Welcome
Environment & Energy Report

Speaker Pelosi Leads Delegation to Madrid Climate Conference

Nov. 30, 2019, 11:00 AM

It’s been a decade since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led lawmakers to the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit. This year, she’s making a comeback.

The California Democrat arrives in Madrid Nov. 30 with 13 House members and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 25), the annual gathering to foster global cooperation to avert catastrophic climate change.

Pelosi’s delegation will serve as a counterbalance to the Trump administration, which on Nov. 4 began the formal process of withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate accord to set national greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“One of the goals we have is to make sure that all of those who are in the Paris accord know that the Democratic majority in the Congress of the American people are very concerned about the climate issue, understand that we have to set goals and have a plan on how to achieve them, and to talk about some of the things that we have done,” Pelosi told Bloomberg Environment in an exclusive interview before her trip.

The delegation’s members range from the caucus’ Green New Deal backers— like Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)—to moderates like Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who is focused on passing climate legislation with GOP support.

House Members Join Pelosi

Four House committee chairmen—Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) of Energy and Commerce, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) of Science, Space, and Technology, Grijalva of Natural Resources, and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis—are joining Pelosi.

Most of the climate select committee’s Democrats are also going: Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (Ore.), Julia Brownley (Calif.), Mike Levin (Calif.), Sean Casten (Ill.), Joe Neguse (Colo.), and Huffman.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, and two Energy and Commerce members—Peters and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)—will attend as well.

Pelosi also invited at least one Republican, Rep. Garret Graves (La.), the ranking member of the climate select committee. Graves was unable to join the delegation due to scheduling difficulties, his spokesman said.

Since reclaiming the gavel as speaker this year, Pelosi reinstated the climate select committee and directed every congressional panel to hold hearings on how climate change would affect the issues within their jurisdiction. The select committee will release a report in March with policy recommendations for addressing climate change.

“We will be using all the tools at our disposal, one of them being the Ways and Means Committee, where we have been working on incentives for renewables and the rest in terms of using the tax code,” Pelosi said. “We have been using the Appropriations committees on how we can we can allocate resources to achieve the goal of reducing carbon in the timeline that we all talk about, 2050.”

House Democrats’ key climate bill this year, the Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9), would force the Trump administration to remain in the Paris Agreement. The U.S. formally entered the accord in 2016, pledging to reduce emissions by at least 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.

The House climate measure isn’t expected to get consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The following Q&A from the interview has been edited and condensed for clarity:

Bloomberg Environment: The last U.N. climate conference you attended was the 2009 Copenhagen summit. Why didn’t you attend the Paris conference in 2015?

Pelosi: The Speaker [Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)] canceled our bipartisan trip to the Paris conference at the last minute. One of my biggest disappointments was that he just canceled the trip and we couldn’t go, so that’s why we weren’t in Paris. But we prepared for it very well. We were in touch with it technologically, but not present there. But we were very much a part of what was happening in Paris.

Bloomberg Environment: What do you hope to accomplish at the conference? Are you coordinating with the Trump administration’s delegation in any way?

Pelosi: We have some idea of some of our common ground that we hope we may have. We have a little different view in terms of the White House on climate than we do have among the majority in the House of Representatives.

We will have a senator on our trip too [representing] Democrats in the Senate. While we want to be as friendly, shall we say, to where we can find some common ground, we are our own congressional delegation.

One of the goals we have is to make sure that all of those who are in the Paris accord know that the Democratic majority in the Congress of the American people are very concerned about the climate issue, understand that we have to set goals and have a plan on how to achieve them, and to talk about some of the things that we have done. We’ve had over 100 hearings on the climate crisis.

When I became speaker the first time, [one of my top issues] was climate. I formed the select committee on climate and [now-Sen. Ed] Markey [(D-Mass.] headed it. We passed the biggest energy bill in the history of the country and President [George W.] Bush signed it. It was like taking millions of cars off the road, would change emissions standards and all of that.

We were not successful in getting the other part of it, the cap-and-trade part of it, passed through the Senate. We didn’t have 60 votes there. But when we went to Copenhagen, we were in the lead in what we were doing.

Bloomberg Environment: You suggested earlier this year that you would like to revive a cap-and-trade bill in Congress. Is that still something we can expect?

Pelosi: I didn’t say we would do cap and trade, I said we would do something on climate, whether that’s cap and trade, whether that’s whatever the hearings yield. If I said cap and trade I was keeping it too narrow.

After we collect all of this information and have the recommendation of our select committee, within the committees of jurisdiction, the legislative committees will go forward on how we can address this.

Bloomberg Environment: Some say that H.R. 9 doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t directly address carbon emissions. What can lawmakers do to put the U.S. on a path toward net-zero emissions?

Pelosi: You’re right, it isn’t a bill that goes into that because that is what we are working on now. That is the purpose of having the hearings and that is the purpose of collaborating to hear on how we can interact globally with how we can act locally. So I’m not going to give you a bill on that regard now, because that’s what my members have been tasked to do.

But we will be using all the tools at our disposal, one of them being the Ways and Means Committee, where we have been working on incentives for renewables and the rest in terms of using the tax code. We have been using the Appropriations committees on how we can we can allocate resources to achieve the goal of reducing carbon in the timeline that we all talk about, 2050.

Bloomberg Environment: The U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement intends to strengthen environmental safeguards in global trade. When can we expect the White House and Congress to strike a deal on USMCA?

Pelosi: We’re waiting to see in writing what the response is to what our proposal has been, and the suggestions we have made to the original legislation that we have seen. We need to do much more on environment. Unfortunately this administration will not go to a place that addresses the climate crisis directly, but we will have very much improved environmental language in it.

We have many areas where we have improved the policy, but we just have to see the language. That’s what we’re working on now. We’re making progress.

Bloomberg Environment: A recent U.N. report finds that the world is drifting further from being able to reach the goals for a stable climate. What does Congress need to do now, given this urgency?

Pelosi: The U.N. suggestion that we are in dire straits, and some of the statistics to demonstrate and prove that, is alarming. But we need the alarm to go off.

I went to [the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, in August] as a member of the heads of Parliament. The heads of Parliament were focused on the climate crisis, specifically on the oceans. And that’s one of the issues, one of the priorities that I will bring to this meeting as well. The condition of the oceans has a big impact on the health of the planet. One of the projections that we saw there is that by 2050, there will be more tons of plastic in the ocean than tons of fish in the ocean. And that’s just unsustainable.

Next year, the G7 will be held in the United States. I will host the G7 for heads of Parliament. Our theme will be the Climate Crisis with Economic and Environmental Justice for All. [Note: Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters Oct. 17 that climate change would not be discussed next year among the G7 heads of state.]

[In Madrid] we’ll also bring our anticipation for what we can do next year.

A lot of it is how we engage the private sector. What they’re saying to us is, let’s just agree on what the terms are, and so that we can all operate under those terms.

Bloomberg Environment: Who are you meeting in Madrid? Any heads of state?

Pelosi: We’re very pleased with the agenda while we’re there. My first [climate conference] was in 1992 in Rio. I found the most productive part was how we interacted with the [non-governmental organizations] that were there, as well as all of the higher-profile people, to see what’s happening on the ground in these countries. It was quite invigorating.

It’s not a place you go necessarily to see heads of state. It’s nice if you can, and we will, but we also meet with the ministers of the country, the NGOs, their representatives, and then some in the business and labor community and [discuss] how we can work together. It’s time well spent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington at tstecker@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com