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The Energy 202: No 'unanimity' on Green New Deal, says key House Democrat

with Paulina Firozi


A pair of prominent Democrats on Thursday released a sweeping and long-awaited measure outlining what they are calling a “Green New Deal.” Invoking President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s years-long effort to drag the country out of the Great Depression, they are calling for nothing short of a top-to-bottom renovation of the U.S. economy in order to halt man-made climate change.

Their measure was greeted rapturously by climate activists eager to stop what they see as a looming threat. Immediately, it had the backing of four Democratic senators who have launched bids for the 2020 presidential nomination.

It is still early days for the Green New Deal. But fault lines within the Democratic caucus were already visible before the end of the day, with some members urging caution about setting vague and, at times, impossible-to-achieve goals to only fall short.

And perhaps most importantly, the plan has yet to get the formal backing of one crucial Democrat: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi told Politico on Wednesday. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”

“There’s not unanimity,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who backs the Green New Deal proposal and chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. “I’m sure there’s colleagues that feel that should have been more prescriptive than it is. And I’m sure there’s colleagues that feel that we’re providing an issue to the other side.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), whose star only seems to be rising in the Democratic Party, and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who led the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming when he was in the House, introduced the measure, a nonbinding resolution, that they say opens the debate on how to craft tangible legislation on an idea that until now essentially served as a campaign slogan.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on Feb. 7 introduced a resolution they call the Green New Deal. (Video: The Washington Post)

Markey and Ocasio-Cortez are calling for the United States to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero within 10 years and eliminate climate-warming pollution from the transportation sector “as much as is technologically possible."

And they want to do so while checking off a number of other progressive goals, like increasing access to housing, health care and education for what they call “frontline” communities, or Americans who are low-income, indigenous and people of color.

The proposal advanced by the Democrats is still vague, perhaps in a bid to garner broad support -- Ocasio-Cortez and Markey attracted roughly 60 House members and nine senators as initial co-sponsors. Endorsements from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), each of whom are running for president, signal the Green New Deal will be an ongoing issue in the 2020 election.

Many observers saw Pelosi’s “green dream” comment as dismissive. Before the end of the day, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a story headlined: “Nancy Pelosi Signals Support For Environmental Causes By Placing Green New Deal Directly Into Recycling Bin.”

But proponents of the proposal embraced Pelosi’s language. "I think it is a green dream,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a press conference rolling out the Green New Deal. “I don’t consider that to be a dismissive term. I think it’s a great term.”

And the speaker was more welcoming of the proposal at her own press conference Thursday morning. “I haven’t seen it," Pelosi said, “but I do know that it’s enthusiastic and we welcome all the enthusiasms that are out there.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Feb. 7 that she welcomes the “enthusiasm” surrounding the Green New Deal proposal. (Video: Reuters)

Still, Pelosi is charting her own course on climate change with her power as speaker. On that same morning, Pelosi named the Democratic lawmakers who will serve on a new select committee on climate change.

She eschewed a request that committee members be required not to take fossil-fuel money. Green New Deal proponents also wanted the committee to embrace that term, but Pelosi ended up naming the committee the "House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis."

"The energy industry is complicated," said select committee member and Democratic freshman Rep. Sean Casten (Ill.). He has not endorsed the Green New Deal yet, but of it he added: "The aspiration's beautiful, right? I want to live in a world that has has green jobs. I want to live in a world that has an equitable distribution of resources."

Other Democrats expressed more skepticism about slashing carbon emissions that quickly. “I’m not sure a 10-year goal for carbon-free electricity is realistic,” said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, adding that he had yet to read the draft. “And I used to be in the renewable power business," he added, referring to his time as a wind-energy executive.

King isn’t alone. As the price of wind and solar energy falls due to technological advances, the share of U.S. electricity from renewable sources has grown precipitously to 17 percent in 2017. But few experts think that figure can get to 100 percent anytime soon.

“The idea of an all renewable energy economy by 2030 is just unrealistic,” said Ernest Moniz, Barack Obama’s energy secretary. “And putting forward unrealistic goals in my view may impede our progress if it starts to leave behind key constituencies."

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said he had not read the plan yet. “They never shared it with us until today... I just want to bring everybody together. We have to all settle on the same set of facts."

It’s unclear how Democrats plan to proceed. Green New Deal backers envision a series of bills and subsequent programs — similar to the New Deal — that will be taken up by multiple committees and passed over a number of years.

Already in the House, the resolution has the backing of Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the head of the Rules Committee, and Grijalva, its Natural Resources chief.

But other committee heads, like Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), who spoke in soaring terms just the day before about addressing climate change during a House hearing on the subject, stopped short of a full endorsement.

“When it comes to combating climate change, all options need to be on the table," he said. “Yesterday, we had our first hearing on climate change, and that will be the first of many. This plan will be part of our discussion.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey sought to walk a fine line with their proposal in order to win as much support of it as possible.

To court labor groups, for example, court labor groups, which often worry about the effect environmental regulations have on job numbers, the proposal guarantees every American a high-paying job.

It also does not include an outright ban on fossil fuels, which some close to the bill see as a concession to moderates. Some environmental activists defend that decision, saying the investments in green energy would make the ban unnecessary.

“The fossil fuel industry will not transition willingly and on its own to life-sustaining, renewable practices, because it is determined to trash our planet for its profit no matter the cost,” said Janet Redman, head of Greenpeace USA.

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

“It is an incredibly smart decision to embrace all carbon free technologies that can help us reach our emissions goals,” said Lindsey Walter, an energy policy adviser at the center-left think tank Third Way.

Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Paulina Firozi contributed reporting.


