“We can’t delay action any longer. We want to jumpstart action by seeking recommendations on what every part of government can do now.”
--- Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)
On January 31, Representative Henry Waxman and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent letters to over 300 businesses, labor unions, environmental organizations, universities, and think tanks, soliciting views on “ideas for actions the federal government can take to address climate change” as well as “suggestions for new authorities to be enacted by Congress.” i
Just days after the President Obama’s Inaugural Address, Representative Waxman, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, and Senator Whitehouse, Chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight, formed a new Bicameral Climate Change Task Force to raise public awareness and support the Obama Administration’s use of existing federal authority to address climate change. As the co-chairs of the Task Force acknowledge, enactment of legislation to address climate change is extremely unlikely in the current Congress. Focused instead on opportunities in the Executive Branch, the Task Force’s first official act was to send a letter to President Obama, applauding him for his focus on climate change and urging him to develop and enact a comprehensive climate change plan, using existing authorities. President Obama, in both his Inaugural and State of the Union Addresses, renewed his call to combat climate change, through regulation if legislation is not possible.
The Task Force has now turned its attention to a wide range of organizations, including energy-related businesses, manufacturers, financial services companies, defense contractors. The co-chairmen of the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force are seeking “all suggestions for action, both large and small” and requesting views on three specific questions, related to actions that federal agencies could potentially adopt as well as recommendations for legislation to be enacted to strengthen federal agencies’ ability to address climate change.
Representative Waxman and Senator Whitehouse request responses by February 20, but the letter does not legally compel a company or organization to respond.
Given the objective of the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force to raise public awareness and its intention “to share this information with the Obama Administration, Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) Climate Change Clearinghouse, and other leaders in Congress to promote action on climate change.” Companies and organizations should expect their responses to made public.ii Note that in December 2012, Senator Boxer, Chairwoman of the Environment & Public Works Committee, announced her intention to co-chair a “climate change clearinghouse” with the Chairmen of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). This clearinghouse will provide a forum to raise climate change issues and items of interest, as well as support the Obama Administration policies on climate change.iii
While the focus of the letter request is on supporting policy initiatives rather than investigative probing, Senator Whitehouse’s chairmanship of the Senate Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight does provide a venue to conduct oversight.
With the likelihood that responses will become public in some form, it is prudent, as with any Congressional request, to fully understand the consequences of any responses. The Task Force Members, as well as Senator Boxer, have telegraphed their intentions to raise public awareness, and organizations’ responses may well be part of that campaign.