Chair of Democrats' new climate-change committee invested in big polluters
Florida Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped to chair the newly restored House "climate crisis" committee, owned investments worth tens of thousands of dollars over several years in two top polluters, federal disclosure records reveal.
Castor's connections to companies like Dow Chemical and machinery manufacturer Caterpillar, Inc. threatened to further undermine progressive Democrats' confidence in the new climate panel, which New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized earlier this week as a half-hearted effort that should exclude members who have taken money from fossil-fuel producers.
In 2007 -- her first year in Congress -- Castor owned between $1,001 and $15,000 in stock in Dow Chemical, disclosure filings show. In July of that year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached an agreement with Dow Chemical requiring that the company clean up three "dioxin-contaminated hot spots on the Tittabawassee River downstream of its Midland, Mich., facility."
Dioxin refers to chemically similar compounds that can cause environmental damage and a range of negative health effects in humans, including cancer and skin lesions.
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"This cleanup will make Michigan a safer, healthier place to live," an EPA regional administrator said at the time.
Long after that administrative sanction, though, the EPA named Dow Chemical the nation's second-largest toxic waste producer, saying in 2012 that the company had produced approximately 600 million pounds of toxic chemical waste. Dow Chemical, in response, defended its handling of potentially dangerous waste materials and noted it is the largest chemical manufacturer in the country.
From 2008 to 2013, Castor reported between $201 and $1,000 in income from dividends from Dow Chemical Stock, with the total value of the asset between $15,001 and $50,000. She disclosed that she had sold between $1,000 and $15,000 worth of Dow Chemical stock in 2014, and seemingly had disposed of all of her holdings in the company by 2016.
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Additionally, Castor disclosed in 2015 that she held between $1,001 and $15,000 in stock in Caterpillar, Inc., and sold an amount within that range in 2016. Just four years earlier, in 2011, Caterpillar reached a $2.55 million settlement with the EPA, which alleged that the company had committed Clean Air Act violations for "shipping more than 590,000 highway and non-road diesel engines without the correct emissions controls" and for failing to comply with "emission control reporting and engine-labeling requirements."
The agreement also required Caterpillar to recall the relevant engines and reduce excessive emissions.
“The enforcement of vehicle emissions standards, labeling and reporting requirements is critical to protecting the air we breathe and ensuring that companies play by the rules,” Cynthia Giles, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a press release at the time, adding that the settlement would "protect public health and create a level playing field for companies that meet their environmental obligations.”
The Castor financial filing details were first reported by The Washington Free Beacon.
Castor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her investments. On Twitter late Thursday, Castor called the climate change committee potentially "transformative," and stated that "we intend to press for urgent action on climate change."
On her website, Castor touts her "active and outspoken" reaction to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, as well as her successful push to include water quality regulations in the farm bill that address "red tide and toxic algae." Castor also notes that she has been "fighting against President Trump's anti-environment policies."
In announcing Castor's selection to head the climate change committee last week, Pelosi remarked that the panel would "engage the American people on the urgency of the climate crisis on public health, on reducing air pollution, on the economy for America to be preeminent in green technologies, on national security to facing climate-driven conflict and instability, and on our sacred moral responsibility to protect God’s creation for our children."
But in a series of New Year's Eve tweets, Ocasio-Cortez lamented that the new committee -- like its previous incarnation from 2007 to 2011 -- will lack the ability to draft legislation or subpoena individuals and companies to testify.
ANALYSIS: 'GREEN NEW DEAL' IS MOST RADICAL PROPOSAL IN DECADES
Ocasio-Cortez also panned the Democratic leadership's rejection of her demands that committee members not have taken "fossil fuel money," and that a sample "Green New Deal" be drafted to address climate change through economic policy.
Ocasio-Cortez, in November, joined several environmental protesters outside Pelosi's office to advocate for a Green New Deal, which would seek to all but eliminate fossil fuels from the U.S. energy grid within a decade and force renewable energy purchases instead. The proposal would also have included a federal jobs guarantee to guard against economic shockwaves.
"This committee, if it turns out that the rumors about it are true, sounds about as useful as a screen door on a submarine,” Ocasio-Cortez spokesman Corbin Trent reportedly said. “As it’s portrayed it’s going to be completely incapable of solving the greatest threat to human kind.”
Ocasio-Cortez has similarly failed to upend Pelosi's policy priorities elsewhere in recent days, as the idealism of her historic and insurgent political rise has collided headlong with the Democratic establishment.
Overcoming a defiant last-minute challenge from the party's progressive wing, including Ocasio-Cortez, House Democrats on Thursday approved most of a sweeping new rules package that includes not only the new climate committee, but also so-called "pay-go" restrictions on some new spending. Progressives pushing for policies like Medicare-for-all and free college tuition said they worried the pay-go limitations will prevent those pricey priorities from becoming reality.
Ocasio-Cortez called pay-go a “dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare+other leg."
But Ocasio-Cortez -- who on Thursday joined most of her fellow Democrats in voting for Pelosi to again become House speaker -- did not specifically mention the Green New Deal in her last-minute objections to the rules package that ignored many of her environmental demands.
In fact, earlier this week, Ocasio-Cortez seem resigned to the possibility that the environmental plan -- which some environmental analysts say is urgently necessary to avert global calamity -- might have to wait.
“Democrats can’t enact a #GreenNewDeal right away — but they should start preparing now, and be ready to move in two years," read a quote from economist Paul Krugman that Ocasio-Cortez reposted on New Year's Day.