As federal lawmakers fail to pass a Green New Deal to address climate change, blue-state politicians are seizing on the moniker popular with the national progressive base to pitch their own plans to curb climate-warming emissions.
But divisions on the left are emerging in one key state, New York, where environmental advocates say the Green New Deal proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) doesn't go nearly far enough.
Cuomo’s bill aims to make the state’s electricity sector carbon-free by 2040 and to create a council that would develop a plan to transition the state's entire economy to net-zero carbon emissions. “Let's take the next step on the Green New Deal, which tackles climate change and starts building the green economy for tomorrow,” the Democratic governor told lawmakers at his state of the state address in January.
But a coalition of more than 170 environmental justice, labor and community groups is throwing its weight behind another bill, one that would go even further to mandate that all the state’s energy sectors, not just electricity, be carbon-free by 2050. The bill backed by the New York Renews coalition, the Climate and Community Protection Act, also funnels spending to disadvantaged communities bearing the brunt of climate change.
The dueling climate measures are splitting Democrats. Supporters of the CCPA, which passed the New York State Assembly three years in a row, say it may have its best chance of passing both chambers this year. Democrats seized control of the state Senate for the first time in about a decade and a majority of state senators have signed on as co-sponsors.
Democratic State Sen. Jessica Ramos, one of the CCPA’s co-sponsors, called it “much more comprehensive” than Cuomo’s plan, which she said “does not go far enough into addressing the systemic changes that we need to make.”
The clash over climate policy in New York echoes some of the political tension that has stalled climate action on the federal level. In Congress, as in New York, Democrats are united that something has to be done to reduce global warming. But the recent climate debate has pitted the left versus the lefter in terms of how ambitious these plans should be — and whether they should include other progressive priorities.
In Washington, the broad Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) failed in the Senate last month. Even some moderate Democrats wavered on parts of that plan that called for providing health care and a federal jobs guarantee alongside curbing climate emissions.
In New York, social justice issues in the CCPA are also becoming a flash point: The bill would require 40 percent of the state’s energy transition funds go to environmentally vulnerable communities most affected by global warming, and it would ensure energy transition jobs meet fair labor standards.
Cuomo officials have been working with state lawmakers and representatives from NY Renews to reach a consensus measure.
“We’re proud of our record on combating climate change including the launch of Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal and real actions toward economy-wide carbon neutrality as soon as practicable,” a Cuomo spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We have and will continue to collaborate with the legislature on meaningful climate policy proposals to build upon this nation-leading progress.”
NY Renews acknowledges the tension between the two proposals, even as there’s common ground in the state.
“Nobody at this point in New York is making the argument that we shouldn’t have a strong legislative approach to climate change,” the coalition’s steering committee member Stephan Edel told me. “The question now is how do we have the details as strong as they can be. There are reasonable technical discussions to find where that line is.”
Those who support the CCPA over Cuomo’s proposal, formally called the Climate Leadership Act, say the plan to transition all the state’s energy sectors to renewable energy would make a far greater impact in New York. According to NY Renews, only about 17 percent of the state’s carbon emissions come from electricity, whereas most emissions come from things such as the heating and cooling of buildings and transportation. But a Cuomo official said cutting emissions from the state’s power sector would work as a precursor to cutting carbon emissions in other energy sectors.
CCPA supporters have also questioned Cuomo's plan to make the state carbon neutral, insisting their aim to reduce carbon emissions overall is a more worthwhile goal. But Cuomo officials said the governor’s proposal leaves room for approaches such as carbon capture technology — a process that captures carbon dioxide from the air — that are more sustainable but not carbon free.
Democratic state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, who has been a champion of CCPA for years, challenged Cuomo’s carbon neutrality goal: “Does it mean the goal is to have the status quo? Or is the goal to put infrastructure and policies in place that would actually reduce the carbon contribution to the atmosphere? The [CCPA] envisions reduction, not limitation of further growth.”
Yet Michael Kracker, executive director of business and taxpayer advocacy coalition Unshackle Upstate, expressed concern about how much the CCPA could cost individuals and businesses in the state.
“We’re focused on trying to find ways to make our state a more affordable place to live and do business, and unfortunately the Climate and Community Protection Act makes both of those more expensive,” he told me. He called Cuomo’s bill “less burdensome” but said he has concerns about that plan, as well.
Edel, who is also a director of member organization New York Working Families Project, acknowledged all sides will need to compromise on a final version before the measure can pass the state legislature and reach the governor’s desk.
But he told me there’s been significant progress in conversations around climate policy compared to when the bill first passed the Assembly.
“We’re in a really exciting moment in New York where the governor and both houses are taking this very seriously, they’re engaged in conversation about what it can look like, and that is a really remarkable point to be at when a year ago, we were debating whether we should even have a climate policy in the legislature, and two years ago we were debating whether climate change is real,” Edel said.
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— More climate plans are popping up: Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and current 2020 Democratic contender, announced a new climate plan as the first major policy proposal of his presidential campaign. His plan, which invests $5 trillion to build a climate-friendly infrastructure, aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. O’Rourke also said if he’s elected, the United States would also rejoin the Paris climate agreement and would "rapidly" accelerate the growth of zero-emission cars in the country.
“O’Rourke’s proposal comes as several Democratic presidential hopefuls are seeking to move beyond the initial buzz of their campaigns and offer distinctive policy ideas,” The Post’s Annie Linskey reports, adding "important details about O’Rourke’s climate plan remain unclear. It calls for the 'single largest investment in fighting climate change in history' but says only that the initiative would be funded by unspecified 'structural changes to the tax code.'"
Some reaction to O'Rourke's plan. "O’Rourke’s climate policy drew criticism from some climate activists for not being as ambitious as the Green New Deal framework," Linskey writes.
- The Sunrise Movement, the youth climate activist group that has been pushing candidates to support the federal Green New Deal, criticized the plan. “Beto claims to support the Green New Deal, but his plan is out of line with the timeline it lays out and the scale of action that scientists say is necessary to take here in the United States to give our generation a livable future,” said the group’s executive director, Varshini Prakash.
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who has made climate change the focus of his presidential campaign, said in a statement it was good that candidates are pushing proposals on the issue and said O'Rourke's plan “includes several general references to results that Gov. Inslee has achieved in Washington state.” But Inslee also said his opponent “will need to answer why he did not lead on climate change in Congress and why he voted on the side of oil companies to open up offshore drilling.”
In Los Angeles: Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a new climate plan that in part addresses transportation in the city notorious for its traffic and smog-filled air. The plan calls for 80 percent of cars to be electric or zero-emissions vehicles by 2035, increasing the call to 100 percent by 2050, the Los Angeles Times reports. The plan, dubbed L.A.'s Green New Deal, also calls for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to supply 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. “Los Angeles needs to lead, but the whole world needs to act. This plan gives us a fighting chance,” Garcetti told the L.A. Times. “It’s sort of a ‘greenprint’ for every other city in the country and the world, hopefully.”
— Back in Washington: Some GOP lawmakers are looking to force a vote on the House floor on the Green New Deal. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) wants to introduce a discharge petition this week, The Hill reports, a procedural move that could circumvent Democratic leadership and force a vote if 218 lawmakers sign the petition. “I'm looking forward to it — the American people need to know where their representatives stand by the Green New Deal, and I'm hopeful we'll be able to gather 218 votes and give that choice to the people of America,” Hice said. “House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is leading the whipping effort on the proposal, which could potentially place Democrats in swing districts in a difficult position,” per the report.
— Democratic leaders pitch Trump on infrastructure: Ahead of a scheduled meeting between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Democratic leaders sent a letter to the president calling for a “big and bold” infrastructure plan. The letter insists any bill should take climate change into account. “A big and bold infrastructure package must be comprehensive and include clean energy and resiliency priorities,” they wrote. “To truly be a gamechanger for the American people, we should go beyond transportation and into broadband, water, energy, schools, housing and other initiatives. We must also invest in resiliency and risk mitigation of our current infrastructure to deal with climate change.”
— Government experts continue to sound climate alarm: A recent 150-page document published by the Environmental Protection Agency calls on communities across the country to get ready to deal with climate change and the worsening natural disasters that will result from the change. But the agency’s report deviates from the way its own administrator, Andrew Wheeler, has sought to dismiss threats from climate change. The document was included with guidance on how communities can deal with debris in the aftermath of major floods, hurricanes and wildfires, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis wrote over the weekend. “The divergence between Wheeler and his own agency offers the latest example of the often contradictory way that federal climate policy has evolved under President Trump,” they report. "As the White House has sought to minimize or ignore climate science, government experts have continued to sound the alarm.”
— Interior continues to process seismic testing permits: The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is still processing permits for companies that want to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic, even after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the agency would halt its plans to expand offshore drilling. Bernhardt “said last week the agency’s five-year plan for oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) would be sidelined indefinitely after a March court ruling blocked drilling in the Arctic and part of the Atlantic Ocean,” Reuters reports. “A federal district court judge in Charleston, South Carolina, asked the Interior Department on Monday to update him on the status of BOEM’s seismic survey permit process. The South Carolina Republican attorney general and conservation groups including the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed a motion in that court earlier this year seeking an injunction to block BOEM from issuing final seismic testing permits.”
- The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment holds a hearing on the public health effects of climate change.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on public lands and clean energy.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holds a hearing on the impacts of reorganizing the Interior Department.
- The House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology holds a hearing on emerging technologies in plastics recycling.
- The House Science Subcommittee on Environment holds a hearing on the NOAA 2020 fiscal year budget request.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holds a hearing on the Energy Department’s cleanup costs on Wednesday.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the state of pipeline safety and security on Wednesday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
- House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the status of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act on Thursday.
— A harness-wearing whale raises alarm: Marine experts say a beluga whale found in Arctic Norway wearing what appeared to be a Russian-made harness may have been trained at a Russian military facility. “It wasn’t immediately clear what the mammal was being trained for, or whether it was supposed to be part of any Russian military activity in the region,” the Associated Press reports.