It will be almost another 18 months until Democrats can even think of passing climate legislation.
In the 2020 election, they must defeat President Donald Trump, reclaim the Senate, and retain a majority in the House of Representatives. And then they have to find something to pass before members of Congress start getting cold feet about the 2022 election. Even in a best-case scenario, the moment will be a nerve-racking, high-stakes one for climate advocates. So Senate Democrats are trying to front-load as much of that work as possible.
Ten of them have formed the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. Chaired by Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the committee aims to get as much of the preliminary work out of the way as possible—the research and investigating and coalition-building—so that Democrats can start passing climate legislation as soon as they regain the upper chamber.
“The goal is to lay down the factual basis for taking action, so that if we are in charge in 2021, we don’t have to go through 18 months of investigatory hearings,” Schatz told me during a wide-ranging interview in his office last month.
The committee will hold its first public hearing next Wednesday, when it will host mayors from five major cities, including St. Paul and Pittsburgh, that have set or already met ambitious climate goals. (Both of those cities specifically aim to cut their carbon emissions 80 percent or more by 2050.)* Last month, Schatz and other committee members met with electric-utility executives behind closed doors.