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House Democrats Form New 'Climate Crisis' Committee


As we mentioned earlier, the new Congress takes office on Thursday. And even though ending the partial government shutdown will be job No. 1, Democrats who are taking control of the House have plenty of other priorities as well. One is addressing climate change. Activists say environmental rules have come under assault over the past two years. In fact, researchers say the Trump administration has rolled back about 80 rules relating to the environment during their time in office.

So, just this past week, Nancy Pelosi - likely the next speaker of the House - announced a new select committee on the climate crisis, and she has tabbed Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Florida as its chair. She joins us now. Congresswoman Castor, thanks for being here.

KATHY CASTOR: Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: So, first of all, why do we need to have this special select committee?

CASTOR: Well, we have to act with urgency. And, if you recall, last time Nancy Pelosi had the gavel, the speakership, she established a select committee on global warming and energy independence. So she is right to re-establish it. We - across the Democratic caucus along with some Republicans - understand that this is a dire risk to our way of life and that we have a moral obligation to our children and future generations to act now.

GONYEA: The name of the committee is different this time. The words climate crisis are right in there.

CASTOR: You bet. We don't need to do a lot of investigation on the problem. We have all of the experts that have weighed in. So it's not going to be a committee that just spins its wheels and doesn't recommend action. We are going to be very action-oriented.

GONYEA: What kind of action can we expect?

CASTOR: Well, what's going to be different is we're going to make sure that every single committee has policy recommendations. We will take action with our Republican colleagues where we can. I mean, after all, Trump is still in the White House, and the GOP still controls the Senate. But there have got to be some bipartisan things we can do, maybe on fuel economy. And I think we also need to highlight the leaders in communities, in states across the country that already are going a hundred percent renewable and changes the dynamic there.

GONYEA: And what do you know, at this point, about the makeup of the committee?

CASTOR: It's got to be a bipartisan committee. But I'm hopeful we'll have some of the outstanding freshmen members that can bring their new passion and energy to this committee. We need them, desperately. The entire Congress, simply, has been out of touch with what's happening across the country in moving towards a clean energy economy.

GONYEA: I'm wondering - how does this committee, which you admit, you know, doesn't have direct power to write legislation or get things enacted - how do you plan on working with an administration where there's a great deal of open skepticism toward the science on climate change?

CASTOR: Well, I've learned that you just never give up. Yes, the Trump administration has weakened clean water, clean air, fuel economy standards to the detriment of the health of American families. But it's really hitting Americans in our pocketbook now as they pass along enormous costs. For example, here, in Florida, when you roll back clean water standards, you're socking it to the small businesses that rely on clean water and clean beaches. So our impetus is going to be action. We're going to press these committees. We're going to work in conjunction with activists and average Americans all across this country to push back on the Trump administration's dirty agenda.

GONYEA: But an EPA that can write rules and a Republican Senate - those are both significant obstacles, it would seem.

CASTOR: Very significant. But I have seen progress in my lifetime. Clean Water Act has cleaned rivers and bays. The Clean Air Act has cleaned the air. Those were not easy things to do. We tackled acid rain. And, even when you have political stumbling blocks, we will continue the momentum. The science, the momentum is on our side. What we don't have time for is to delay.

GONYEA: With the government shutdown, we don't know when you'll get to settle in and get to work on this. But when you do, what aspect of climate change do you anticipate focusing on first?

CASTOR: Well, the day that we are sworn in, we will adopt a package that will authorize this committee to begin work. And we will begin right away. And when it comes to climate, it's going to be pressing for the things that are doable right off the bat, like fuel economy standards and additional action by state and local governments. And then, we will continue to power away at the Trump administration and the Senate that have blocked progress. And you simply can't give up on this.

GONYEA: That was Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who will be leading the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Congresswoman Castor, thank you for speaking with us.

CASTOR: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEVIN MORBY SONG, "CITY MUSIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.