Cortez Masto joins climate panel as she battles Trump’s energy lieutenants

cortez masto being senatorial
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) at the Capitol in Washington, DC. last year. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
cortez masto being senatorial
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) at the Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Rebuffed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democrats — including Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada — are launching their own climate change committee.

McConnell refused an attempt by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to create a special climate change committee in the chamber, Cortez Masto told Nevada Current on Wednesday. “So we are creating our own on the Democratic side.”

It’ll focus on “how we address climate change and reducing our carbon footprint,” the Nevada senator said.

Senate Democrats formally announced the creation of the new special committee — which will be led by Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii — at a press conference Wednesday morning, the day after Senate Republicans uniformly opposed the adoption of Democrats’ sweeping Green New Deal resolution to combat climate change.

The panel will serve as a messaging platform for Democrats, but it won’t have any legislative authority. A select committee on climate change that was launched by House Democrats this year also doesn’t have legislative authority, but it does have Republican members.

Senate Democrats intend to use their new committee to “lead investigations, hold hearings and issue findings on how climate inaction is harming our country’s economy and national security, and threatening communities across the U.S.,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

“Republican leaders in Congress and this president must stop denying the science and come together to tackle climate change. The cost of inaction is simply too high for our country and our kids’ future for us to sit on the sidelines,” she said.

Cortez Masto is waging war against President Trump’s energy policies on other fronts, too.

The Nevada senator, who sits on the Senate Natural Resources Committee, intends to grill Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, when he appears before the Senate for a confirmation hearing Thursday.

She’s concerned about the administration’s efforts to open up Nevada to oil and gas drilling leases, she said.

“The agenda that is coming out from the Department of Interior is this idea that they’re going to balance the budget — or at least fund some of these federal agencies — on the back of continued and opening up new oil and gas drilling opportunities. We saw that with Ruby Mountains, which is to me outrageous.”

Earlier this month the U.S. Forest Service denied the Bureau of Land Management’s request to open up the Ruby Mountains for oil and gas leasing.

She said she wants specifics on how the department plans to open public lands in Nevada to oil and gas drilling, details about the administration’s plans for national monuments designations and more information about the department’s plans for organizing the Bureau of Land Management.

Bernhardt is expected to ultimately win Senate confirmation in the GOP-controlled Senate despite likely opposition from most House Democrats.

Cortez Masto said Wednesday she regrets her 2017 vote for another Trump appointee, Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

She’s currently sparring with Perry over plutonium that was secretly shipped to a site in Nevada last year. After Cortez Masto vowed to block Energy Department nominees over her frustration with the shipments, Perry has signaled that he’s willing to commit in writing to halt plutonium shipments to the state and to set a timeline for removing the plutonium that’s already there, she said.

“He’s been willing to at least work with me and seems to at least implied in our conversation that he thinks that we can come to an agreement on the points that were important for me and the state of Nevada.”

She said she’s long regretted her vote in favor of his confirmation.  

“Yes I do regret it, because he has an agenda to open up Yucca Mountain — an agenda different than what he told me when we met in person.”

Perry met with her before his Senate confirmation hearing, “and he said he would keep an open mind, he would look at the science, and that’s clearly not what he’s doing.”

Trump’s latest budget plan, released earlier this month, would spend $116 million to revive the nuclear storage program at Yucca Mountain. Trump has proposed to restart Yucca in each of his budget proposals since taking office, which Nevada lawmakers have fought to remove.

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.


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