Former Waxman-Markey Staffers Ana Unruh Cohen and Alison Cassady Hired to Staff Committee on Climate Crisis

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 26 Feb 2019 20:50:00 GMT

Experienced environmental lobbyists and former House colleagues Ana Unruh Cohen and Alison Cassady have been tapped by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) to become the chief and deputy chief of staff respectively for the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Unruh Cohen had been the deputy director of the committee’s predecessor, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

They previously worked directly together as staffers helping to craft the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) for their bosses Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) from 2007 until the bill’s demise in 2009.

Dr. Unruh Cohen was a long-time staffer for Markey, moving with him to the U.S. Senate before becoming the top lobbyist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Cassady was a long-time staffer for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) before becoming the head of Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress—a role Unruh Cohen originated in 2004.

Unruh Cohen’s Hill experience also includes working as the deputy staff director of the Natural Resource Committee Democratic staff.

Unruh Cohen holds a bachelor’s in chemistry from Trinity University and received her PhD in earth sciences from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She is based in NRDC’s Washington, D.C., office.

As the managing director of Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress, Cassady wrote reports on issues as varied as the social cost of carbon and the power of corporate polluter lobbyists. Cassady joined CAP after working as a senior professional staff member for Rep. Henry Waxman and the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, where she focused on unconventional oil and gas development, climate change, air quality, and nuclear issues.

As a House staffer, Cassady led an investigation into hydraulic fracturing, uncovering the continued use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing and writing a first-of-its-kind report on the chemical components of hydraulic fracturing fluids. Cassady developed additional expertise on offshore oil and gas development as a key member of the Energy and Commerce Committee team investigating the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in 2010.

She also served Rep. Waxman during his tenure as chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and helped investigate the events leading to the financial crisis in 2008. Before beginning her time in the House, Cassady was research director for Environment America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. She is a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

Democrats Announce Members of Select Committee on the Climate Crisis

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 07 Feb 2019 19:13:00 GMT

Rep. Kathy Castor (Fla.), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, has announced the Democratic members: Reps. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Suzanne Bonamici (Ore.), Julia Brownley (Calif.), Sean Casten (Ill.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Mike Levin (Calif.), Donald McEachin (Va.) and Joe Neguse (Colo.).

Luján is by far the biggest recipient among the committee of fossil-fuel dollars. He received $159,600 in campaign contributions from oil & gas, mining, chemical, electric utilities, and other energy interests in the last election cycle. Over his career, he has received $386,150 from oil & gas and electric utility companies and their employees. As Assistant Democratic Leader, he is now the number four Democrat in the House.

New Climate Committee Chair: Priorities Include Fuel Economy, Flood Insurance

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 15 Jan 2019 15:39:00 GMT

“We are in a race against time,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the incoming chair of the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, told reporters. In an interview with USA Today’s Ledyard King, Castor highlighted not just the urgency of the climate crisis but also her interest in pursuing new fuel economy standards and flood insurance reform, practical policy problems that have remained stalled under the Republican Congress and Trump administration.

While not enforcing a band on fossil-fuel contributions for members of the committee, Castor has pledged that she will not accept such donations as chair to “help build confidence in the committee.”

Castor’s plans come in the context of the vigorous push by youth climate activists and new members of Congress for an ambitious Green New Deal, that arguably would build on elements of President Obama’s economic stimulus package of 2009.

“There’s some fabulous proposals in the Green New Deal, and I’m excited about all that. You may see some similar language. Clearly, the focuses are going to be the same,” Castor told The Hill. “This will be a committee clearly in the spirit of the Green New Deal.”

“People don’t understand how forward-leaning the stimulus was on climate issues,” Castor told Michael Grunwald in a Politico interview. “It’s a road map for a Green New Deal.”

More highlights of Rep. Castor’s interview with The Hill’s Timothy Cama:
“I’m hoping that folks will come to this committee ready to take on the corporate polluters and special interests. There shouldn’t be a purity test, that if a member of Congress has ever accepted contributions,” she said.

Castor said she has decided not to take any donations from fossil fuel companies.

