Volts
Volts
Reflecting on the work of the soon-to-retire House climate committee
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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.
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In this episode, Florida Rep. Kathy Castor, chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, describes the committee’s ambitious goals and notable achievements over the past three years.

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Text transcript:

David Roberts

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.

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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.

Florida Rep. Kathy Castor (Photo: Getty Images)
Florida Rep. Kathy Castor (Photo: Getty Images)

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.

Alright, then. With no further ado, Representative Kathy Castor. Welcome to Volts. Thank you so much for coming.

Rep. Kathy Castor

Oh, I'm delighted to be here, David. Thank you.

David Roberts

So just to start off, I'm assuming that the coming Republican majority is going to shut down the committee. Has this been explicitly stated yet, or is this just ... are we all assuming? Is that a valid assumption?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Yeah, the ranking member, Garret Graves of Louisiana, did kind of spill the beans. The problem is, on the Republican side, the Speaker-to-be, Kevin McCarthy, does not quite have the votes yet. So that leaves everything in limbo getting organized for the new year. But, they've made it plain that the climate crisis is not a priority for them, and therefore the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will not exist in the next Congress.

David Roberts

So then it's been wrapped up. It's been a whirlwind three years, I guess, since you were placed in charge of this committee. Have you had a chance to kind of pause and step back and think about it all, or are you still kind of in a sprint til' the end of the term?

Rep. Kathy Castor

It has been a sprint right til' the end, especially since the large appropriations package and the defense bill were not completed due to really foot-dragging of the US Senate. We have so much more left to do. I mean, we are thrilled that this was the most important Congress when it comes to clean energy and climate action and building more resilient, safer communities across the country. I mean, this was the Congress, the one that people inside and outside have been pressing for decades, frankly. But there's still so much more left to do. We're living in a climate emergency, and the world's top scientists tell us it is just urgent that we reduce climate pollution across the board. And now we have the tool. We passed a number of the tools, but implementation will be key, and that's what we're looking ahead towards.

David Roberts

I wanted to ask you, looking back on it, if you can cast your mind back to 2019, when you became chair and you had a majority in the House, but very narrow-split Senate, looking back, were you surprised by the productivity of this Congress? How did it perform, relative to your expectations from back in 2019?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Gosh, it was yes, I think the the fact that we were able to accomplish so much when the United States Senate was divided 50-50 truly exceeded our expectations, but we really didn't have a choice. Policy could not wait any longer, while so many private actors, private sector, clean energy entrepreneurs, some utilities, some states and local communities are going gangbusters. The federal government and the Congress had not responded. So the stars finally aligned when we kind of knitted together pieces of the climate movement across the country, across the economy, and had the plan ready when President Biden was elected. But a 50-50 Senate, that was a roadblock. But looking back now, it's pretty impressive. The bipartisan bills that we were able to pass into law.

David Roberts

Yeah, my expectations are so low, naturally, that I was quite pleasantly surprised. So let's talk about a little bit about what I think is one of the most striking features of this last few years, which has been a crazy time. But I wrote a piece back in, I think it was 2019 or 2020, about the climate movement kind of splintered apart after Waxman-Markey back in 2008, 2009, and was kind of just fractured and drifting up through, I would say probably like 2018. And then, of course, I've been writing about these processes, whereby groups are talking to one another, and there's been just this intensive policy discussion and activity.

And the left seem to sort of pull together around a policy vision, which I sort of characterized as standards, investments, and justice: SIJ. I tried to get SIJ to catch on, but it never quite did. But then your committee comes along, you consult with hundreds of people. You get testimony from hundreds of people. And that's kind of that shared vision is more or less what you came around to. And for all the chaos of the ensuing years and all the sort of ups and downs and roller coaster of it, there was remarkably little, I thought, conflict within the Democratic Party or within the left about policy specifics.

There seemed to be a weird sort of policy consensus that kind of held firm. Did that strike you too, especially relative to like, 2008, 2009, when, you know, whether you supported cap and trade or not was this, you know, this absolute marker of your purity or your intentions and all this, you know, all the very vicious policy fights back then? I thought there was a strange amount of consensus around policy this time around. Did you find that as well?

