Dems go after automakers, Big Oil in tense hearing

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2019

At an explosive House hearing on the Trump administration’s rollback of clean car rules, Republicans tried to shut down the proceedings while Democrats sought to keep the focus on climate change and Big Oil.

GOP members of the Oversight and Reform panel moved to adjourn citing lack of quorum, but the Democratic majority largely ignored the move, proceeding to hammer the administration, car companies and fossil fuel interests.

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) sought to draw a connection among the wildfires raging across his state, climate change and the car rules.

“Hundreds of thousands of people’s homes are being destroyed,” the former governor said of the fires. “So this is not just another legislative game here.”

Brown told the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, “This is life-and-death stuff. And climate change is related to the fires in California. California’s burning while the deniers make a joke out of the standards that can protect us all.”

Brown blasted the three automakers — General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV — that yesterday sided with the White House in the legal fight over California’s vehicle emissions standards (Climatewire, Oct. 29).

“At the very moment California’s burning, General Motors jumps on the bandwagon as Trump’s lapdog,” he said.

Democrats sought to probe the oil and gas industry on the rollback of the car rules. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a noted climate hawk and a witness yesterday, highlighted a New York Times investigation this summer that found the oil and gas industry waged a covert campaign to dial back the car rules.

“The oil industry activated the web of front groups and trade associations that it uses to block climate action — trade associations like the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which Big Oil pays to do its dirty work,” he said.

Big Oil

Whitehouse also urged the Oversight and Reform panel to investigate Big Oil’s influence on the Department of Justice’s antitrust probe into four other automakers that reached a voluntary agreement with California to improve fuel efficiency (Greenwire, Sept. 6).

The committee should look at whether “the oil industry managed to put the Department of Justice up to that,” he said.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), whose district includes the auto industry hub of Detroit, said the committee should probe former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s relationship to Gary Heminger, the CEO of Marathon Petroleum Corp.

“Marathon was a top donor to Mr. Pruitt, and Mr. Heminger and Mr. Pruitt were scheduled to meet at least twice during this time that the EPA was discussing” the regulatory rollback, Tlaib said.

The hearing ultimately fit into a broader Democratic strategy of hammering Big Oil for contributing to climate change while casting doubt on mainstream climate science.

The Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties last week heard testimony from a former Exxon Mobil Corp. consultant, who said the company knew about the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions in the early 1980s but tried to obfuscate the science (E&E Daily, Oct. 24).

That hearing came as Exxon was on trial in the New York Supreme Court over allegations that it misled investors about the effect of climate regulations on its business.

Yesterday, members of the Senate Democrats’ climate change committee also held a hearing focused on the fossil fuel sector (see related story).

‘This is not a game’

Republicans attempted to adjourn the hearing so they could hear impeachment-related testimony elsewhere on Capitol Hill (Greenwire, Oct. 29).

In particular, GOP lawmakers tried to force a quorum roll call so they could leave for the basement of the Capitol.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) delayed the quorum call until more Democrats showed up at the sparsely attended hearing. The GOP maneuver ultimately failed; the roll call vote was 7-6.

After that, most Republicans on the panel left the hearing, with the exception of Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Bob Gibbs of Ohio.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, accused Republicans of shirking their responsibility to address climate change.

“We’re here to talk about the very pressing issue of cutting our carbon emissions and saving our planet,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And we have an entire political party that is trying to get out of their job, adjourn this hearing.”

In a brief interview with E&E News after the hearing, Rouda expressed disappointment in Republicans for seeking to derail the hearing.

“Republicans … don’t care about focusing on what needs to be done,” Rouda said. “They’re more focused on doing the bidding of President Trump.”

Brown told reporters after the hearing that the GOP should stop playing “political games” and focus on addressing global warming.

“I think that was quite revealing because what it represents is an interest in political games as opposed to the very profound challenge of climate change,” Brown said. “This is not a game. It’s not politics. It’s the future of humanity.”

The former governor predicted that the GOP would eventually get serious about passing climate legislation — it just might take years or even decades.

“If the party is going to continue, they will get on board,” he said.