The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Ed Markey uses climate change to flip insurgent script on Joe Kennedy in Mass. race

with Alexandra Ellerbeck

The Democratic race to represent Massachusetts in the Senate features two candidates from two generations — both trying to one-up each other as advocates of the Green New Deal. 

The most persuasive climate change arguments could ultimately determine the contest between the 39-year-old Rep. Joe Kennedy, scion of the famous Kennedy clan, and incumbent 74-year-old Sen. Edward J. Markey, who has been in Congress for longer than his opponent has been alive. 

In this year's Democratic primaries, environmental activists have largely backed insurgent candidates who promise bold action on what younger voters see as a generation-defining challenge. But Kennedy's effort to cast himself as a transition to a new generation of political leaders is running up against the ardent support Markey has among environmentalists, who see the senator as a consistent ally in Congress they do not want to lose.

With each candidate courting the college-age vote, there is little daylight between Kennedy and Markey on environmental issues. 

But Markey is best known among today's young activists for writing the Green New Deal, a manifesto for fighting climate change, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

“The Green New Deal has played a pivotal role in keeping Markey in the game," said Tim Vercellotti, a political science professor at Western New England University. “It upends the generational change narrative that has been at the center of Kennedy’s campaign.”

The youth vote in Massachusetts, known for its many universities and high proportion of college students, is particularly important to locking down the Democratic nomination. The winner of the party's primary on Sept. 1 will likely go on to win the seat in the Democratic stronghold. 

Markey points to his long legislative record on climate change on the campaign trail – and is racking up endorsements. 

Markey, who joined the Senate in 2013, has the backing of a number of environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and Sunrise Movement, as well as the political arms of the Center for Biological Diversity, 350.org and Natural Resources Defense Council. 

He's visiting coastal towns such as Plymouth to talk about coastal erosion and holding a virtual rally with former vice president Al Gore. 

On Tuesday, Gore formally endorsed the senator, saying in a video message that “we need Ed Markey's leadership in the United States Senate now more than ever.”

The Green New Deal, introduced last year as a non-binding resolution, called for aggressive action to rein in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years. Despite being defeated in the GOP-controlled Senate, the Green New Deal helped energize young voters on climate change. 

“He keeps using the word 'change,' " Markey said of Kennedy during an Aug. 11 debate. "Well, the people of Massachusetts don't need to make a choice, because I represent experience and change at the same time. I do both. I am inspiring a generation of young people to rise up on the Green New Deal."

To bolster his climate credentials, Kennedy has crisscrossed Massachusetts to talk up environmental issues. 

The stops by Kennedy, grandson of Robert Kennedy and great-nephew of John F. Kennedy, included meetings with activists in Weymouth, Mass., opposed to the construction of a natural gas compressor station and with officials in Chelsea, just north of Boston, contending with air pollution from nearby highways, shipping routes and Logan International Airport.To 

Roy Avellaneda, president of Chelsea's city council, said essentially that no media outlets paid attention to his city becoming a coronavirus hotspot this spring until Kennedy spoke out about it. Avellaneda believes Chelsea's dirty air made the outbreak of covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, worse.

Avellaneda, who has endorsed the congressman, said few other politicians have the charisma or name recognition to shine a spotlight like that. “Up until then, no one was giving us attention,” he said.

Like Markey, Kennedy is also an ardent critic of President Trump's efforts to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations. He helped introduce a comprehensive environmental justice bill this year and has called on the United States to stay in the international Paris climate accord, which Trump has said he would have the country exit.

And crucially, Kennedy backed Markey's Green New Deal as one of its original co-sponsors in the House.

“When Markey focuses on climate change in the debates Kennedy takes pains to point out that they don’t disagree on the need for action,” Vercellotti said.

But Kennedy has tried paint Markey as a long-time politician who has passed few bills on issues he cares about. "He talks about a big, bold agenda. We need a big, bold agenda," Kennedy said during the August debate. “The difference is: He'll vote for it, I'll fight for it.”

Despite positioning himself as an outsider, Kennedy scored the backing this month of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

With the endorsement, Pelosi snubbed Markey, a longtime ally whom she put in charge of a select House climate committee in 2007. More recently, Pelosi said on CNN on Sunday, Kennedy “really was instrumental in helping us winning the House in 2018.”