Rep. Kathy Castor

I'm glad that we made it look easy, because it wasn't. And it really started with Speaker Pelosi's vision coming back in tackling the climate crisis, there's nothing like having a professional committee, staff of experts. Some of the other committee chairs in the Congress, they protect their turf, their jurisdiction, but she understood that solutions to the climate crisis cut across all jurisdictions and they needed to be knitted together. So having Ana Unruh Collin serve as our staff director, a brilliant, knowledgeable scientist, but policy guru. And then Alison Cassady is our deputy, who had served under Chairman Waxman, went through EPA after a report and now is helping Codesta in the White House get all of these clean energy and resiliency policies done. Fatima Maud, great on transmission in the power sector. Samantha Medlock, who understood that the climate we have to prepare and adapt, so another professional. So there's nothing like having a team that is in place, ready to listen.

David Roberts

Most of them, veterans of the Waxman-Markey fight. So, had seen how things could go, I think, and went in, determined to make them go differently this time.

Rep. Kathy Castor

You're absolutely right. And what I learned watching Speaker Pelosi and just kind of growing up as a policy nerd myself, is that from the very get-go, you have to listen. You have to listen and learn. And that's what we set out to do right off the bat; listen to farmers who were hungry for climate solutions because their crops and livestock being impacted, scientists, folks in the clean tech sector, the innovators. We needed to understand what the modern solutions were. The environmental justice community, who had felt so left out of discussions on solutions, on clean energy and technology for many years, and we set out to do that, held a number of those listening sessions, but put out a request for information asking for the climate solutions across the country.

And at that time, we also Hal Harvey and the folks at Energy Innovation gave us a kind of set-the-table tutorial to really point us in the direction of what gets the biggest bang for the buck when we're talking about reducing climate pollution and clean energy. And then, before COVID came down, trying to go out across the country to listen, one of the first trips was to coastal South Carolina to look at the impacts of climate on ... and coming from the state of Florida, I understand very well the impacts of climate on a tourism economy and your economic wellbeing. But then out to Colorado, to the National Renewable Energy Lab, where we really tried to bring our Republican colleagues along with us, because durable policy oftentimes has to be bipartisan. And I think looking back on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS Act, everything we've done in the defense bills through the appropriations, they were bipartisan, and they will be more durable. The Inflation Reduction Act, not as bipartisan, but, boy, to have ten years of continuity of clean energy tax credits and energy efficiency across the economy will provide that certainty that our innovators need.

David Roberts

So you put out this report in 2020, or not 2020. When did the big report come out? Was that earlier this year?

Rep. Kathy Castor

It was 2020, David.

David Roberts

It's all a blur.

Rep. Kathy Castor

I know. It does get blurred. And in fact, we were set to release it in March of 2020, and I remember very well talking to Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer on the floor, and we said, okay, well, we won't be announcing it next week because of the COVID, but we'll be back in a month to do this. And it took a little longer, but it gave us time because the country was grappling with the murder of George Floyd. And we knew that, unlike Waxman-Markey, kind of technical solution to the climate crisis, that people across America were hungry for solutions that are much more cross-cutting and focused on equity and addressing the communities that have disproportionately carried the burden of pollution.

So, that gave us time to kind of build up our environmental justice pieces of it. And the other thing that gave us momentum was the youth climate movement at that time. And thank goodness we have environmental advocates across America who know how to organize. And they organized, and we heard them. Our very first hearing was with youth climate leaders, so that they understood that we were truly listening to their pleas for action. And it's important to have those protests they were protesting in the Congress, and they need to continue to press policymakers. But we listened and really turned their passion into policy.

David Roberts

So this report comes out in 2020 magisterial report, I would say extremely I wrote it up when it came out. I just thought it's extremely fleshed out in the report. There were 715 policy recommendations, and your recent sort of wrap-up report that just came out says, "Out of those, 436 passed to the House, and then 314 of them were signed into law." So I did the math: that's a 44% hit rate. You got to be feeling pretty good about that. I don't know what typical expert committees in Congress produce, but that seems like a remarkably high success rate for getting recommendations into policy.