“I think me saying that right now will help build confidence in the committee,” she said, noting that such a pledge won’t be a “huge sacrifice,” since she has received just about $2,000 in campaign donations from the oil and natural gas industries during 12 years in office.

Full interview with USA Today:
Q: Much of the information on climate change is out there. So what do you hope to accomplish with this new committee?

Castor: We’re going to press for dramatic carbon pollution reduction. We want to win the clean energy future to defend the American way of life and avoid catastrophic and costly weather events that have dire impacts.

Q: What are some of the issues you want to pursue and how will you work with the standing congressional committees to achieve them?

Castor: Right off the bat, we will tackle fuel economy standards, make sure the Commerce Committee and the (Transportation and Infrastructure Committee) are focused on that. The Financial Services Committee has to do a flood insurance reform bill. We will be involved in that as well.

Q: You mentioned flood insurance. Representing a coastal district, you know what flooding and storms can do. Should we rebuild along the shore?

Castor: We shouldn’t be insuring at taxpayer expense homes and businesses that have been destroyed repeatedly on the shore. Folks know full well that they’re in hurricane’s path or flood’s path and they do that on their own. I’m concerned the (flood) maps are not up-to-date, that states and local communities are not acting fast enough to adopt policies to revise maps.

Q: Is there a concern you may getting in the way of standing committees who are already charged with environmental protection and climate change issues?

Castor: No, we’re going to be complimentary. This is a collaborative effort. It’s just being elevated because the threat to our way of life is at stake. It’s all hands on deck.

Q: What’s your response to Republicans who say the panel will be stacked with Democrats and have too much latitude to go after issues beyond its scope?

Castor: Look, we’ve had so much delay and Republicans have had their heads in the sand here in the Congress. I’ve just been through a time in the minority on (the) Energy and Commerce (Committee) where they refused to have even one hearing on the climate or hear any legislation dealing with the escalating cost of climate of extreme weather events. And I do see our jurisdiction as being very broad. We’re talking about the planet.

Q: How will the committee go about highlighting the consequences of climate change?

Castor: We intend to tell the stories of communities that are taking action despite the inaction from the Congress and the Trump administration. There are some conservative, rural areas that are going renewable and reducing carbon pollution and we’re going to shine a light on their good work. And for bad actors that know better, we intend to make sure they’re famous as well.

Q: Even if the House passes ambitious measures, their chance of becoming law is slim given the positions of the president and the Senate. So why try?

Castor: We don’t have time to wait. Whatever we can press to accomplish as soon as possible, we will do that.

Interview with Politico Pro:

Q: There’s obviously been a lot said about what others would like the committee to be. What is your vision for what the select committee will accomplish?

CASTOR: I would like to have a blend of experience and new freshman members. Their transformative energy [that] they’re bringing to the Congress, it must be reflected on the climate crisis select committee.

Q:How quickly are you looking to fill those lawmaker slots and where will you be drawing your staff from?

CASTOR: We’re accepting some resumes, but I’m looking for scientists. I’m looking for folks who understand public policy. Maybe some people who have experience with the precursor to the New Green Deal, back when we did the Recovery Act and we did [the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009], because within those there are kind of the fundamental building blocks for what we have to do for drastic reductions in carbon pollution.

Q:What do you make of the basic outlines of the Green New Deal and what do you say to progressives disappointed with how the committee is structured in the end?

CASTOR: They shouldn’t be. This is a select committee on the climate crisis that is the spirit of the New Green Deal. When you look at the New Green Deal, they’re terrific general proposals and language. Our job now is to take that and put it into action: through law, through appropriations. The mechanics of that will be very labor intensive.

You said who should come onto this committee? It will be people who are ready to work very diligently. We simply don’t have time to delay.

Q:What’s the select committee’s role in policy formation?

CASTOR: We’re going to be a focal point for pressing for action. I know it’s been criticized we don’t have legislative authority. I would have liked to have had legislative authority — I asked the leadership for subpoena power and legislative authority. But in our discussions now, we will be the focal point for pressing all the committees to act. For example, the Energy and Commerce Committee: They have such a huge portfolio — I know, I’m on there. We’re going to be a group of members who are pressing them to have hearings and markups that need to put the carbon reduction policies into action, into law.

