THE LIGHTBULB

All six senators vying against each other for the Democratic nomination for president can at least agree on one thing: The political message for why they would note vote for the Green New Deal resolution. 

Each of the 2020 candidates in the Senate voted "present" with 43 other Democrats on the climate measure, in a show of unity orchestrated by party leadership.

In sharing why they would not vote for a resolution they co-sponsored, they were reading from the same playbook. 

“Because it’s a political game,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) while walking to the vote.

And a moment later, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) explained: “Because this is a political game.” 

As Felicia Sonmez and I reported yesterday, the 57 to 0 decision against moving forward on the Green New Deal amounted to a political show vote as President Trump and Republicans deride the resolution spearheaded by star freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as an unachievable socialist dream. The resolution, which is nonbinding and would not carry the force of law if passed, envisions the United States achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within a decade while guaranteeing Americans high-paying jobs and high-quality health care.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who called the plan a “far-left wish list," held the vote in hopes of dividing Democrats -- pitting liberals who have embraced the idea, including the 2020 presidential hopefuls, against moderates from Republican-leaning states. 

As Democrats unified around what they called a "sham" vote held without any hearings or expert testimony, McConnell panned Democrats’ strategy to vote "present." 

"Do you believe it’s a prescription for America? Then why would you not want to vote for it? A vote for 'present' is a vote for it," he said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), added on the Senate floor: "To hide behind some cop-out vote like ‘present’ is just to take the easy way out." 

Yet some Democrats running for president insisted that their vote for "present" does not mean they will give up their push for the ideas behind the Green New Deal. 

“We don't know if we can get to net zero carbon emissions in 10 years, but we should certainly try,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference held by Democrats and climate activists.  “Why not this be a measure of how  great we are as a nation?”

But Gillibrand was the only 2020 candidate to show up to the event, though that didn't concern young climate activists who waved off concerns about their absence and pointed to candidates’ messaging on the campaign trail.

“Elizabeth Warren has been making campaign videos for the Green New Deal,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement. “Beto O’Rourke has been standing on tables talking about the Green New Deal.”

Indeed, other 2020 candidates on Tuesday indicated ways they'd like to push forward ideas within the resolution. 

Booker said he wants to pick off “low-hanging fruit” with legislation “doubling down on research and innovation” and “major infrastructure investments” that could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. 

“Doing nothing," he added, "is not an option.”

It has been about a decade since Democrats and Republicans have tried to work together to pass comprehensive climate legislation. And it is hard to imagine that changing while Donald Trump is president.

Yet irony of the Green New Deal proposal is that it is forcing some Republicans to put forward their own climate proposals after being led by for two years by Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed as a hoax the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that humans are warming the world.

“Over the past six weeks we've engaged in more debate about climate change than we have over the past 10 years,” said Markey, the lead Senate sponsor on the Green New Deal. “That was always part of the goal.”

Those GOP approaches often emphasize innovation in nascent forms of nuclear energy or methods of capturing carbon dioxide before it is released into the air. 

Yet doubling down on such research is not incompatible with the Green New Deal resolution, Warren noted. 

“It is time for new ideas, not old ideology,” Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat running for president, said in a floor speech Tuesday. “It is time for innovative research, not tired rhetoric. It is time for groundbreaking science, not political stunts. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on climate solutions — because this crisis is upon us, and it is time to act.” 

At the press conference, the Green New Deal's supporters argued it was actually politically savvy to set a seemingly aspirational goal, like President John F. Kennedy did when he called for sending a man to the moon, in the face of a planetary crisis. 

Yet a chorus of detractors, including some Democrats, said the goal of drastically curbing the release of the heat-trapping gases across U.S. electricity, manufacturing, transportation and agricultural sectors within just 10 years is impossible to achieve.

Among them is former Colorado governor and 2020 Democratic presidential aspirant John Hickenlooper, who said in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Washington Post that the vision being pushed by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) has “laudable aims but also takes an approach that limits our prospects for success.”

“The resolution sets unachievable goals,” Hickenlooper said. “We do not yet have the technology needed to reach ‘net-zero greenhouse gas emissions’ in 10 years. That’s why many wind and solar companies don’t support it.”

About 10 years is how long a panel of U.N. scientists says the world has to rein in emissions and keep the global temperature increase to moderate levels.

Felicia Sonmez and Dave Weigel contributed to this report.

