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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Power of the Purse and ‘Climate Action Now’

Air Date: Week of

Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced HR 9, Climate Action Now, on March 27, 2019. (Photo: House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis)

House Democrats now in the majority have leverage through the federal budget for policies they are keen to advance, including climate action. Their 'Climate Action Now' bill HR 9 would bar President Trump from using federal funds to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, as he has vowed to do. The bill also calls for President Trump to plan how the U.S. will keep its Paris commitments. Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL), Chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, spoke with Host Steve Curwood about the prospects of the 'Climate Action Now' bill moving forward.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. World leaders finally agreed on a climate action plan in Paris back in 2015, but as soon as President Trump took office in 2017 he declared the US would back out at the earliest possible moment in 2020. While federal climate action has been stalled, nonetheless many states, cities and private businesses have taken up the challenge. And now the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is trying to legislate to keep the US in the Paris Climate Agreement. The House is powerful when it comes to government finance and Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and Chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, recently introduced the “Climate Action Now Act” that would ensure the U.S. meets its Paris goals. Representative Castor joins me now from Tampa, Florida. Welcome back to Living on Earth!

CASTOR: Well, thank you so much.

CURWOOD: So tell me about the Climate Action Now Act that you recently introduced, what are the key points in this act?

CASTOR: Well, the Democrats, who now are in the majority in the House of Representatives, are delivering on our promise to take bold action to confront the climate crisis, which is heaping huge costs on families and businesses. And unfortunately, the Trump administration, President Trump, said, we're going to leave the Paris Climate Agreement. So our H.R. 9, Climate Action Now bill, would say that we intend to stay. We're not going to retreat, we're not going to cut and run, we are going to live up to our commitments. It also requires the president to come up with a plan for how he is going to meet our commitments. When we entered into this agreement with the rest of the world, we said we will develop a plan to reduce carbon pollution by 26 to 28% beyond 2005 levels, and we will aim to do that by 2025. The Obama administration was on track to do that through the Clean Power Plan, developed after years of working with stakeholders and states, and working people across America. And we've lost momentum under the Trump administration, we have got to get back on track.

The leaders of the Paris Agreement celebrated its adoption at COP21 in December 2015. From left: Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres; Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; President of COP21 Laurent Fabius; and French President François Hollande. (Photo: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

CURWOOD: Why is it important to introduce the Climate Action Act right now?

CASTOR: It's vitally important, we don't really have a choice. The problem is that time is of the essence here. The impacts and costs of the climate crisis are escalating. You open the newspaper, you turn on the radio every day, you hear about a new climate-driven catastrophe. And we simply have got to reduce the greenhouse gases and begin -- continue this transition but do it in a bolder fashion.

CURWOOD: Now, part three of your bill says and I quote here -- "notwithstanding any other provision of law, no funds are authorized to be appropriated, obligated or expended to take any action to advance the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement." So whether or not your entire bill passes, might this appear as an amendment to some broad appropriations measures?

CASTOR: You bet. That's where a House majority, House Democratic majority, has a pressure point, through the Appropriations Act, because it is the Congress that has the power of the purse. I would not be surprised if this is contained in the appropriations bills that pass the House of Representatives. And hopefully there are enough Republicans and Democratic members in the US Senate that will go along with that. For example, new Senator Mitt Romney from Utah has stated clearly that he believes that the Paris Climate Agreement is not only about climate, it's about America remaining a global leader. He's not alone. When you look at the polls across the country, most Republicans support staying in the Paris Climate Agreement. And I think with that momentum, we just might have a chance to get that provision in an appropriations bill sent to the President.

Speaker Pelosi spoke on March 27 at the introduction of Climate Action Now. (Photo: House Speaker’s Office / Facebook)

CURWOOD: How tough might you have to be, might you have to attach this to something that must pass -- a defense appropriation, something that the vast majority of the Republican caucus in the Senate would be in favor of?

CASTOR: I can tell you've watched the Congress! [LAUGHS] You know how, how things work, sometimes. Yes, we will use every tool at our disposal. Like I said, we simply don't have a choice. The longer the United States at the federal level does not take bold action, the more costly it's going to be in coming years. We're behind already, based on the Fourth National Climate Assessment that the Trump administration released last November, we know that climate change is happening from faster than we anticipated. For a little while it looked like we were doing better here on greenhouse gas emissions; but no, reports say they are increasing at extreme levels. Same with methane, there was another report out this week. So time is of the essence.

CURWOOD: Representative Castor, when might your bill come up for a vote in the House, when will you get through the hearings process and bring it out to the floor, do you think.

CASTOR: The Climate Action Now Act, H.R. 9 is referred to two committees: The Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Elliot Engel of New York, and the Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Frank Pallone from New Jersey. We are going through regular order in the House of Representatives now, so the committees will have an opportunity to weigh in -- possibly amend the act, but it's pretty straightforward. Then I anticipate it will come to the floor of the House for a vote in April. And I hope it will be a strong bipartisan vote. This is something we can agree on. And Republicans in the House have sponsored similar resolutions. So we're going to be pushing for a big bipartisan vote on H.R. 9, Climate Action Now.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) is a seventh-term Congresswoman and Chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. (Photo: United States Government, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

CURWOOD: So the 195, 197 other nations that signed on to Paris were well aware of the American election cycle and set this date as November 4th of 2020 that the US could, at the very earliest, be legally out of the Paris deal. But the time to give the notice is November of this year, to say, Okay, now we're going to proceed. How much do you think this is an issue for the upcoming presidential election?

CASTOR: It is interesting, isn't it that the US cannot withdraw until November 2020, right at the time of the presidential election. I think that guarantees that climate change will be on the minds of folks as they go into the voting booth. And you've seen it already, in the, from the whole host of Democratic candidates who have announced, with some, like Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, who's made it his flagship issue, his number one issue. And I think families and businesses across this country can be heartened by that. Also by the activism of the generation that is going to bear the burden and carry the load for the consequences of the changing climate.

CURWOOD: Congresswoman Kathy Castor represents Florida's 14th district and is Chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in the House. Congresswoman, thanks so much for taking the time with us.

CASTOR: Thank you very much.



Website for the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis

HR 9, the Climate Action Now bill

Watch: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Select Committee Chair Kathy Castor introduce HR 9

The Atlantic | “On Climate, Democrats Now Have a Plan to Make a Plan”


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