The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Broad group of green organizations releases climate platform ahead of 2020 election

with Paulina Firozi


A coalition of more than 70 environmental and other progressive groups are publishing Thursday the outlines of what they want the next Democratic administration to do about climate change.

The broadly worded, 10-page document, called the “Equitable and Just National Climate Platform,” views with skepticism the sort of cap-and-trade schemes once pushed by congressional Democrats a decade ago and demands that any new climate policy address the disproportionate burden low-income and minority neighborhoods face when it comes to air and water pollution.

The platform is being released as Democratic presidential candidates are forming and beginning to present to voters their own ideas about how to address climate change.

“It really is looking forward to 2021 where there's a plausible opportunity for broad national action,” said John Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and the former chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. "But certainly, and hopefully, by release now it will help influence the platforms that Democratic presidential candidates are developing."

The effort also attempts to bridge a rift between two branches of the broader environmental movement. At times, there has been strain between the so-called “big greens” — large and well-funded environmental organizations usually based in Washington — and smaller “environmental justice” organizations that focus on curbing local sources of pollution that tend to hit hardest communities of color.

“In the past, there's been occasion where there has obviously been in dialogue, but there's also been some tension between those communities because they haven't fully listened to each other,” Podesta said.

In addition to CAP, major environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council,the  League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice have thrown their institutional weight behind the project, as too have a series of local organzations from about 20 states.

“It's actually a pretty historic platform,” said Cecilia Martinez, co-founder and executive director of the Minneapolis-based Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy who began last year spearheading the effort with CAP unite the two factions. "The major national organizations and environmental-justice groups have actually agreed to the essential policy points that have to be included and a national climate agenda."

At the moment, the platform is more a statement of values than a list of specific policy proposals, one that in several ways echoes the economic and racial messages of the nonbinding Green New Deal resolution pushed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). The proposal doesn't use that term, however.

The climate platform states that proposals aimed at reducing overall greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States should not unduly burden poor and minority communities with higher energy bills or more local pollution. It calls for any economic transition to cleaner forms of energy production to "create high-quality jobs with family-sustaining wages" and places special emphasis on improving drinking-water infrastructure in the wake of the contamination crisis in Flint, Mich.

And it states that to limit global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, the United States “must firmly be on this path by 2030.”

“This agenda should be centered on innovative and equitable solutions with racial and economic justice as core goals and match the scale and urgency of the challenges we face,” the platform reads.

The roughly six dozen organizations also acknowledge what they see as the shortcomings of "market-based policies" pushed previously by Democrats. The platform calls for lawmakers to ensure any policy aimed at cutting nationwide greenhouse-gas emissions also reduces — rather than concentrates — pollution in non-white areas. 

Such a concentration of pollution in communities of color was a concern when House Democrats rallied around an ultimately unsuccessful cap-and-trade bill during Obama's first year in office. Under such a plan, regulators would have set up a market in which companies bought and sold credits permitting them to release carbon into the atmosphere. 

At the time, Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of the Harlem-based WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and others in the environmental-justice community worried such a mechanism would concentrate sources of pollution in the places it was cheapest to pollute — theirs.

“I think sometimes the climate movement loses sight about just regular environmental quality,” Shepard said.

In the past, larger environmental groups weathered criticism from environmental-justice organizations that the broader green movement is too white and too male — and that lack of racial diversity within their ranks has led them to pursue policies that sometimes overlook communities of color. 

“People want to see people from their community who know about these issues and are telling them it's important — not just a white person from a green group,” Shepard said.

Sara Chieffo, the vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, expects Democrats on Capitol Hill to take notice of the platform. “We’re optimistic about the reception in Congress, where environmental justice caucuses now exist in both chambers and where there is growing momentum for action on climate change,” she said.

To that end, the coalition has taken out newspaper ads in Politico and the Detroit Free Press on Thursday.

Similarly on the campaign trail, 2020 Democratic contenders are incorporating language into their climate plans acknowledging how racial minorities tend to face disproportionately higher air and water pollution.

