The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Senate Democrats look for unity on eve of Green New Deal vote

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with Paulina Firozi


Faced with the choice of voting up or down on their Green New Deal, Democrats look like they're going to rally around a third option. 

Originally presented as a nonbinding resolution, the ambitious outline for addressing climate change has galvanized Washington. A half-dozen presidential candidates have co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution introduced in February to cement their pro-environment bona fides. And almost immediately, numerous Republicans have spoken against what they see as its enormous costs.  

Now with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scheduling a vote on the resolution next week to put senators on the record, Democrats are trying to avoid an intraparty fight. According to two Democratic aides, top Senate Democrats are weighing a strategy of voting “present” on what climate activists and Senate Democrats are dubbing a “sham” vote. 

Even the lead Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), has indicated he will vote present after accusing McConnell of trying to “short-circuit the process.” 

“Democrats will not allow Leader McConnell and Republicans to make a mockery of the debate in the Senate on climate change,” Markey said in a statement. “This vote is a sham and little more than a political ploy to protect vulnerable Republicans from having to defend their climate science denial.”

And the Sunrise Movement — the activist group that protested in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office and kick-started discussions in Washington of a Green New Deal to begin with — is not pressuring Senate Democrats to vote yes.

“He has no intention of taking action on climate change to ensure our generation has a livable future,” Sunrise Movement spokesman Stephen O'Hanlon wrote by email. “The only reason he is calling for this vote is to score some points for the oil and gas executives who bankroll his campaigns. This vote is a sham and Senators are planning to treat it as such.”

Republicans have been quick to use the Green New Deal as a cudgel against Democrats. The proposal calls for rapidly reducing climate-warming emissions over the next decade from virtually all sectors of the U.S. economy while providing every American with a high-quality job.

In turn, Democrats — even those who did not sponsor the Green New Deal — want to show as much unity as possible to spare colleagues the embarrassment of defeat. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is offering his own resolutions in response to McConnell to establish a select panel on climate change and to affirm that man-made climate change needs to be addressed by Congress. The latter resolution was co-sponsored by all 47 senators in the Democratic caucus.

Yet while the decision to vote against your own proposal may seem odd, it is not unprecedented. Democrats staked out a “present” strategy similar to one they pursued in 2017 when McConnell brought a Medicare-for-all proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) up for a vote. 

Next week's likely vote still puts every senator seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president in the tough position of deciding whether to reaffirm their support for it in a floor vote or break ranks with their leadership. None of the offices of six Senate candidates — Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) — responded to a request for comment. 


— The Bernie Sanders campaign becomes first in 2020 to promise to offset carbon emissions: The Vermont senator's campaign "plans to fund renewable energy projects to compensate for the carbon dioxide spewed by the planes and automobiles in which Sanders and his staff will travel while they barnstorm," according to HuffPost. Sanders is one of several candidates to endorse the Green New Deal and, like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), has made combating climate change a central part of his campaign.

— "Public access to public lands:" Acting Interior secretary David Bernhardt signed an order Thursday telling federal land managers to prioritize giving the public better access to public lands as they consider trading or selling them. Outside groups representing hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreation interests praised the move, with the Associated Press noting the order may be "politically calculated to curry favor among lawmakers" before Bernhardt's confirmation hearing next week.

— Inspector general finds EPA regional chief spends little time in main office: Trump's appointee to run the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office out West, Michael Stoker, spent only about a fifth of his workdays at the region's main office in San Francisco, according to the agency's internal watchdog. "Stoker's appointment in May as head of Region 9 attracted scrutiny after reports that he planned to work out of the LA office, which is closer to his Santa Barbara home," E&E News reports.


— When a river swells, are levees the best way to deal with it? That's the question facing Midwestern farmers following the severe floods that have led to states of emergency in Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. "Now, as the rivers fed by a massive late-winter 'bomb cyclone' churn south, the nation’s patchwork flood protection system is once again revealing its strengths, its vulnerabilities and the constantly competing interests of farmers, city dwellers, wildlife and industry," write The Post's Frances Stead Sellers and Brady Dennis. The disaster has revived the debate over whether to try to control the rivers with more levees or "make more room for them to swell."

— And 25 states are at risk of even more “major or moderate flooding" this spring: That's according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual outlook for the coming rainy season. “We expect the flooding to get worse and become more widespread,” Mary Erikson, deputy director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, said according to The Post's Jason Samenow.

— America’s reindeer have quietly gone extinct in the Lower 48: "After years of dwindling, the last remaining herd of caribou known to roam between Canada and the Pacific Northwest states of Idaho and Washington was down to just one known member," The Post's  Karin Brulliard reports. "In January, wildlife managers in British Columbia captured the female and put her in a pen, where they hope she will have a better shot at survival than alone in the snowy wilderness."


— Solar and wind companies are cool to the Green New Deal: Though they seem to stand to gain from Democrats' far-reaching plan to expand renewable energy, some major solar and wind lobbying groups call the plan "too extreme," Reuters reports. One reason for the skepticism is politics. "As they have improved technology and lowered prices," Reuters writes, "their growth is shifting from politically liberal coastal states to the more conservative heartland, where skepticism of climate change and government subsidies runs high."

A wet winter brought a “super bloom” of poppies and other wildflowers to the fields of California this spring. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

— California’s super bloom is so vibrant it can be seen from space: "In recent weeks, flowers have exploded in parts of Central and Southern California and are advancing north," Ian Livingston writes for The Post. "Interstates have become parking lots, mountain canyons have had to be closed, flower chasers have been found stuck in the mud by helicopters, and folks have tumbled down hillsides trying to get the perfect shot."