Greens want 2020 Democrats to go beyond vague ‘Green New Deal’ support

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Friday, January 25, 2019

Progressives and environmentalists hoping to push climate change to the top of the 2020 agenda are pressuring Democratic candidates not to settle for platitudes about a “Green New Deal,” and instead propose specific plans for eliminating carbon emissions.

“Having presidential candidates say they are supportive of the concept of doing something like the Green New Deal is amazing, but it’s not sufficient,” Saikat Chakrabarti, chief of staff to freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told the Washington Examiner.

Ocasio-Cortez and other freshmen progressives have had success getting Democratic candidates to commit to the as-yet-undefined Green New Deal, which would mandate a transition in the U.S. to entirely renewable energy. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have all offered some level of support for the Green New Deal.

But simple support is not enough. Environmental groups expect candidates to quickly differentiate themselves.

“You can’t win the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 without a climate plan and without an ability to talk about what your priorities are, and what the policies are behind that,” Joe Bonfiglio, president of EDF Action, the advocacy arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Washington Examiner.

The urgency is greater, environmentalists say, because of recent reports from the United Nations and federal government that show the worst impacts of global warming are coming faster than previously thought.

“Just saying you support the goals of the Green New Deal is better than nothing, but it really does matter what those details are,” Brett Hartl, the Center for Biological Diversity’s government affairs director, told the Washington Examiner.

The most aggressive progressive groups advocating for a Green New Deal have criticized declared Democratic candidates for not emphasizing climate change in their platforms.

“If @SenGillibrand wants our generation’s support she must back more than the ‘concept’ of a #GreenNewDeal,” the Sunrise Movement, a group of young activists that has staged protests in the offices of House Democratic leaders, said in a Twitter post Tuesday.

The group similarly attacked Harris for outlining an initial policy agenda that didn’t mention climate change.

“Hard to take a candidate seriously that doesn’t include anything in their platform about ensuring human civilization isn’t wiped out in half a century,” Evan Weber, the political director for the Sunrise Movement, wrote in a tweet Monday. “Where’s your climate plan, @KamalaHarris? #GreenNewDeal.”

Some Democratic advisers said it’s unrealistic to expect candidates to focus, right at the outset, on climate change, rather than on bedrock issues such as income inequality, health care, and political corruption.

“Climate change will be one of the top three or four issues in the Democratic primary, and the eventual nominee will have the most ambitious, specific climate proposals ever made by presidential candidates,” Paul Bledsoe, a former climate change adviser to former President Bill Clinton, told the Washington Examiner. “But that doesn’t mean it’s what the candidates are first going to talk about when they introduce themselves to the American people.”

But Democrats running in 2020have done more to elevate climate change than candidates in previous elections.

Presidential hopefuls Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., have introduced legislation that aims to shift the nation to 100 percent renewable and clean energy sources by 2050.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who is running for president in 2020, plans to reintroduce this year her bill to require 80 percent of electricity to be from clean energy sources by 2027.

“This is the most aggressive and most progressive climate change and climate justice legislation introduced in Congress,” Rania Batrice, spokeswoman for Gabbard, told the Washington Examiner.

Sanders, the 2016 presidential contender, hosted a “national town hall” on climate change a few weeks ago with Ocasio-Cortez, calling the issue “the great crisis facing our planet.”

Gillibrand has supported legislation to “keep fossil fuels in the ground,” in line with her home state, New York, which has banned fracking.

Warren recently became the first 2020 presidential candidate to pledge to reject money from fossil fuel interests during the campaign, a major marker for progressive environmental groups.

Other potential Democratic presidential candidates have also signed the pledge, including Sanders, Merkley and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Inslee, if he were to run, has positioned himself as the premier climate change candidate, having presided over a state with one of the cleanest electricity grids, running mostly on zero-carbon hydroelectric power.

Another potential candidate, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is a major financier of climate change activism and told reporters in Iowa last month he would make climate change “the issue.”

Even former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., a long-shot centrist candidate, co-sponsored a carbon tax bill introduced in December before leaving Congress.

“If the Green New Deal means doing something big on climate, then I support the general concept of it, but believe a carbon tax should be a central component,” Delaney told the Washington Examiner.

Democrats recall how far the conversation has shifted from 2016, when climate change was not atop the agenda, and even 2012, when President Barack Obama backed an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy including natural gas, a fossil fuel that emits half the carbon of coal.

“Compared to the last few presidential elections where it wasn’t on the radar screen really at all, the fact we are already talking about climate change as campaigns are launching is super exciting,” Brandon Hurlbut, a former campaign adviser for Obama’s 2008 campaign who was later chief of staff at the Energy Department, told the Washington Examiner.

Yet some Democratic advisers fear the candidates may struggle to separate preferred policies from the idealistic ambitions of the Green New Deal, which focuses on mandates over market mechanisms, such as carbon pricing, and also socially progressive policies, such as a jobs guarantee and nationalized healthcare.

“It will be a challenge to get beyond the fantasy goals of the Green New deal to specific policy proposals,” Bledsoe said. “Candidates will get away with hiding behind the green fig leaf for a little while, but not for long.”