Were you surprised how much from that initial report, sort of, survived the sausage-making process and sort of came out the other end more or less unmolested?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Yeah. We looked for every opportunity in every bill moving through the Congress to build in some of those policy recommendations into law. And for folks that want to look at that groundbreaking report at climatecrisis.house.gov, you'll see we had legislation in certain areas already drafted that was ready to go, and then we made other recommendations for the need for legislation and to their credit, members across the Congress took us up on our offer. We work very closely with each congressional committee. Almost, just about every committee had a piece of this.

David Roberts

Yeah, I wanted to ask about the ... because the committee didn't have the power to write legislation. It's just an advisory committee, which I think makes it kind of even more remarkable how much of its recommendations became a law. But tell me a little bit about the process, whereby this sort of recommendations that began in an advisory committee made their way to lawmaking committees. What was the sort of process, whereby you kind of diffused your recommendations and tried to get them into things? It seemed to work remarkably well behind the scenes. I didn't read a lot of stories about sort of infighting or backbiting so it seemed like a weirdly rational policy-making process. Tell us a little bit about how these things made their way into policy.

Rep. Kathy Castor

Well, Speaker Pelosi was very wise to appoint to the Climate Crisis Committee a number of members who are steeped in climate policy and politics. For example, Jared Huffman from California who was an environmental lawyer. He also sits on the Transportation Committee and has kept a very keen eye on those policies. Plus, Sean Casten, a clean energy tech guy from the midwest who understands power markets very well. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon who is a leader in oceans policy, Ocean Solicitors. Donald McEachin, who recently passed away, was kind of our moral conscience, and had crafted an Environmental Justice For All Act that we recommended, and a lot of the policies in equity sprung from that.

So, for example, as Chairman Peter DeFazio and the Congress was crafting the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that we also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. We had made recommendations for electrifying the transportation sector and doing it in a way that also built the bridge to workers and labor. And though it looked pretty easy looking back, I'll even say great. But these were very difficult discussions with auto makers, with auto workers, with members of Congress like a Debbie Dingell. But you had a Chairman DeFazio focused on this very important infrastructure law, something that President Biden ran on. So in the end, all of those taking, listening, and hammering out the compromises and policies in advance, we end up with an infrastructure law that includes $62 billion for the Department of Energy over five years to support clean energy transition and infrastructure upgrades, including the $7.5 billion to build the very first nationwide EV charging network.

So, that had already been built into the Biden administration's goal of 500,000 public EV chargers, and a future where all Americans can have easy access to EV charging. But it also has those important — none of this happens unless we can build the batteries. So $3 billion for battery manufacturing, recycling grants, another $3 billion for battery materials processing.

David Roberts

That was in the Infrastructure Act, right? I mean, this is one of the interesting things, is that you sort of seeded your recommendations in the Infrastructure Law and in CHIPS and in the Inflation Reduction Act. And so, we didn't end up in that kind of situation where there was just one big bill with everything this time. You guys were working on everything that had a chance of passing. It seems like.

Rep. Kathy Castor

That's correct. And with a patriotic flare. Buy American, build American. I know right now it's causing some consternation for a lot of our allies that also make cars and trucks, but that domestic content and the requirements for manufacturing in the United States, we viewed as vitally important to building bipartisan support for decades to come. And already you've seen the announcements of where these battery plants, where the EV plants are going to be built, largely in the midwest, largely in red states, in Republican areas.

And I think over time, the GOP is so wedded to oil and gas, but over time, as these workers and these communities have a piece of the clean energy future, it will be changing. It will build on itself, and it will help us address this climate emergency.

David Roberts

Yeah, I want to come back to that, too. So I don't want to ask you to choose a favorite child, but out of all these, out of this report, full, just chock full of recommendations, are there any recommendations or set of recommendations that became law that you are particularly proud of, that you think are particularly sort of central to what we're doing? If you had to choose kind of your favorite thing that you did that ended up actually passing the finish line, what would you point to?

