Ocasio-Cortez, Markey unveil Green New Deal with backing of four presidential candidates

Source: By Dino Grandoni and Jeff Stein, Washington Post • Posted: Friday, February 8, 2019

For months, the term Green New Deal has been bandied about by Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail for president as their catchall phrase for a sweeping effort to halt runaway climate change.

On Thursday, the slogan got some meat on its bones as Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) prepared to introduce a framework outlining the goals of a sweeping climate pact going forward — and stop other Democrats from defining the Green New Deal however they wanted.

Their measure already has the backing of four Democratic senators who have launched bids for the 2020 presidential nomination. But it is already being lampooned by Republicans — though embraced by progressives — for its broad aims on things unrelated to climate, including increased access to housing, health care and education for lower-income communities.

“This is really about providing justice for communities and just transitions for communities,” Ocasio-Cortez told NPR in an interview Thursday morning. “So really the heart of the Green New Deal is about social justice.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey form a notable pairing: The former leveraged her political stardom to galvanize progressives around a demand for a comprehensive climate plan while the latter brings gravitas to the proposal as one of the original sponsors of Barack Obama’s ultimately unsuccessful cap-and-trade plan

The proposal is a nonbinding resolution, but its aims are ambitious. The Democratic resolution calls for the United States to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within ten years by “dramatically expanding and upgrading renewable power sources.” It stands as a stark counterpoint to the Trump administration’s downplaying of the scientific consensus behind climate change, as it has rolled back rules designed to contain global warming and withdrawn from the Paris climate accord aimed at reducing global pollution.

The five-page resolution is not confined to climate change, however. It promotes a plethora of progressive ideals — like housing, health care, education, unions and indigenous rights, which are only indirectly related to Democratic climate desires.

“The resolution is clear: We need to move to renewable energy as fast as possible,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement that has agitated for such a strategy.

That youth climate advocacy organization brought the idea of a Green New Deal to the fore in Washington by staging sit-in protests in the offices of a number of high-ranking Democrats, including then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Sunrise, which endorsed Ocasio-Cortez before her victory over then-Rep. Joe Crowley (D) in the New York primary last summer, worked with both the congresswoman’s and Markey’s offices to craft the resolution.

“If we’re moving to 100 percent clean and renewable energy in 10 years,” O’Hanlon added, “there won’t be the incentive to build new coal or fossil fuel infrastructure.”

At least four Senate Democrats currently running for president — Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — will co-sponsor the plan, spokespeople for the senators confirmed.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is considering another run for president, is also backing the plan. All five senators had previously endorsed the concept of the Green New Deal.

In total, nine senators and 60 House members are on board, according to Markey’s office. The supporters include Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders Mark Pocan (Wis.) and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), as well as Ocasio-Cortez allies Ro Khanna (Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Joe Neguse (Colo.).

Markey and Ocasio-Cortez are expected to formally introduce their resolution on Thursday afternoon with “dozens” of supporters among congressional Democrats, according to a source with knowledge of the rollout who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Their proposal stipulates that any infrastructure deal struck with President Trump and other Republicans must address climate change, such as by building resilience to extreme weather events. It gives progressives something many of them have been itching for: The promise of a guaranteed high-paying job for every American. Among its demands are new trade rules to “stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas.”

The proposal also calls for a sweeping overhaul of the transportation sector “as much as is technologically possible,” with investments in zero-emissions vehicles along with high-speed rail and other public transit.

“We have something very ambitious in mind, something akin to what we undertook in the Second World War,” said Robert Hockett, a professor at Cornell University who provided input on the plan. “It gives us a document around which to galvanize planning and action, and gives political figures running for office something they can sign onto or repudiate. There won’t be room anymore for just supporting ‘the concept.’ ”

But one crucial thing the proposal does not spell out: How the federal government is expected to pay for or achieve these broad aims.

The Green New Deal would be paid for “the same way we paid for the original New Deal, World War II, the bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich and decades of war — with public money appropriated by Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez said, according to the Associated Press.

That gave Republicans on Capitol Hill an opening to attack the plan as an ill-conceived wishlist — even before it was formally unveiled.

“Wealth transfer schemes suggested in the radical policies like the Green New Deal may not be the best path to community prosperity,” said Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on climate change and other environmental issues.

That House panel was one of two — along with the Natural Resources Committee — to hold hearings on climate change on Wednesday.

After two years out of power in Congress and the White House, Democrat are sending a message that the planet’s warming will finally once again be a priority in Washington by scheduling that pair of hearings as among the first held in the new Congress.

“Today we turn the page on this committee from climate change denial to climate action,” Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz) said.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s proposal does not include an outright ban on fossil fuels, which some close to the bill see as a concession to moderates and labor groups. Some environmental activists defended that decision, saying the investments in green energy would make the ban unnecessary.

“There’s some bold and visionary pieces in the Green New Deal resolution,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, a climate advocacy group. “But the failure to mention and explicitly state that we have to end the era of fossil fuels is just a huge missed opportunity to be real about where we are and where we need to go.”

The plan also does not explicitly exclude some major forms of low-emissions electricity — mainly, nuclear energy and hydropower — as some observers worried it would.

While environmentalists have previously protested both forms of power over concerns like the risk of meltdown or the fragmentation of river habitat, climate analysts — including those with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — say both are necessary today to reduce emissions enough to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

An IPCC report in October describing how the world has just over a decade to hold global warming to moderate levels proved to be a big motivating factor in the recent wave of climate activism. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s resolution cites those findings.