Q:And what might that dynamic look like?

CASTOR: Particularly on the subpoena power part. [Now-Sen.] Ed Markey, the previous select committee chair, they only used the subpoena power once. We’re going to work very closely with the standing committees if we ever need to subpoena anything. I’m not sure yet [if we will].

It’s very apparent the damage that the Trump administration is doing. There’s no secret to that. But this committee is going to be one that is going to press right away for [strengthened] fuel economy standards to challenge the Trump administration. I would foresee us passing a bill on that fairly early on in the Congress, so you have to work with E&C on that. Appropriations will be very important. Back to the Recovery Act — remember the investments we put in for ARPA-E and for energy efficiency grants back to local communities.

I also want the committee to highlight the good work that’s being done in … cities and towns all around the country. Since we know the Trump administration and the GOP Senate are going [to be] kind of a roadblock to very dramatic action, we want to highlight what’s being done in Republican communities and Democratic communities across the country where they are reducing carbon dramatically.

Q:Obviously the Democratic caucus is pretty diverse. There are some members who come from more fossil fuel producing states. How do you make sure you don’t leave anybody behind in the conversation?

CASTOR: You know, that’s one thing I appreciate about the general framework of the Green New Deal is the emphasis on making sure vulnerable communities are not saddled with the cost of the changing climate and the cost of action. We’re going to probably go to some communities that are not traditional — they’re not going to be Democratic bastions. There’s a huge impact in agricultural communities around the country. We’ve got to tell that story.

Q:What are you hoping from your Republican colleagues, or the type of Republican that gets added to the committee?

CASTOR: Folks who are ready to work, who are ready to roll up their sleeves. I’m very hopeful that — that’s one of the reasons we will go to those districts and those communities because nothing moves a member of Congress more than their local community pressing them for action. And I hope that we can build some bridges with our Republican colleagues in the Senate and maybe even in the White House. But that’s no easy task. That’s why we gave the American people — we need folks who understand we have a moral obligation to our kids and future generations to press them as well.

Q:What is your stance on climate and what makes you passionate about this issue? What made you step up and take this committee on?

CASTOR: Coming from the Tampa Bay area in Florida, I feel like my state has been in the bull’s-eye of extreme weather events, of massive cost increases because the climate is changing, of higher air conditioning bills, higher property insurance bills, more of our property taxes are being diverted to infrastructure investments in adaptation, flood insurance. Think about the massive, multi-billion dollar bills we have passed here in the Congress after a hurricane, wildfire or flood. I have young daughters — it’s one of the reasons I came to Congress, to fight for a clean and healthy environment. And now what we have on our doorstep is so much more significant than when I started in public service as an environmental attorney for the state of Florida right out of law school. It is defense of our country, the way of life as we know it.

Q:How much do you envision the committee will take on the companies behind fossil fuel production and greenhouse gas emissions?

CASTOR: Head on. Head on. And you know, we want to highlight the businesses that are eliminating carbon, the businesses that understand that maybe a little energy efficiency here is good. But we’ve got to press them to do so much more. We’re going to highlight the good actors and we are going to shine a very bright light on the polluters, the ones that are emitting the largest amount of greenhouse gases and press for a clean energy economy. And it’s a tall order but I think the American people are behind it and we simply don’t have time to wait.

Q:How do you do that in a way that sounds positive, that can maintain a big tent Democratic Party?

CASTOR: Sitting on the floor during the swearing-in was pretty remarkable — looking at all the kids from the most diverse racially and gender, religious Congress here. And there’s kind of an unspoken understanding among all of the members in the Democratic caucus especially and some of the Republicans that we simply cannot wait any longer.

The Congress has been so out of touch with the type of action that we need. And now we have this transformative freshman class that’s going to push us to take action and we simply have got to defend our way of life and not go backwards. It’s so frustrating. And I think that’s the message the American people sent. They watched the Trump administration go backwards, they watched a president who says, “Oh, I don’t know about climate, it may change back.” I mean, the people know that’s just ignorance.