Rep. Kathy Castor

The electric grid across America. And it's not all the way done, because there are some very significant policy changes that must happen. But what folks like Hal Harvey and Energy Innovators told us right away is the most important way to tackle the climate crisis and to reduce greenhouse gases is in the power sector, getting the lower cost solar, wind, energy-efficiency resources out ASAP, and then especially following on with the transportation sector. So, here I sit in the state of Florida, the so-called Sunshine State, but they've kept us addicted to gas. They've put all the eggs pretty much in the gas basket. And that has really cost my neighbors a lot of money.

When we have price spikes, especially after Putin's unprovoked attack on Ukraine, we can do so much better. We can lower cost, we can clean the air. We can build more resilient communities. You probably saw that after Hurricane Ian, the one community that didn't lose power and really didn't suffer as much damage was a solar-powered community, Babcock Ranch in southwest Florida. And, I want that for the entire country. And we're on the cusp of getting there, but that's why we have more work to do when it comes to getting the renewables out. But David, there's nothing like having those tax credits now for ten years.

David Roberts

Yeah. Hearing you put the grid at the center, of course, warms my heart. Of the stuff that didn't make it, were there pieces that you were more disappointed didn't make it? This is sort of the flip side of the other question. Is there stuff that you were hoping was going to make it that didn't, that you look back on with regret?

Rep. Kathy Castor

I wish we could get a national renewable portfolio standard. Again, using my experience here in the so-called Sunshine State, boy, we're a laggard. And again, we could bring that lower cost, clean energy to more of my neighbors here. And it's just so disjointed. You have states that have truly committed, local communities, truly committed. They're going to reap the benefits, and really, the benefits should be available to everyone. So, we recommended a clean energy standard, energy-efficiency standard. You need those goals to press ahead, even as you have the standards investments in justice. I think the goals are very helpful to set the bar.

David Roberts

Well, that's the standards piece, which is hard to get through a reconciliation bill, right? That's the nature of the beast.

Rep. Kathy Castor

And remember, it morphed into making large incentive payments to utilities to get there. But that didn't quite go. And at that time, it looked like the climate policy was teetering. And thank goodness we had a president who never gave up. And Senator Manchin came around to his credit, and a lot of outside groups kept pushing. I don't think that's very evident when you watch what's happening in Washington DC. You think it's so insular, but I think everyone can be grateful for the wide variety of interests, from the environmental justice groups to the innovators, to the scientists who just kept at it, kept pressing.

David Roberts

This is probably an unanswerable question, and I don't want to get into trying to get you to psychologize Joe Manchin. Thank god that those days are past us for now. But do you think that pressure from outside groups reached him? It's very hard to tell from the outside. He looks, from the outside, like he just doesn't care about most of those outside groups. Do you think that pressure had some role in bringing him around?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Yes, I do. And I think he has children and grandchildren. I don't think he wanted to get up and look in the mirror and be responsible for a planet that is not as livable for our kids and future generations.

David Roberts

Let's talk about a little bit of the Manchin changes. So he stripped out the renewable portfolio standard or the, I can't remember, the name of what it had become, but the sort of reconciliation equivalent of the renewable portfolio standard.

Rep. Kathy Castor

Yeah, Clean Energy Payment Program or Performance.

David Roberts

RIP.

David Roberts

So that would have been nice. But, the other main thing, as far as I can tell that he changed, was some changes to the EV tax credit. And I'm just curious what you make of the changes to that credit. Were you sort of supportive of those? Do you think they went too far? Because I've heard some concern that the requirements now for domestic content are kind of so tight that no one's going to be able to meet them for a couple of years. So curious if you have any thoughts on that.

Rep. Kathy Castor

It is going to be difficult. And when I say that we had a patriotic plan of action that was because we really do want to win the future. We want the United States of America to be building those electric vehicles and have the leading technology. But the minerals and the batteries are going — the domestic content requirements are going to be difficult — and I think everyone is pressing ahead. They're good tax credits and significant dollars to build up those domestic manufacturing, the plants, the workforce. So everyone is kind of pressing along in that direction, now.

