Reflecting on the work of the soon-to-retire House climate committee
A conversation with Rep. Kathy Castor, the chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
In 2019, in the wake of Democrats’ congressional victories, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she would be re-forming the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which had been disbanded by Republicans in the previous session. She appointed Florida Representative Kathy Castor as chair.
At the time, the decision caused considerable controversy in the climate community. Climate activists were pushing for a more ambitious committee, with the power to write a full Green New Deal legislative package. Instead, the committee was to be an advisory body only, meant to do research and develop policy suggestions.
History is littered with congressional committees that busily produce reports and whitepapers that no one reads. But the climate committee proved much more potent than that.
Castor set about gathering testimony from hundreds of witnesses — scientists, policy wonks, and average citizens alike — and putting her expert staff to work translating their testimony into policy recommendations. But the recommendations did not simply decorate reports. The Democrats on the committee, and the Democrats educated by the committee's work, took those recommendations back to their own committees, where they found their way into a wide variety of bills. The bipartisan infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act contained numerous policies that originated in the climate committee.
Altogether, hundreds of the recommendations made by the committee found their way into law — a crazy-high success rate for a committee with no real power. As the committee prepares to sunset — of course Republicans are disbanding it again — it has put out a final report, summarizing all its achievements and pointing to the work that remains to be done.
I called Rep. Castor to get her thoughts on the committee's work, the achievements she is most proud of, and what progress she thinks can be made in the next two years.