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Published on January 9th, 2019 | by Carolyn Fortuna

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What They’re Saying About The Green New Deal: O’Rourke, Warren, Waxman

January 9th, 2019 by  


How can we make climate change an urgent priority across the US? It starts with calling for 100% renewable energy and electing leaders who will stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people. That will require ending the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics. It will take a group of visionary people who can see the way to halting climate change while creating millions of good-paying jobs in the process. This is the essence of the Green New Deal, and lots of pols are talking it up, including Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Henry Waxman.

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The term “The Green New Deal” entered commonplace political discourse after activists staged a protest in now–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. They spoke to the need for legislative leadership on climate policy to zero out greenhouse gas emissions and combat worsening income inequality. The activists called on Pelosi to support a Select Committee on a Green New Deal promoted by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) which would create 10 million jobs over the next decade, put Americans to work creating sustainable technology and infrastructure, and quickly transition the US away from fossil fuels in order to head off the climate crisis.

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The movement gained momentum as 350.org created a script for constituents to dial up their representatives in Congress to offer a wide-reaching show of support. Indeed, 92% of Democrats have said they support the concept, including 93% of progressive Democrats and 90% of moderate to conservative Democrats. Even most Republican voters — nearly 2 in 3 — say they support the Green New Deal. They like the idea of generating the nation’s entire electricity from renewable sources within 10 years while providing job training for those displaced from traditional energy sector jobs. They just don’t want to hear that it’s a progressive initiative.

Pelosi did agree to only a weakened version of the Select Committee, which was disappointing in some sectors, but now the groundwork is now in place for a Green New Deal to surge. And politicians who represent diverse constituents or who are looking ahead to the next round of elections have come on board.  “We’re excited to see so many 2020 hopefuls and 2020 potential candidates embracing the idea of a Green New Deal,” Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, said. “We hope to further define the scope and scale of what the Green New Deal is and what it can do for our economy and our country.”

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The Green New Deal has three pillars: 100% clean energy by 2030; investment in communities on the frontlines of poverty & pollution; and the guarantee of a quality job in the renewable energy industry. Let’s look at how 3 politicians in different points of their careers have expressed positive support of the Green New Deal.

Beto O’Rourke: “Supportive of the Concept” of a Green New Deal

Shaking himself off after a failed Senate run to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Beto O’Rourke is a much talked-about potential 2020 presidential candidate. He’s also “supportive of the concept” of a Green New Deal and “how it invests in green jobs.”

“[He] is looking forward to engaging more on the issue as it continues to develop,” Chris Evans, a spokesman for O’Rourke, said. “As he mentioned while traveling to every county across Texas during his senate campaign, he’s proud to come from a renewable energy producing state that is number one in wind power production, number one in wind power jobs and number one in solar energy potential.”

O’Rourke’s early endorsement of a Green New Deal is also likely to come under scrutiny in the months ahead. Although he agreed to the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge administered by the watchdog group Oil Change USA, the investigative news site Sludge determined in late 2018 that O’Rourke accepted $430,000 from individuals working in the oil and gas industry, 75% of which came in the form of donations over $200. Fossil fuel executives made at least 29 large donations. The No Fossil Fuel Money pledge bars politicians from accepting contributions over $200 from PACs, executives, or front groups of fossil fuel companies.

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Image retrieved from Facebook

The pledge stipulates that,. in signing it, “a politician and their campaign will adopt a policy to not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 from the PACs, executives, or front groups of fossil fuel companies—companies whose primary business is the extraction, processing, distribution, or sale of oil, gas, or coal.” The 2020 Democratic presidential primary is likely to foreground climate change action, so that candidates’ decisions — then and in the past — whether to accept fossil fuel campaign donations and personal investments will be be hot topics.

Nonetheless, O’Rourke’s nod to the Green New Deal is an interesting twist in US climate change discourse. Texas, which is the nation’s leading oil-producing state, producing more than one-third of the nation’s crude oil, is also the nation’s leader in wind-powered generation capacity with more than 21,450 megawatts.

That tension between old and new energy reliance speaks to O’Rourke’s — and other potential 2020 presidential candidates’ — need to be aware that the voters may not wait for Big Oil to step away from politics. Then again, Texas Energy Aggregation reports that in 2018 corporate energy users in Texas like Dow Chemical, Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and large municipal entities like the City of Houston procured wholesale renewable wind and solar to reduce costs, hedge against energy price volatility, and achieve sustainability goals. Fossil fuel companies may soon make it easier for candidates to side with green initiatives by putting a smiling face on renewable energy procurements like these.

Warren Amenable to the “Idea” of a Green New Deal

In her late December, 2018 announcement that she would be forming an exploratory committee for the 2020 US presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said, “The problem we’ve got right now in Washington is that it works great for those who’ve got money to buy influence, and I’m fighting against that. And you bet it’s going to make a lot of people unhappy. But at the end of the day, I don’t go to Washington to work for them.”

That initial announcement cut short of outlining a platform to tackle the climate crisis, and some progressives in the Democratic party called her out on it. A campaign staffer later told Axios she supports the idea of a Green New Deal. “Senator Warren has been a longtime advocate of aggressively addressing climate change and shifting toward renewables, and supports the idea of a Green New Deal to ambitiously tackle our climate crisis, economic inequality, and racial injustice.”