Despite being nearly twice Kennedy's age, Markey is getting a boost from younger climate activists. 

For the Sunrise Movement, the youth-led climate group that popularized the idea of the Green New Deal, their endorsement comes with a small army of young activists to make phone calls and send text messages on the senator's behalf.

“Kennedy can't find a reason to actually run,” said Joey Wolongevicz, an environmental sustainability major at Salem State University who leads Sunrise's hub in Salem, Mass. “Every time he's asked why he's running against Markey, who's a progressive, he can't come up with a reason because there is none. Kennedy is running based on political ambition.”

With lifetime voting scores of 94 percent and 96 percent, respectively, from the League of Conservation Voters, Markey and Kennedy largely vote the same way on environmental issues. 

But Markey's long track record in writing climate legislation put him over the top when it came to the endorsement from the LCV Action Fund. As a member of the House in the early days of Barack Obama's presidency, Markey wrote a comprehensive climate package to create a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions. The bill, which became known as Waxman-Markey after him and then-Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), passed the House but died in the Senate. 

“Our endorsement was not about Joe Kennedy,” said Craig Auster, senior director of political affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, whose political arm backed Markey. “It was about Ed Markey.” 

“I don't think there is anyone who's done more in Congress on climate change than Sen. Markey over the course of his career," he added.

The LCV Action Fund, along with NextGen America and the NRDC Action Fund, funneled $180,000 to the Markey campaign through their GiveGreen donor initiative, Auster said.

Polls once showing a tight race have broken recently in Markey's favor.

A poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and WCVB at the beginning of August, before Pelosi's endorsement, found Markey leading among Democratic leaning registered voters 51 percent to Kennedy’s 36 percent. 

That same poll found the race much closer in February, with Markey and Kennedy nearly tied, 43 percent to 40 percent.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

Power plays

Trump trashes wind and solar energy on the first day of the Republican convention.

Reviving his well-worn attack on renewables in front of a national audience, Trump said during his prime-time speech that "phonies" in the Democratic Party want to disrupt the oil and gas industry.

“We’ve achieved American energy independence," he said. "And we’re now number one in the world, by far,” Trump said. 

Trump said Democrats "want to go to wind." He added that solar panels are too costly to power manufacturing. "Solar can’t do it. I love solar. It’s all fine. Very, very heavily expensive."

Trump also said that Democrats will lose support because they want to get rid of fracking. But Biden did not include a ban on fracking in his climate plan as not to alienate voters in Pennsylvania.

Thousands of oil and gas operations and other sites stopped routine monitoring and compliance during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 3,000 waivers to comply with environmental monitoring and other rules were granted due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a two-month analysis from the Associated Press

The bypassing of environmental rules came after the Environmental Protection Agency in March temporarily waived some requirements, arguing the outbreak made it harder for companies to comply. Several states followed suit with lenient policies.

“The result: approval for less environmental monitoring at some Texas refineries and at an army depot dismantling warheads armed with nerve gas in Kentucky, manure piling up and the mass disposal of livestock carcasses at farms in Iowa and Minnesota, and other risks to communities as governments eased enforcement over smokestacks, medical waste shipments, sewage plants, oil fields and chemical plants,” the AP reports.

The EPA has said that the waivers do not authorize companies or sites to exceed pollution limits. The agency has indicated that it will end its period of leniency this month. But environmental and public health groups argue that the decreased enforcement probably will mean more pollutants.

A separate analysis by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative found 40 percent fewer smokestack inspections occurred in March and April compared to the previous year.

Indigenous and environmental groups are suing the Trump administration to block Arctic drilling.

They filed two lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Anchorage seeking to block the Interior Department's plan to allow oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The plan to hold a lease sale on nearly 1.6 million acres of protected land was finalized last week.

The Gwich'in Steering Committee — a group of Alaska Natives that works to protect the refuge — helped lead one of the lawsuits, which accuses the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management of violating the Endangered Species Act, among other laws. Indigenous groups in Alaska rely on hunting caribou and other animals sustained by the refuge. 

In a separate lawsuit, the National Audubon Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth sued David Bernhardt, the Interior Department secretary who approved the lease sale.