More on the select climate committee: In addition to Sean Casten, the new members will be Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor (Fla.), who will chair the committee, Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Suzanne Bonamici (Ore.), Julia Brownley (Calif.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Mike Levin (Calif.), A. Donald McEachin (Va.) and Joe Neguse (Colo.). Republicans have yet to name their members.

Notably missing from the list is Ocasio-Cortez: But she stressed at a news conference it was "not a snub" since she declined to join it. “I will not allow our caucus to be divided up by silly notions of whatever narrative. We are in this together, we are 100 percent in this together,” she said. 

About those new climate committee members: The nine Democrats on the committee received a combined total of $198,000 in donations from the fossil fuel industry’s political action committees during the midterm elections, HuffPost reports, citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Luján received the most of the group, at $117,000 from oil, gas, mining, and utility PACs, which made up 6 percent of the donations he raised. Levin, who has since signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, received $1,500 from a trade group that lobbies for highway gas stations. Neguse received $1,000, but a spokeswoman for the congressman said he turned down that donation, and said Neguse plans to take the no fossil fuel pledge, per the report. 

— Remembering John Dingell: John D. Dingell Jr., the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, died at his home in Dearborn, Mich. at the age of 92, The Post's Emma Brown writes.  A member of the House from 1955 to 2015, the Democrat chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee several times. He used to define the jurisdiction of the committee by pointing to a photograph of Earth taken from space. Dingell co-wrote the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. He also “became one of conservationists’ prime enemies for his fierce opposition to tightening fuel-efficiency standards,” Brown writes — so much so that in 2008, environmental advocate Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) successfully challenged the Detriot-area representative for the Energy and Commerce chairmanship and called him “a determined opponent on clean air, climate change and energy issues.”

— Trump speaks with California governor after threat to cut off fire aid: In an interview with the Los Angeles Times and other regional newspapers, the president was asked whether he still believes the government should restrict federal aid to California over its forest management. Trump didn't explicitly repeat his threat, the Times reports. “I told my people, I said we cannot continue to spend billions of dollars, billions and billions of dollars,” he said, adding: “Forest fires are totally preventable. They shouldn’t happen.” He described a call with Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that followed a tweet last month in which he ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “send no more money” unless “they get their act together.” “He was very respectful as to my point of view,” Trump said about Newsom. “I think he agrees with me. I respect the fact that he called.”

— New seismic activity in ANWR paused for winter: Interior Department officials said this week no new seismic testing will occur in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this winter after questions emerged about how the surveys would affect local polar pear populations and tundra conditions, E&E News reports.

The decision was announced at a public meeting in Kaktovik, Alaska. “This week's disclosure came at a time when regulators are seeking public comments on Interior's draft environmental impact statement for drilling in the coastal plain,” per the report. “Interior's decision not to allow seismic surveys this winter means no new data will be gathered on the 1.6-million-acre coastal plain until the ground refreezes next winter.”

— Another day, another set of rules rolled back: The Trump administration proposed exempting some lightbulbs from energy efficiency standards, rolling back Obama-era rules increasing the number of lightbulbs required to meet the standards set set to take effect next year. “The proposal would remove three-way bulbs, candle-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers, reflector bulbs used in recessed lighting, and others from having to comply with the new efficiency standards,” Reuters reports.

The Energy 202 wrote in August about a document published and later deleted from the Energy Department’s website signaling the change.


— PG&E’s wildfire woes: The state’s largest utility says it will shut off power to more areas of service in California during high-risk conditions to try to prevent deadly wildfires. The plan, which PG&E filed with state regulators this week, includes expanding tree clearing, strengthening equipment inspection and installing more weather stations to spot fire risk early, the Wall Street Journal reports.

— Venezuela watch: As a result of the U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuelan oil, there are 21 tankers with 9.6 million barrels of oil that have been stranded off the U.S. Gulf Coast. “Some buyers had purchased the cargoes ahead of U.S. sanctions imposed last week, using the vessels as floating storage,” Reuters reports. “Others weighed how to pay under new rules, according to traders, shippers and data from Refinitiv Eikon.”


— How climate change is making hurricanes strengthen faster: New research suggests climate change has made hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean “considerably worse,” The Post's Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report. A trend of rapid intensification — where storms quickly strengthen from Category 1 to Category 4 or 5 — has emerged in recent years. “Natural variability cannot explain the magnitude of the observed upward trend,” the researchers wrote in the study published in Nature Communications. “Rapid intensification is exceedingly dangerous because people, they’re not warned adequately, they’re not prepared, many of them don’t evacuate,” Jim Kossin, study author and a hurricane expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Post.

— Heading to Key West soon? Make sure to pack the right sunscreen. The Key West City Commission voted 6 to 1 this week to ban sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals shown to harm coral reefs, The Post’s Lindsey Bever reports.

After Hawaii became the first state to pass a similar ban, Key West voted to ban the sale of these products in the city starting in January 2021.

Mayor Teri Johnston said she hopes tourists will follow the ban, too. “I hope it will make consumers more aware and responsible for their actions,” she told The Post in an interview. She wants people to “flip over their sunscreens and look at the ingredients and make wise choices for themselves and their families.”



  • Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler delivers the keynote address at the Environmental Law Institute conference.

Coming Up

  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the Energy Department's "inaction on efficiency standards" on Feb. 12. 
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee holds a hearing on the state of climate science on Feb 12. 

— You're not dead until you're warm and dead: That old saying in medicine applies to this cat, too, The Post's Angela Fritz writes. Veterinarians helped save Fluffy with heating pads and hot towels after her owners found her covered in thick chunks of ice and snow near their Kalispell, Mont. home, after last week's polar vortex.