Oversight Watch: Changing the climate on climate change

Eight years after House oversight went dark, Democrats will soon have the chance to bring out the big spotlights and see what the cockroaches have been up to.

Their mission starts with bringing some accountability to a president and his entourage that have had none so far. (See, for instance, this excellent list of arguably the top 12 priorities, from the Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz.)

But there is also a tremendous need for public exposure of failures of American government and corporate leadership that pre-exist Trump, and will almost certainly continue to plague the country once he’s gone.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be asking a number of experts what they consider some of the top priorities for congressional oversight.

Let’s start with climate change.

I had a chance to speak to environmental activist Bill McKibben the other day. His group, 350.org, is having extraordinary, global success with online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions to oppose the fossil fuel industry and push for urgent action to slow climate change.

He despairs of any meaningful U.S. legislative action in the near future. “I’m not convinced at this point that there’s political space in our nation for us to deal effectively with the issue at anything like the scale and pace that it demands,” he said.

But he sees huge potential for congressional oversight.

“Getting someone in the administration to answer why we got out of the Paris Climate accord? That would be great,” he told me.

“I would love to have someone grilling the auto industry about why they’re trying to gut Obama’s mileage regulations,” he said. “It’s a classic example of short-term thinking.”

But the most essential step would be to follow up on reporting by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times that Exxon had conducted extensive scientific research confirming the dangers of climate change, even as it publicly spread disinformation and denialism.

Hauling fossil-fuel executives in for congressional hearings? “The power of that is clear,” he said. “That was the thing that helped bring the tobacco industry to heel was the picture of those guys standing there with their right arms raised declaring to Congress that tobacco is just fine for you.”

New York Times front page, April 15, 1994

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