The two major progressive candidates running to replace President Trump sparred in last night's debate over whether the president’s signature trade policy — a replacement for the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement — does enough to protect both workers and the environment.
While both Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have criticized the existing pact for allowing too many jobs to move to Mexico, where environmental regulations are more lax, they diverge on whether to support the Trump administration’s proposed update to the trade deal, called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The pact is expected to pass the GOP-led Senate this week.
Opposed to ratifying it is Sanders (I-Vt.), who notes the “Trump-led trade deal” has earned the ire of nearly every major environmental organization in Washington for not containing a single provision addressing climate change.
"It does not even have the phrase 'climate change' in it," Sanders told debate moderators from CNN and the Des Moines Register. "And given the fact that climate change is right now the greatest threat facing this planet, I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very, very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions in the world."
For weeks, environmental activists have stewed over the fact that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was not able to broker a deal with the White House with any far-reaching environmental provisions.
“They dropped the ball completely,” the Natural Resources Defense Council's Amanda Maxwell told The Energy 202 last month. “This just returns us to an inadequate status quo.”
Democrats did win better protections for U.S. workers, which got the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, to back the compromise and also lured some Democrats off the fence to support the pact.
Among the backers now is Warren (D-Mass.), who during the debate called the deal “a modest improvement” worth passing.
“It will give some relief to our farmers,” she said. “It will give some relief to our workers. I believe we accept that relief, we try to help the people who need help, and we get up the next day and fight for a better trade deal.”
But billionaire candidate Tom Steyer responded by saying those modest gains for workers are not worth the cost of ignoring what he sees as the most dire threat facing the world.
“If climate is your No. 1 priority, you can't sign a deal, even if it's marginally better for working people until climate is also taken into consideration,” he said.
Sanders is not alone in the Senate in opposing the pact. So too does Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who dropped out of the presidential race last month, as well as Edward J. Markey (D), Massachusetts’s other senator and a co-author of the Green New Deal, a sweeping call to drastically cut U.S. contributions to climate change by 2030.
“The USMCA is a trade deal that will hinder progress on climate action for a generation,” Markey said in a statement Tuesday. “This is a profound environmental and climate failure.”
With Iowans ready to caucus in just three weeks, Warren and Sanders tussled over more than just trade policy.
Sanders, when asked about a CNN report that he told Warren during a 2018 meeting that a woman could not become president, flatly denied making such remarks.
"How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could not be president of the United States?" Sanders said.
In response, Warren, whose campaign said Sanders made the comment in a 2018 private meeting, made the case for the electability of a female candidate.
“Look at the men on this stage. Collectively they have lost 10 elections,” Warren said Tuesday. “The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women, Amy and me,” she added, referring to herself and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
— Two other notable moments on climate change during the debate in Des Moines: Steyer argued he was the only candidate on the stage to prioritize climate change and said he would declare it an emergency on his first day in office.
- What he said: “This is why climate is my No. 1 priority and I’m still shocked that I’m the only person on this stage who will say this. I would declare a state of emergency on day one on climate. I would do it from the standpoint of environmental justice and make sure we go to the black and brown communities where you can’t breathe the air or drink the water that comes out of the tap safely. But I also know this, we’re going to create millions of good paying union jobs across this country – it’s going to be the biggest job program in American history.”
- What to know: In his own version of the Green New Deal, Sanders has promised to marshal the emergency powers of the federal government to address climate change as well.
And Klobuchar (D-Minn.) claimed the candidates' climate plans were largely the same and touted a perfect score from the League of Conservation Voters, which tracks the voting record of members of Congress.
- What she said: “First of all I would note I have a 100 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters. That’s because I have stood tall on every issue that we’ve talked about up here when it comes to this Trump administration trying to reverse environmental protections. It’s going to lead to so many problems.”
- What to know: Klobuchar is rounding up a little. While she has a perfect score for 2018, her lifetime score is 96 percent. And her climate plan does differ from that of Warren or Sanders, both of whom want to ban fracking entirely. Klobuchar instead wants to better regulate it and sees natural gas as a "transition fuel" to a cleaner economy.
— The Trump administration's revision to car pollution rules takes one step forward: On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department sent their new, laxer rules governing the fuel efficiency of new vehicles to the White House's Office of Management and Budget for review, the agencies told Energy 202.