PowerPost
The measure failed on a 0 to 57 vote, with most Democrats voting “present.”
Dino Grandoni and Felicia Sonmez
POWER PLAYS

— Interior Department nominee blocked analysis on endangered species: In late 2017, top political appointees at the Interior Department, including then-Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, blocked the release of a report assessing the threat of widely used pesticides on endangered species. Instead, they set up a new process meant to apply a narrower standard to determine risks from the pesticides, the New York Times reports. The events that led to the decision to block the report are described in more than 84,000 pages of government documents obtained by the New York Times via a Freedom of Information request. “The documents provide a case study of how the Trump administration has been using its power to second-guess or push aside conclusions reached by career professionals, particularly in the area of public health and the environment,” the Times reports. “Asked if Mr. Bernhardt’s intervention was appropriate or motivated by a desire to serve the industry’s interests, an Interior Department spokeswoman said his actions had been ‘governed solely by legitimate concerns regarding the legal sufficiency and policy.’ ”

— Pruitt is gone, but news about his spending at the EPA is not: The U.S. Office of Government Ethics is questioning one of former EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s final financial disclosure reports, saying in a new finding it would not certify the report because of Pruitt’s $50-a-night deal for a luxury Washington condo. The ethics office said federal authorities did not resolve whether the deal, made with the wife of a lobbyist, was an improper gift or an ethical business arrangement, the Associated Press reports

— A toxic chemical used to disperse offshore oil spills is sickening people and fish: After the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill, 20 percent of the Coast Guard personnel who responded and were exposed to the chemical reported persistent coughing, while others reported wheezing and trouble breathing, according to a 2018 study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health. But a lawsuit against the EPA will claim that despite those results, the agency hasn’t in 25 years updated the National Contingency Plan to respond to oil spills. “In the absence of an update, the EPA has continued to allow emergency responders to use a chemical mixture called Corexit to disperse oil into droplets that allow microbes to further break it down, the groups say," The Post's Darryl Fears reports.

— Internal watchdog to probe any White House interference with disaster aid: The inspector general’s office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development says it will look into whether the White House has interfered with disaster aid approved for Puerto Rico as the U.S. territory grapples with the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria. The review will be part of a broad look into the agency’s administration of disaster grants, The Post’s Jeff Stein, Tracy Jan and Josh Dawsey report

Meanwhile, Trump continues to complain about Puerto Rico: During a lunch with Senate Republicans, the president went off about the amount of disaster funding designated for the island, The Post’s Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Paul Kane report, saying it was too high. He also made a remark during the lunch that one could buy the island four times over for $91 billion, the amount of aid he said was allocated for the U.S. territory. "But it’s unclear where Trump got the figure for Puerto Rico aid."

— Trump signs executive order on EMP threats: Trump signed an executive order calling for a study into how electromagnetic pulses could harm U.S. infrastructure. “Some lawmakers and scientists have long worried that a rogue nation or terrorist group with the technological know-how might attack the U.S. electric grid with an EMP generated by a nuclear detonation miles above the Earth,” Bloomberg News reports, adding it’s unclear why the White House believes such a risk is urgent enough for the president to take action.

THERMOMETER

— The impact of shrinking local reporting: A year ago, a Kentucky newspaper lost its full-time environmental beat reporter and didn’t replace him. And some sources in the region say the change has had an impact on coverage of critical environmental issues in the state. It’s an example of a broader issue explored in this New Yorker piece about the loss of local environmental reporters. The Society of Environmental Journalists says the number of its members who identify as “working for newspapers” has dropped to 170, about half of its membership three decades ago, the New Yorker reports. Lee Mueller, a 77-year-old retired Lexington Herald-Leader reporter who often wrote about environmental issues, lamented about concerns in the area including an increase in local logging, poor water quality and the misuse of coal-related tax dollars, per the report. “The future looks really bleak for the kids growing up here, and the papers aren’t on top of it,” he said.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power holds a hearing on the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on Interior spending and Trump's 2020 budget request.

Coming Up

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Bernhardt to be Interior Secretary on Thursday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the federal response to the risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances on Thursday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on abandoned mine land reclamation on Thursday.
  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) speak at an event hosted by Resources for the Future on "Putting a Price on Carbon" on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— "Please tell me this is photoshopped": Before Tuesday's vote, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) took to the Senate floor to criticize the Green New Deal. Standing before a series of increasingly absurd posters, including ones of Ronald Reagan riding a dinosaur and Luke Skywalker riding a tauntaun, he joked: “I rise today to consider the Green New Deal with the seriousness it deserves.”

But Mark Hamill, the actor who played Skywalker, was having none of it on Twitter: