Biden locks down mainstream green groups with Sierra Club endorsement

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Joe Biden has won the backing of one of the nation’s largest, oldest and most influential environmental organizations — the Sierra Club.

Ramón Cruz, the Oakland-based green group’s president, said in a statement that the urgent need to curb climate change in the next decade is compelling the Sierra Club to “do everything in our power to elect Joe Biden.”

“The rising global temperature will not wait,” he added. “The melting glaciers and ice caps will not wait. Climate and social progress cannot wait.”

The endorsement was widely expected, but still shows how Biden has consolidated environmentalists’ support.

Biden beat out Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other candidates in the Democratic primary who put more emphasis on reining in rising temperatures.

But after locking down the nomination in the spring, Biden and his campaign spent months courting environmental activists and union officials to craft a revised climate plan.

The resulting $2 trillion proposal, released last month, featured more aggressive goals — including eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2035.

In a statement, Biden said that “[i]t is an honor to have earned their support and to fight alongside their millions of members who will work to defeat Donald Trump.”

The endorsement serves as another repudiation of President Trump by environmentalists. In his own statement, Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said that “[n]o president has been worse for our environment or our nation’s public health” than the current one.

Biden has also won the endorsement of other mainstream environmental groups, including the political arms of the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

And although the influential, youth-led Sunrise Movement is not formally endorsing Biden, it is still urging its voters to cast their ballots with the Democrat in November.

There was no chance the Sierra Club was going to endorse President Trump.

The president has repeatedly rejected the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet, and the 128-year-old green group opposed nearly every one of his environmental policies. The Sierra Club filed more than 250 cases against his administration.

The group even played a role forcing out one of Trump’s most controversial Cabinet members, Scott Pruitt, who sought to roll back numerous pollution regulations as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

It was through public-records requests and litigation that the Sierra Club compelled the EPA to cough up thousands of records on Pruitt, including emails showing him using his official position to try to line up a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife.

That and other ethical lapses contributed to Pruitt’s resignation in 2018.

The endorsement comes as the Sierra Club and other green groups are going through their own reckoning on race.

In recognition of nationwide protests against racial injustice, the Sierra Club is reexamining the legacy of its founder, John Muir, a naturalist regarded as the “patron saint of the American wilderness” who was also a racist known to make derogatory comments about African Americans and Native Americans.

“It’s time to take down some of our own monuments, starting with some truth-telling about the Sierra Club’s early history,” Brune wrote in a blog post last month.

Sierra Club promised to shift $5 million to reduce pay inequities and ensure that a majority of its top-level leadership is made up of people of color.

On Monday, Brune called Biden’s climate plan a “bold vision” for “investing in communities that for too long have been left behind.”

Biden’s climate plan includes several environmental justice provisions, including a commitment to spend 40 percent of the money earmarked for clean energy in historically disadvantaged areas.

In the high-dollar world of elections, the Sierra Club is planning to spend a relatively small amount.

It is expecting to spend $16 million on 2020 races, according to spokeswoman Gabby Brown.

But it is still more than double the $6.5 million the group spent on the 2018 midterm elections and the $3 million it spent on races in 2016, when the Sierra Club endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Matt Gravatt, director of the Sierra Club’s political committee, said the endorsement’s real value is in mobilizing its more than 3.8 million members and supporters to not only go to the polls in November but also to volunteer for the Biden campaign and participate in phone and texting banks the organization is planning to run.

“Our strength is in our members and our supporters,” Gravatt said.

Climate change emerged as a top-tier issue during the Democratic primary, though the coronavirus pandemic has eclipsed it and other topics.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in May, 33 percent of registered voters said climate change was a “very important” issue — down 10 percentage points from a similar nationwide survey in February.