Eye on Washington – Dec 2018/Jan 2019

Eye on Washington logoIn November, voters across the nation voted for more Democrats over Republicans in races for seats in the House while the Republican Party increased its majority in the Senate.

From November 6 through January 3, 2019, when the 116th Congress is sworn in, both chambers will be in a “lame-duck” session.  Lame-duck in this case is not a duck with a bum leg or wing. With regard to Congress, Wikipedia defines a lame-duck session as one that occurs “whenever one Congress meets after its successor is elected, but before the successor’s term begins.”

This is a time when mischief can happen. In the House, Republicans will be anxious to pass legislation favoring their priorities before the Democrats take over. In the Senate, the Democrats will try to move some key legislation before their numbers are reduced. Republicans will be making good use of these few weeks as an important window of opportunity.

For example, on November 14 the House returned from their districts to pass House Resolution 1142 on removal of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the contiguous 48 States from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species. The Resolution passed in a 223-201 vote. The proposal now requires Senate action before being
signed into law by the president. Conservation organizations—including the Northcoast Environmental Center—are working collaboratively to stop that action.

Reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) (funded through offshore oil production revenues to offset impacts) is a bipartisan issue with support from conservationists. A coalition of supporters released an economic report that found every $1 invested in conservation efforts nationally produced $4 in return. “Public lands at all scales have huge economic benefits,” said Amy Wilson Morris, one of the report’s authors. “The breadth of community health benefits is enormous.” Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) were part of a discussion of the economic report and Daines said there is a “great opportunity” to put together a public lands legislative package during Congress’ lame-duck session.

During the Congressional transition, both parties will be reconfiguring leadership in the Senate and especially in the House where every single committee and subcommittee will now be chaired by a Democrat. Those chairs will work with the new Speaker of the House to determine what bills will be considered in the 116th Congress. Elections really do have consequences.

The House Natural Resources Committee will be chaired by Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) is expected to chair the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, succeeding Doug Lamborn (R-CO). Also of significance, Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) will replace Tom McClintock (R-CA) as chair of the Federal Lands subcommittee, which McClintock has used to push anti-conservation legislation. Congressman Huffman’s staff has told the NEC the Federal Lands subcommittee will revert to its previous name: Public Lands.

Missing from the House Natural Resources Committee will be Steve Pearce (R-NM) known as a “birther” and recipient of large amounts of campaign donations from oil companies. Pearce lost his run for governor and was replaced in the House by a Democrat. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) also gave up his seat for an unsuccessful run for governor and was replaced by another Republican in the House. Jeff Denham (D-CA),  who had a six percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, was beaten by newcomer Josh Harder. Harder (D-CA) is a fifth-generation resident of California’s Central Valley. His work in committees may mirror other Central Valley representatives, but he may be open to working with legislators on bills to conserve water.

In the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson (D-MN) is expected to take over the gavel from his predecessor, Michael Conaway (R-TX). The committee is expected to provide greater oversight of the important work on the Farm Bill and addresses legislation governing the work of the U.S. Forest Service.

Committee assignments will be set in the next few weeks.

What is in the future? Perhaps the new Congress will return climate change to the legislative agenda. Sources confirm that incoming Democrat leaders are planning a series of hearings on Climate Change with some tension within the party on how to address the issue. In a joint statement, Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-NJ); Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ); and Science, Space and Technology Committee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said they would hold the hearings during a two-day period early next year to lay out a path forward on climate action. Democrats are wary of overplaying their hand for fear of losing their new-found majority in 2020. Pallone disagrees with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) regarding the resurrection of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.