It's only been a few months but yes, we're hearing from our allies. I know when President Macron was here recently that he was bending the President's ear. And there may be some ways for the administration as they go through implementation to listen and do some and things on timing. But I think, mostly, Americans are committed to wanting these to be a pathway to good paying jobs for our people. The industrial base in America, we've got to invest through CHIPS, through everything we've done with EVs, and I think we still have more room on workforce to do, but okay, so difficult, but we've got to try. It's important for competitiveness.

David Roberts

So Manchin stripped out the Clean Payment Program. He tweaked the EV tax credits a little bit, sort of tightening their domestic requirements. But it was striking that, for all the sort of suspense around Build Back Better, is it going to happen, is it going to not? Manchin stripped out the care provisions and a lot of the healthcare stuff. All this drama, through all that, the basic clean energy and climate portion of that bill was mostly left alone. What ended up passing in the Inflation Reduction Act is pretty close to what your expert committee members wrote down on paper. Did you expect Manchin to do more?

Because, you know, for all that, he's objecting and objecting and saying no. And I just thought, "Well, surely he's going to strip this down. Like he stripped everything else down." But he ended up sort of not doing all that much to it. What do you make of that?

Rep. Kathy Castor

I make of it that it really was an effort that knitted-together interest and collaboration across the economy that was bigger than the Congress. People knew if we didn't act now, we were condemning our kids to a bleaker future and that now was the time to lay the foundation to slash pollution across the board. It ended up through tax credits. Tax credits will drive investment in affordable clean energy, the electric vehicles, cost-saving energy efficiency technologies, but also through making environmental justice a cornerstone of climate action, a stronger enforcement of environmental laws. Monies will flow into that, increasing the investments to communities on the front lines. Rural communities, tribal communities, energy.

A lot of the communities that grew up through coal mining and frack gas, they're going to need to see themselves in the clean energy future as well. Bonuses for those High Road Labor standards, domestic manufacturing. Also the cross-cutting approach to reducing methane pollution. I think there was broad bipartisan realization that control of methane is vitally important ASAP to give us a fighting chance to meet our climate goals.

David Roberts

So do you think he left it alone because it was good policy? I guess, I love that story, and I hope it's true. So you say several times in this recent report there's a lot left to do. 44% of your recommendations pass, which is remarkable, but that leaves a bunch more that didn't pass. Do you have any hope at all of decent energy legislation passing through this coming Congress with Republicans in control of the House? Or is it more or less up to Biden over the next two years to act via executive action?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Democrats are going to be quite focused on finding bipartisan solutions moving forward, even with the chaotic Congress, the House of Representatives, that is sure to come, because there are some folks on that side that just are ... they live to shut down the government for some reason, I don't know. They're just not constructive. But, hopefully, they don't cause complete chaos. So most of the action, yes, will be in implementation. We have got to get money back into people's pockets through the more energy-efficient appliances and through weatherizing their homes and building the solar plants. My local mayor here in Tampa looked at the tax credits that they will receive and said, "Well, I'm going to put solar panels on top of this brand new big community center, and that's going to save us a million dollars."

Multiply that all across the country. But it's going to be important to get those monies out into people's pockets. And thankfully, we've got allies that are going to be working with us on that.

David Roberts

I'm just curious if there are particular things that you would like to see Biden do via executive action over the next two years? Any sort of top priorities left over from the report that you would like him to sort of prioritize?

Rep. Kathy Castor

The Department of Energy now has more resources at its disposal than ever before. That Green Climate Bank, I think is going to be fascinating to see the innovations that come from across the country. It's kind of like community development block grants that go to local communities where they have the most flexibility to determine what meets their own community needs. And I see that Green Climate Bank as a way to speed up some of these climate solutions.

