Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor was recently selected as chair of the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Health News Florida’s Julio Ochoa sat down with Castor to discuss her role and what it means for the Tampa Bay area and Florida.
As you take your new position on this committee what are your priorities?
The priority of the select committee will be to press for urgent action to create a new clean energy economy to tackle the risks, try to reduce the risk mitigate the risks, provide tools to local communities to adapt and become more resilient. We're going to press for urgent action right off the bat. What can this Congress with a Republican Senate and gentlemen in the White House who doesn't believe the climate is changing what can we accomplish now? We will press to do everything we can now but build the policy framework going forward for much more dramatic action, likely in 2020 after we elect a new president.
That leads to my next question. Given the Republican pushback on the causes of climate change and the president's remarks that global warming is an “expensive hoax” how much do you think the committee can realistically accomplish?
It's the committee working together with the other standing committees of the Congress. For example, the Energy and Commerce Committee is likely to pass a fuel economy standards that consumers across America. Many of the car companies they strongly support. We have to tackle flood insurance reform that's due by the end of May. It's time for us to make sure that local communities understand where the flood risks stand. We can through appropriations change the incentives so that we're investing in clean energy research rather than fossil fuel energy research. So there are a number of things we can work on immediately to reduce carbon pollution.
You can't write bills or force Trump officials to testify. So is it more suggestions or tell me about what you would do?
The Select Committee on the climate crisis will be the focal point for pressing all of the standing committees in a common strategy to create a clean energy economy and reduce the risks and build more resilient communities. We will have our eye on every committee every appropriation to make sure that it is being viewed through a climate change lens to press for more urgent action to urge him to go further to go faster.
How could this committee benefit the Tampa Bay area and Florida?
Right off the bat, you know Florida is a laggard when it comes to clean energy. In fact, the Public Service Commission under Gov. Scott actually rolled back our energy efficiency goals. That's not good for consumers. That makes life much more expensive. Florida's never had a renewable energy goal. The electric utilities have had sweetheart deals as monopolies and their shareholders benefit when they build expensive plants, rather than encouraging us to be more energy efficient or use renewable energy that never goes away. So I'm hopeful that in pressing forward we will create a movement in the state of Florida to change the business model for how we generate electricity. We certainly need greater transit investments. We need to connect communities so we're not so car dependent. We have got to protect our coastline and the tourism economy. This red tide and algae has really socked it to mom and pop businesses all along the coast. Scientists say that that is exacerbated because of warmer temperatures. We know hurricanes hit the coastline with greater intensity because of warmer temperatures. Boy we have a lot at stake here in the state of Florida.
Something that's been talked about is a carbon tax. Many say it's needed to reduce emission levels. Will this committee address that?
I'm sure we will examine carbon taxes on big business and fossil fuel companies. It's been interesting to see a lot of the fossil fuel companies coming forward to advocate for carbon taxes. It is one tool that we've got to investigate because we've got to develop a balanced package and ensure that working communities low income communities communities of color do not bear the burden like they are now of climate change.