At this early point of 2020 presidential campaigning, progressives have put together a platform that is serving as the framework for a Green New Deal, but, unlike Medicare for All, there is no comprehensive bill put forth yet. While Warren eases into the climate change discourse, the Sunrise Movement acknowledged Warren’s support but withheld praise, demanding to know whether the senator backs the specifics within the proposal.

Warren has a strong environmental record. She has near-perfect lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, and last year introduced a bill that would require public companies to disclose climate-related business risks.

Some of those with the biggest influence in Washington, DC come from within the fossil fuel industry. Warren isn’t one of them. OpenSecrets.org attributes the majority of Warren’s campaign donations from 2011-2018 to progressive organizations (Emily’s List, MoveOn.org) and educational institutions (Harvard, University of California).

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Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash, whose climate-justice group spearheaded the push for a Green New Deal, said the growing number of 2020 presidential contenders backing the policy “shows how much the movement has shifted the conversation on climate in American politics.”

“In 2019, we’ll be organizing all across the country to build on the momentum and make it clear to all politicians that if they want to be taken seriously by young people, they need to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and back the Green New Deal,” she said by email. CleanTechnica intends to be part of the Sunrise Movement mass call this week that seeks to gain support for a Green New Deal call-to-action.

Waxman’s Call to a Green New Deal

In the mid-1990s, he took on Big Tobacco with high-profile hearings and is remembered for the moment when industry executives swore under oath that their product was not addictive. Mother Jones describes former Congressperson Henry Waxman (D-CA) as “a fierce advocate for consumer rights, health care, and the environment.” The Commonwealth Fund calls him “one of the most effective legislators of the last 40 years.” He investigated performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports, deconstructed the 2008 collapse of Wall Street, pinpointed the waste and fraud in government spending in Iraq, and uncovered the flawed intelligence that got this country into that war in the first place.

Through most of Waxman’s first 20 years in Congress, he chaired the influential Health and Environment Subcommittee and mainly focused on legislation—Medicaid expansion, the clean-air law, AIDS, tobacco—deserving a description in The Almanac of American Politics as “a skilled and idealistic policy entrepreneur.”

WarrenIn an editorial for The Atlantic, Waxman bemoans the recent legislative failure to address climate change. He refers to climate change “as the most pressing and critical challenge of our generation threatens species and civilization with unimaginable upheaval” and calls the inability of Congress to legislate a federal solution “a national shame.”

Congress nearly had a deal in 2009 with House approval of the American Clean Energy and Security Act due to what Waxman says was “artful maneuvering” by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The bill, however, never cleared the Senate or reached President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.

Waxman admires the young progressives who are renewing the fight against climate change with the Green New Deal. Calling it “smart, politically and substantively,” with an appropriate economic and historic frame, Waxman describes the Green New Deal as an attempt to use the mechanisms of government to build a cleaner economy though a massive movement on multiple fronts.

In order to be viable, Waxman notes, a Green New Deal will require policy makers to reshape 20th century industries so that green jobs and transformative innovation are at the national economic core. He calls upon politicians today to show that sustainability is not just the right thing to do for the fate of our planet but is an “unparalleled opportunity to ensure the prosperity of future generations.”

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He points out the heavy renewable energy investments already in place in California and Hawaii, suggesting that, as the clean-energy economy in these states grows, a model for change on a national and global scale will emerge. But Waxman argues that even in traditionally “dirty” industries, like steel, the Green New Deal is a practical program. The enormous amounts of electricity to melt down scrap would see a commensurate decrease in costs when steel producers power facilities with renewable energy. That competitive edge, in turn, would make US steel seem more attractive to international buyers.

As the price for wind and solar energy falls, Waxman calls sustainability a “smart business” that progressives should promote to industry. He explains that, from renewable power to more sustainable agriculture to advances in capturing and storing carbon that’s in the atmosphere, technological tools are ready to mitigate the damage already done.

Waxman urges Congressional Democrats to show the US what an alternative path might look like: “one in which green jobs are created across the country, where we commit to cleaner, renewable power, and where we invest in the next generation of American industries, all while holding accountable those who seek to profit from practices that jeopardize the future of our species.” The hopes of previous legislators to enact environmental law is “alive and well,” Waxman says, in a new generation’s call for climate progress.Warren

Final Thoughts

As Joe Romm recently pointed out on ThinkProgress, “Since the midterms, dozens of US representatives and at least 4 Democratic senators have pledged support to create a Select Committee to create legislation for a Green New Deal. The goal is a ‘detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan’ to rapidly transition the country away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy, such as a solar, wind, and electric cars.”

Yes, that plan is still in its infancy, with the new Congress little more than a week old. With the recent Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey that shows such pervasive support among US votes, the Green New Deal seems like it will gain the legislative gravitas it needs to become a viable path for US renewable energy.

The Green New Deal that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has spearheaded may take several detours on its legislative path to implementation, but, with pols like O’Rourke, Warren, and Waxman behind the program, others are sure to come on board. And that will provide just the momentum that the US needs right now to figure out how we’re going to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years.

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About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. She’s molds scholarship into digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+



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