- What the new rules would do: Last fall, the Trump administration decided to propose requiring auto companies to improve fuel efficiency at a pace of 1.5 percent a year. Officials originally wanted to freeze fuel efficiency at at about 37 miles per gallon on average.
— The world’s largest money manager will make climate change central to its strategy: BlackRock announced it will consider sustainability and climate-related risks key to its investment strategy, The Post’s Steven Mufson and Rachel Siegel write. In an annual letter to chief executives, the company’s chairman and chief executive Larry Fink said climate change “has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects… But awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.” The change comes as financial institutions face growing pressure to respond to climate change.
- Details of the shift: “In a separate letter to investors, BlackRock announced it would exit investments with high environmental risks, including thermal coal, which is burned to produce electricity and creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. BlackRock will also launch new investment products that screen for fossil fuels.”
- Activists warn the company has a lackluster history on the issue: “BlackRock’s past track record has been weak. Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit, has ranked BlackRock 43rd among 48 asset managers based on its history of backing few climate-related proposals from shareholders. But the group appeared encouraged by Fink’s letter.”
— Emails show how a Trump official aided former industry colleagues: Before joining the Trump administration, senior Agriculture Department official Rebeckah Adcock worked as the chief lobbyist for the herbicide industry’s trade group. Once she was working in government, ProPublica and the Guardian report, Adcock helped her ex-chemical industry colleagues, such as Dow Chemical, a prominent member of the trade group, in numerous ways.
- What did she do: In 2017, she arranged a meeting between a top company official and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Before the meeting, a Dow lobbyist emailed Adcock to ask who would staff Perdue. “Do you know who will staff the secretary?,” the lobbyist emailed. Adcock replied: “Yes and u do too.” The lobbyist replied, “Roger,” and “joked about the potential conflict of a public servant helping former colleagues: ‘Maybe you can have a chair on both sides of the table … maybe you can staff them both? :)’”
- Part of a trend: “Adcock isn’t the only lobbyist who has made her way to the federal government. Roughly one of every 14 appointments in the Trump administration has been a lobbyist.”
— Republicans eyeing Rob Bishop’s committee post: Numerous GOP lawmakers are considering running for the top Republican spot on the House Natural Resources Committee once Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) retires at the end of this term. “More than four members on the panel have voiced interest in taking over the powerful position. The possible contenders include Reps. Bruce Westerman (Ark.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Tom McClintock (Calif.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.),” the Hill reports.
- Why the post is key: “The role comes with a broad portfolio to oversee energy and mineral resources, water, oceans and wildlife, as well as Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring, making it an attractive position for members representing states with rich natural resources.”
— Meanwhile, a future opening on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will vacate her spot as the top Republican on the panel in the next Congress because of Senate Republican term limits. Such rules “will create a scenario that could end in three senators from coal-producing states leading panels with primary jurisdiction over energy and environmental policy,” E&E News reports. “…Senators are often loath to discuss such matters so far out, but the No. 2 Republican on ENR, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, is expected to trade his current spot atop Environment and Public Works for Murkowski's.”
- Why it matters: “The Energy and Natural Resources Committee's jurisdiction over the Interior and Energy departments would provide Barrasso a useful platform to press the interests of his home state, which produces about 40% of U.S. coal — more than any other state.”
— This small Canadian airline says it conducted the world’s first commercial electric flight: The company, Harbour Air, installed an electric motor on a 63-year-old seaplane and said it made its first flight above the waters near Vancouver, The Post’s Ian Duncan reports. The plane stayed airborne for a few minutes.
- Why it matters: “It might seem a modest achievement in an era when jets routinely cross the globe, but Greg McDougall, Harbour Air’s chief executive and the pilot on the maiden flight, said it’s a big step toward a cheaper, cleaner and quieter future for aviation…Interest in electric planes has been growing in recent years, with established players and start-ups both undertaking projects and a group of U.S. senators backing more research and testing. The technology could open the door to new kinds of aviation businesses like airborne taxis and flying cars, while cutting flying’s environmental impact.”
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the Energy Department’s Office of Science.
— Back into the wild: An injured bald eagle was nursed back to health and then released at Burke Lake Park in Northern Virginia over the weekend, The Post’s Dana Hedgpeth writes.