A former South Carolina Republican congressman-turned-climate activist endorsed Joe Biden.

Bob Inglis, who represented South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District until 2011, said Trump had abandoned traditional conservatism and Biden was the best chance to restore the country’s institutions, the Post and Courier reports.

Inglis served six terms in Congress before he lost a primary, in part because of his support for environmental protections. At the time, his departure marked the exit of one of the most outspoken GOP members on climate change. Inglis now serves as the director of RepublicEN, a group of conservatives who back a carbon tax, according to the organization’s website.

Inglis is one of 27 former Republican members of Congress to publicly back Biden on Monday.

The Trump administration said that the Pebble Mine cannot go forward.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday delayed a key permit for the proposed gold and copper mine in Alaska. The Corps found that the project, as currently proposed, would cause too much damage to the Bristol Bay region in southwest Alaska and could not be permitted under the Clean Water Act.

“The decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers marks another reversal for the project, which had been blocked by the Obama administration, then revived by the Trump administration, only to be opposed again recently by members of President Trump’s inner circle, including Donald Trump Jr., who enjoys fishing in the area that would be affected by the mine,” my colleagues Juliet Eilperin and Jeff Stein report.

Pebble Limited Partnership must outline a mitigation plan to reduce the environmental damage to local waterways. White House officials, however, have expressed skepticism that the firm will be able to meet the Corps’s requirements and obtain a final permit, Eilperin and Stein write.

The EPA approved a disinfectant that claims to kill coronaviruses on surfaces for up to seven days.

The emergency approval will allow American Airlines and two branches of Total Orthopedics Sports & Spine to start using the product in the state of Texas.

“The agency said it hoped the product — called SurfaceWise2 and made by Allied BioScience — would provide longer-lasting protection in public spaces and increase consumer confidence in air travel, which has suffered a big hit during the covid-19 pandemic,” my colleague Steven Mufson reports.

Allied BioScience has said that it is working on waivers for use of its product in every state, but the EPA has said the company must still pursue a non-emergency approval and provide additional data about the product’s efficacy.

Thermometer

Hurricane watches have been issued along parts of the Louisiana and Texas coast as forecasters say Tropical Storm Laura could intensify.

“Computer models suggest that Laura could tap the exceptionally warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and intensify into a large and dangerous hurricane as it moves toward the Gulf Coast. The storm is forecast to make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday in the zone roughly between New Orleans and Corpus Christi,” my colleagues Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow report.

“The National Hurricane Center is forecasting a “life-threatening” storm surge which could reach up to 7 to 11 feet above normally dry land at the coast and has issued storm surge watches from just southwest of Houston to coastal Mississippi,” Freedman and Samenow report.

More than a million acres have burned in California's wildfires.

“In little more than a week, storms have set off hundreds of fires and given rise to the second- and third-largest blazes in California’s history. More than 1.1 million acres have burned since Aug. 15, according to the state’s firefighting agency, Cal Fire, making the fires’ footprint larger than Rhode Island,” my colleagues Andrew Freedman and Hannah Knowles report.

The fires have forced 100,000 people to evacuate and caused pollution that has spread as far as the Midwest.

Oil check

ExxonMobil is being dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

After more than a century on the famous stock index, the oil giant will be replaced by Salesforce, a software company.

ExxonMobil joined the index, meant to track the performance of 30 large companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange, 92 years ago as Standard Oil of New Jersey, and was the oldest member of the Dow. The move comes as Apple is splitting its stocks, a move that will lower the company's shares and decrease the Dow's exposure to the technology sector, CBS News reports.

Once the most valuable company in the United States, Exxon's market value has dropped to $175 billion as oil plays a smaller role in the U.S. economy. Apple's market value, in comparison, topped $2 trillion earlier this month.

A Norwegian financial services company is divesting from oil and mining stocks.

Storebrand, an asset manager that controls $91 billion, has dropped investments in Exxon, Chevron, and mining company RioTinto over concerns about their lobbying against climate change standards.

“Storebrand’s move is thought to be the first example of a big investor explicitly divesting from oil producers and miners for alleged lobbying against tougher environmental standards,” the Financial Times reports.

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