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Nov. 29 — House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who enjoys strong environmental support, will face Nov. 30 longshot challenge to keep her minority leadership post from Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), a supporter of natural gas exports.
Regardless of whether Ryan falls short of unseating Pelosi, Benjamin Schreiber, climate and energy director for Friends of the Earth, told Bloomberg BNA that the challenge has already had an impact. Pelosi has proposed structural leadership changes for the House Democratic Caucus, including expanding its size, changes that Ryan alleges will only shore up her leadership further.
Some environmentalists say such structural changes aren’t unexpected, given Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential victory and the fact that Democrats only added six House seats—well short of expectations. But one environmentalist said that this shouldn’t mean a wholesale change in Democratic leadership.
“Everybody was shocked by the election and everybody’s looking for heads to roll,” the environmentalist, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said. But the individual added, the Trump victory “cannot be laid at the feet of Nancy Pelosi in the House.”
Ryan isn’t the first to challenge Pelosi, who has led Democrats either as minority leader or House speaker since 2003. That is the same year Ryan first came to Congress. It is widely expected that Pelosi will emerge the victor, but many will be watching how many votes Ryan siphons from the leader as a signal that it is time for change.
Many environmental groups are steering clear of the Democratic party leadership fight. Still, some such as the League of Conservation Voters’ senior vice president of government affairs, Tiernan Sittenfeld, made sure to highlight Pelosi’s environmental record, even as they declined to pick sides.
Pelosi has a proven track record of defending and elevating the climate and broader environmental agenda as minority leader and speaker, environmentalists told Bloomberg BNA. Environmentalists praised Pelosi as a top champion of the environment, including in 2009 when as House speaker she oversaw passage of a broad climate bill that later died in the Senate.
Pelosi and Ryan’s voting records are largely the same. Pelosi was awarded a slightly higher lifetime score by the League of Conservation Voters—93 percent over Ryan’s 90 percent. The Heritage Foundation, which does a similar ranking but for pro-business votes, gives Ryan a slight edge for the 2015-16 Congress. Ryan scored 20 percent over Pelosi’s 14 percent.
In both of these voting scorecards, the contenders voted overwhelmingly to protect President Barack Obama’s climate and environment rules.
But Ryan diverges from environmentalists and Pelosi in at least one key area: exporting crude oil and liquefied natural gas. He voted in favor of bills supporting both this session. His website says gas exports could benefit northeast Ohio’s economy and the nation.
Ryan has also offered few bills of his own as a sponsor that focus on energy and the environment—including one centered on addressing algal blooms in the Great Lakes—but none passed the House.
Both Pelosi and Ryan have called for expanding solar and other clean energy generation. Ryan in a Nov. 27 interview on Fox News said Democrats could expand their base and hone their economic message to answer the call for more manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt. For example, Ryan asserts that boosting clean energy, such as making wind turbines, would help American manufacturing.
The role of minority leader will likely be executed similarly as past years—just without the safety net of a Democrat in the White House. Even though the minority party doesn’t set the agenda, Democrats picked up six seats in the election and the minority leader could be in a place to offer members’ votes for must-pass legislation, where Democratic votes have previously been needed, he said. Those have included passing funding bills to keep the government running.
The minority leader’s legislative influence will likely be seen on issues from clean energy subsidies to increasing natural gas exports, depending on who wins. William Yeatman, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said if Ryan comes out on top, his support for natural gas exports could offer cover for Republicans to move those bills. Many Democrats have opposed more natural gas exports in the past because it could drive up demand for domestic drilling.
Environmentalists say this would be a step in the wrong direction. “Having a minority leader who’s on the wrong side of that issue would be a real detriment and certainly harmful to our efforts to fight that back,” the environmental advocate said.
Both candidates have similarly supported clean energy subsidies and could push for those to be housed in a potential infrastructure bill next year, Yeatman said. Trump has supported an all of the above energy strategy, and the subsidies could make it into a bill similar to the economic stimulus bill that Congress passed early in the Obama administration, he said. Yeatman opposes infrastructure spending as a way to create jobs.
Political observers said that it will be equally important, if not more so, that energy and environment policy be represented on the minority leader’s bully pulpit.
Schreiber said the minority leader’s megaphone will be more important than ever to highlight climate change action as needed, contrary to the Trump administration’s expected opposition.
This fight—which appears set to be a fierce effort by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal Obama’s climate agenda and more—will need a strong leader, the environmentalist said, and the caucus already has one.
“The bully pulpit that [the position of House Democratic leader] provides is vital to painting what’s at stake,” the environmentalist told Bloomberg BNA. “I can think of no stronger champion of both the environment and the progressive agenda than Nancy Pelosi.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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