for comment.

Vice Chair Yvette Clarke of New York, who has not signed the pledge and took $1,000 in oil and gas PAC money last election cycle, told The Intercept that she didn’t have a position on the issue. “I think that if that is a determination about how you vote or how you shape policy, that it’s definitely a conflict,” she said, but added that during her time in the committee minority, Democrats were unified in pushing back against bad actors. “I haven’t seen that as a major factor, as a factor at all,” she said.

Rep. Eliot Engel, also of New York, took $5,450 from the oil and gas industry last cycle. He told The Intercept he doesn’t take money from the industry, and that any contributions he may have taken in the past were “a mistake.” Asked if he thought his colleagues should join the pledge, he said he thought it was an independent decision. “I don’t take the money because I don’t agree with the philosophy, but I’m not gonna point the finger at anybody else,” he told The Intercept. He said he doesn’t think that taking oil and gas money presents a conflict of interest but that he “would love to see money get out of politics,” referencing New York City’s public campaign finance program as a model.

“Politicians making climate policy should not be taking money from the lobbyists and executives who have spent the past decades deceiving the public about the science and doing everything they can to protect their bottom lines, even when that means imperiling the entire planet,” said Hanlon, the Sunrise Movement spokesperson. “Any politician who wants the votes of young people in 2020 needs to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and back a Green New Deal. If Frank Pallone is serious about taking action on climate, he will use his chairmanship to put forward a vision for a Green New Deal in line with what science and justice demands.”

Correction: February 5, 2019
Due to an error in analyzing contribution data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, this article originally omitted some contributions committee members received from the oil and gas industry. The article had also incorrectly stated that some members do not receive industry contributions, but in fact, they do. It has been updated to reflect the full scope of industry contributions received by committee members.

Join The Conversation