But back to where there could be bipartisan work that I would hope everyone again can continue pressing policymakers to move on. We'll have a farm bill up, and ranchers, producers, farmers, they are hungry for climate-smart ag policy.

David Roberts

Is that true? Because now, traditionally there's been some hostility from the agricultural sector toward climate stuff. This has not been traditionally, historically allies. Do you really think opinion within that community has swung around to the necessity of this stuff or is it still kind of a trench warfare over there in that sector?

Rep. Kathy Castor

We have work to do. But I'll tell you, I met with a very conservative group here in Florida. The citrus growers, the dairy farmers, all of our nurseries, the specialty crops and they are ready to be part of the solution. There is so much that they learn through our ag extension offices and we have now made these climate-smart ag hubs, where farmers now can do more for soil health, for conservation. They should get some compensation if they are going to be part of the solution and sequester carbon and be smarter and more efficient. The whole entire food system, I would highlight, is an area where we can do so much better as well.

Then the defense bills now, the past two defense bills have been the most climate forward. For example, we're going to pass this omnibus appropriations bill and well over half of the trillion dollars, I think upwards of 900 billion goes to the Department of Defense. So they can be an important customer, a research instigator, deployment across their military bases, but developing those clean technologies in everything that they do. So that will have to continue. And that's why I'm so happy that the smart people at the Biden administration are there for two years so that we can implement and get these technologies and policies on track.

David Roberts

Well, if we're talking about executive branch action, you kind of got to think about the Supreme Court. I wonder how worried you are about the Supreme Court. How much of this do you think they could screw up? How safe do you think this entire effort is from the Supreme Court? What's kind of your level of worry there?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Well, the good news was the last term they didn't completely got EPA's authority to regulate climate pollution. So that was an important takeaway. And EPA needs to continue on in all of their important enforcement activities and ways to cut climate pollution from the regulatory side. You may remember, since you've read our 2020 Climate Crisis Action Plan all the way to the end, that we highlighted other policies that are important to tackling the climate crisis involving strengthening democracy. The January 6 Committee, now, has issued their final report. We have got to strengthen the laws relating to big money in elections transparency. There have been scandals across America in various states where electric utilities now are playing in elections. There's no reason that any ratepayer money, or some fungible money, should be going into blocking the deployment of lower cost clean energy. So strengthening our democratic institutions we highlighted as important climate solutions as well and they remain so.

David Roberts

It does not seem like the Supreme Court is on your side on that particular issue. This is a little bit of a depressing question, but it's all about implementation these next two years and the nature of the House seems pretty binary whether you have the majority or not. Is there anything you can do from the minority in the House to really make sure this is implemented well? What can you do from the minority in the House? Or is this just a time to retrench and dry your powder for the next fight? or what can you do from the minority?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Yeah, David, the policies, the grants, and the opportunities that flow out of the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPS, and everything else are so vast that an average member of Congress could spend every waking minute on making sure that your local community understands and is maximizing what will flow out of that law. So before I went to Congress, I served as a county commissioner and I'm busy already talking to my local partners and nonprofits, my environmental justice folks, but just plain city county governments and others to make sure that they understand what is available. At the same time, we've got to keep an eye on the entrepreneurs and the scientific discoveries. And again, I'll highlight the vast new resources at the Department of Energy.

In Congress, on the Energy and Commerce Committee, we know that the Republican majority is going to shine a spotlight on the Department of Energy. I anticipate Secretary Granholm will be a frequent visitor for our committee, and there's nothing wrong with oversight. But if you're going to throw a wrench into lower cost clean energy solutions, simply to benefit the legacy oil, gas, fossil fuel industry, that's just plain politics. And we need to stay focused on the people, and people over politics, and there will be plenty to do.

