BIPP: Progressive Democrats push to combat climate change in the 116th Congress

Nicole Redding, BIPP Intern

Stepping out of her famed canvassing shoes and onto Capitol Hill, Democratic Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) is already making great strides in her first week of congressional orientation. By joining climate change activists from the Sunrise Movement in a protest outside of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (CA-12) office, Ocasio-Cortez is demanding that the next Congress work towards adopting a Green New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow progressives are calling on Pelosi to create a new select committee with the purpose of writing the bold legislation.

Fighting to secure the narrow margin necessary to be elected Speaker of the House, Pelosi has promised to revive a committee on global warming, similar to the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming that was eliminated by the Republican majority in 2011. Ocasio-Cortez, joined by other liberals including newcomer Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and veteran John Lewis (GA-5), say that this is not enough. Instead, they call for a select committee that is committed to taking a progressive stance on climate change legislation, instead of pushing along more moderate reforms.

On the other hand, many senior Democrats are skeptical about both Pelosi’s promise to revive the previous committee and Ocasio-Cortez’s plea for a new one. As reported to Politico, Co-Chairs of the Safe Climate Caucus, Democratic Representatives Don Beyer (VA-8) and Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), wrote to Pelosi stating their belief “that the committees of jurisdiction and future Chairs are ready and able to tackle this problem.” Democratic leaders of the Energy and Commerce, Science, and Natural Resources committees have expressed the same sentiment—they believe the House already has the structures in place to craft climate change legislation. With this being said, these existing committees have worked slowly in the past, adopting moderate solutions while being lobbied by members of the energy and fossil fuel industries and accepting their campaign contributions after the Democratic National Convention dropped its ban on them this past year.

Ocasio-Cortez’s plan is bold and progressive, challenging the hold of these industries and moderate stances taken by democratically-led Congresses in the past. She calls it the Green New Deal, named in honor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s program for reform and economic recovery after the Great Depression. Like the New Deal did almost a century before, this set of potential legislation is intended to reduce carbon emissions, improve infrastructure, and establish living-wage jobs for workers within the next 10 years. Based on the stances listed on Ocasio-Cortez’s website, The Nation reports that the plan hopes to “generate 100 percent of the nation’s power from renewable sources, build a national energy-efficient ‘smart’ grid, and upgrade every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art efficiency.” The Nation also outlines a report published by Data For Progress, indicating that the Green New Deal plan could generate “10 million new jobs over 10 years.” These green jobs could be particularly beneficial for working-class people in areas that are deeply entrenched in the coal and oil industries.

Following in the footsteps of other modern industrialized countries, the United States appears to be on its way towards taking greater strides to fighting climate change and economic injustice. New, young and diverse leaders like Ocasio-Cortez are ready and willing to challenge the political and industrial establishment to do so.

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