In his climate platform, former vice president Joe Biden wrote the nation “cannot turn a blind eye to the way in which environmental burdens and benefits have been and will continue to be distributed unevenly along racial and socioeconomic lines.” And former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke noted race is “the number one indicator for where toxic and polluting facilities are today.”


— USDA research staff exits in droves ahead of relocation: The Agriculture Department said it would offer employees at two key research agencies the choice of accepting a required transfer to the Kansas City area or be dismissed — and the results are grim. “On Tuesday, a USDA spokesperson told NPR that at [Economic Research Service], 72 employees accepted relocation and 99 declined or did not respond. At [National Institute of Food and Agriculture], the spokesperson said 73 accepted and 151 declined or did not respond. That means the total number that accepted is about 36% of those reported,” NPR reports. “The USDA spokesperson said that these numbers may fluctuate until Sept. 30, the date employees are expected to report to the area, and employees can change their statuses until then.”

— FERC approves LNG project: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted 3-to-1 to approve an application for a liquefied natural gas project from Houston company Kinder Morgan Inc., despite concerns from Democrats over the impact on the climate. “It's the fifth liquefied natural gas export project the agency has approved so far this year as it catches up with a backlog of applications for new LNG projects. Developers are racing to build new terminals to take advantage of growing supplies of natural gas unleashed by the U.S. shale boom and increasing demand for LNG globally,” the Houston Chronicle reports. In a tweet, FERC chairman Neil Chatterjee called it “big news for the US & our allies.” Meanwhile, commissioner Richard Glick wrote in his dissenting arguments that FERC “is again refusing to consider the consequences its actions have for climate change.”

— NRC suggests fewer inspections for aging nuclear plants: A report from staff members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls for weakening or reducing safety inspections for the nation’s aging nuclear power plants, the New York Times reports, a recommendation that comes as the Trump administration has pushed for reducing regulations on industry. The Nuclear Energy Institute, which lobbies for the nuclear power plant industry, was involved in conversations that preceded the report. “Democrats in Congress and nuclear safety advocates criticized the report’s proposals, saying they reflect the influence of an industry seeking to cut regulations rather than improve public safety,” the Times reports. One recommendation in the report would be to inspect nuclear operators’ safety programs every three years instead of once every two years.


— Here’s how much of the United States will be facing serious heat this weekend:  At least 22 states and the District of Columbia are under excessive heat warnings and advisories. “According to the National Weather Service, 51 percent of the Lower 48 states are likely to see air temperatures reach or exceed 95 degrees during the next seven days, with 85 percent experiencing temperatures above 90 degrees during the same period,” The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports. In Washington, for example, the heat index is expected to peak around 110 degrees on Saturday.  The New York Times reports there are at least 15 million people across the country “currently being warned of dangerously high temperatures that could affect human health between Wednesday and Friday.”

The context: “Because this is typically the hottest time of the year, it’s difficult to break daily and all-time high temperature records, so a wave of new temperature benchmarks are not expected. However, this event will be remembered for its wide geographic scope, stretching from the Plains to the East Coast, as well as the high overnight low temperatures that stand a better chance of breaking records,” Freedman adds.

— A rainfall record: Arkansas became the fifth state this week to set a tropical storm or hurricane rainfall record in the past two years after Barry unloaded more than 16 inches of rain there, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. Since 2017, tropical weather systems have brought rainfall records in Texas, Hawaii, North Carolina and South Carolina, part of a trend Samenow notes are related to the extreme weather events that have become more frequent because of climate change.



  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power holds a hearing.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife holds a legislative hearing.


— Human chain forms to save swimmers stuck in a rip current: The swimmers were caught in the dangerous currents off of Panama City Beach, Fla. during tropical storm Barry, as The Post’s Marisa Iati reports.

A crowd of people linked arms on July 14 to aid authorities in rescuing swimmers stuck in a rip current off of Panama City Beach, Fla. (Video: Brian Daniels via Storyful)