David Roberts

So big picture-wise, if you step back and you look at, say, the coming ten years, what do you see as kind of the biggest — between us and decarbonization, most of which is supposed to happen in the next ten years — what do you sort of lose sleep over? What do you see as the biggest challenge? Is it education? Is it transmission? Is it going to be politics? What are the sort of big, looming challenges you see that you worry most about as we try to pull off something, which is huge and has never been pulled off before?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Yeah. Again, I come to you with a Sunshine State perspective where we should be a leader in clean energy and where we lag behind. So I see enormous opportunities to lower electric bills and we're suffering through a property insurance crisis and flood insurance is not widely people just don't take it. Maybe they will now a little more these more intense hurricanes. But I see a political system that is not responding as it should for the people to have a plan to expedite the clean energy technologies, the plain weatherization, to use every tool at our disposal to help move to the clean energy economy through good paying jobs with an element of justice.

Fortunately, we now have a plan like that on the national level. But I worry it will be too disjointed and politics will come into play and the people who need it most will be denied the opportunity to have the lower cost clean energy, or the appliances, or the readily available EVs over ... in ten years that they should have.

David Roberts

Speaking of red state politics, I'm curious, looking back, how much help would you say you got in all of this from the minority members of the committee? How on board were they versus trying to throw wrenches in the works? What's your sort of take on where the Republicans on your committee are on all this stuff, especially after three years of work?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Well, they don't outright deny climate change any longer, so they bring arguments on cost that some things are unworkable. So I guess one thing it does is it has us sharpen our pencils and make sure that what we are proposing is workable. There are some bipartisan solutions out there on natural solutions and resiliency and adaptation. We've had good discussions on that and crafted some legislation on that, but still on the clean energy side, they're not totally there. But again, I am hopeful because now businesses, small and large, innovators, universities, red states and blue states, rural areas and not, will, over time, understand and have access to the jobs, the careers, the opportunities that I think will push them. The problem is we're running out of time.

David Roberts

Yeah, I was going to ask about that. So, one aspect of all the legislation they passed this last term, which I feel like doesn't really get enough press, I'm not sure if the public at large understands it very well. It's not just focused on reducing emissions and climate stuff, it is a big, industrial policy package. There's a ton of money to bring manufacturing and factories and mines and processing facilities and battery manufacturing and battery recycling, tons and tons of money to onshore those industries.

And I swear since the Inflation Reduction Act passed, I've probably seen like a half dozen, at least announcements of new plans for big manufacturing facilities. I just saw one plan for West Virginia yesterday, I forget what it is, if it's maybe battery manufacturing or recycling, one of those. So, one of the things that's going to happen — it's happening already — but it's going to continue happening in the next few years is a flood of jobs to red states. And I just wonder, is that going to change their position on this? Is that going to change their orientation on this stuff just at a grassroots level? Is incoming jobs going to shake people out of the partisanship on this and if so, when?

I realize there's no way to answer that question, but it seems like this ought to be sort of like an acid eating away at that opposition, right? The more jobs you have, the less opposition. Do you see that dynamic taking root yet or how long do you think that would take for that to sort of put down roots?

Rep. Kathy Castor

Yeah, there is nothing like your home grown, hometown industry and workers, your neighbors tell you these are good paying jobs. We see a future for our children to stay in this community, live here. There's nothing like that in moving a policymaker. And that's why we understood it was important to focus on energy communities. A rural, electric co-op here in Florida, they highlighted to me how important that was going to be to change over from old coal and gas into solar and other clean technologies. Oftentimes, those plants are the largest property taxpayer in those communities.

They are the largest employers. So, yes, over time that has to happen. But as I stated, we're running out of time, and so we're all in this together. But community engagement, that's why we thought it was also important to focus on building capacity among those energy intensive communities and the communities that have a lot of the polluting plants. And you'll see as the Biden administration rolls out grants and initiatives, they're going to stay true. I trust to that push for environmental justice, and I know a lot of people poopoo the term, but it simply is based on fairness. And we've got to follow through with our promise to make sure we're lifting up everyone, that everyone benefits from this transition to clean energy. Otherwise it will take longer and it will be harder.

David Roberts

Well, I've kept you a while, but to wrap up, I thought it was quite notable that in the 2022 midterms, as contentious as they were, you did not see Republicans organizing around opposition to — I was going to say the Inflation Reduction Act, but really the Infrastructure Act, CHIPS — all these sorts of big, marquee legislative achievements, many of which crucially involved climate stuff. And the Inflation Reduction Act basically was a giant climate bill. They didn't run against those, which is a striking contrast, again, to back in 2010, when opposition to the Waxman-Markey bill, the quote unquote "carbon tax," was a headline feature of almost every Republican campaign.

They didn't campaign against this climate bill. So what do we make of that? Why did that happen? What what is what can we learn from them?

Rep. Kathy Castor

You're right. They didn't shoot the Inflation Reduction Act with a shotgun.

David Roberts

Yes, exactly. No one shot it.

Rep. Kathy Castor

No, because climate impacts are all too real. All across the country, no one's immune. Whether you're suffering major water shortages in the west, Colorado River drying up, or huge wildfires, extreme heat, hurricanes that intensify faster, everyone ... there's been an awakening to the impacts of climate. And they cost so much. The folks aligned with fossil fuels, they've gotten away for years with saying, "Oh, we can't do clean energy because it's so expensive." Well, for one, clean energy is cheaper energy. But the cost of climate, the years of inaction or smaller steps were really costing us.

And I think people understand there are solutions out there. We just have to unleash the scientific know-how that we have here and convert a lot of those good ideas into actual solutions. We've got a lot of smart people — and a lot of dedicated people — who are ready to do this. And we're on the cusp of making it happen. I think having these huge gas price spikes, and people watch their neighbor with an EV doesn't even have to stop at the gas station and drives right by it. It kind of made people think twice. I know that F-150 electric truck as it rolls off, that's the number-one selling vehicle in America.

And they to think that you'll be able to come from the Florida perspective again. We have a hurricane, and they knock out your electricity and you can plug in your air conditioner, your home into that truck and power it for a while. So people now, they're waking up to ... okay, climate is ... if we don't address it now, we're condemning our kids to a bleaker future. And right now, it's costing us a lot, and we've got to get a hold of our wallets, too.

David Roberts

So you really think that climate denialism and the sort of anti-clean energy has lost its political potency on the right? Are you willing to lay down that marker?

Rep. Kathy Castor

I wouldn't say entirely, no. There are still members of Congress. They don't lead with it anymore.

David Roberts

Right.

Rep. Kathy Castor

They don't lead with it, but it's there, unfortunately. But, I think we're poised to deliver again. But that's what it depends on, this implementation. And it's up to everyone. I hope everyone who listens to your podcast understands they also have a responsibility, and I trust they take that seriously, to be guided by the science and rooted injustice and powered by American workers to provide those solutions to our neighbors.

David Roberts

Well, I do think, facts on the ground, as they say, generally do more to change people's minds than arguments and reports and white papers and IPCC meetings. So we'll get to see that tested in these next few years.

Thank you so much for coming on. I encourage everybody to read this report you guys put out. It's a really interesting sort of summary of what made it from your report into law and what remains to be done for Congress. Again, it's always policy nerds. Policy nerds will love this. It's very in-depth of what has and hasn't been done. And just thank you, again, for your work over these past three years.

I feel like it's not often, especially in the current American system of government, that you really get a chance to be at the center of something and help change things in a concrete way. And I feel like your committee has done that in a way that a lot of expert committees and meetings don't. So, congratulations on that and thanks for all your work.

Rep. Kathy Castor

Well, thank you, David. And again, we had a fantastic team, some committed members. We had the most effective Speaker of the House in the history of America, and Nancy Pelosi. And the Climate Committee was her vision, and she's always focused on making sure we're keeping an eye on our kids and future generations. But thanks to everyone. I bet a lot of your listeners weighed in with the Climate Committee along the way and helped us craft these solutions. And thanks to you for your attention to our work.

David Roberts

Thank you for listening to the Volts podcast. It is ad-free, powered entirely by listeners like you. If you value conversations like this, please consider becoming a paid Volts subscriber at volts.wtf. Yes, that's volts.wtf, so that I can continue doing this work. Thank you so much, and I'll see you next time.

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Volts

Volts

Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)