Ocasio-Cortez, Kerry to lead Biden task force on climate

By Timothy Cama | 05/13/2020 07:12 AM EDT

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) during a rally on the Green New Deal last year with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) during a rally on the Green New Deal last year with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Capitol Hill. Francis Chung/E&E News

This story was updated at 11:00 a.m. EDT.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry will lead a new task force to advise presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party on climate change policy.

The climate task force is one of six announced by Biden’s presidential campaign today. The committees are meant to unify Biden’s campaign with supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive candidate who left the presidential race last month, making Biden the presumptive nominee.

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There are six other members on the climate task force including, Select Climate Crisis Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) and Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator who now heads the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Ocasio-Cortez is the lead sponsor of the Green New Deal, so her appointment as a co-chairwoman is likely a sign that Biden is planning to endorse some or all of the proposal, despite being at best lukewarm to parts of it previously.

In a series of tweets this morning she announced the task force and said she was happy to accept Sanders’s nomination she take part in the panel.

"I have always believed that real change happens not with a panel or task force, but in everyday people organizing mass movements to demand change," she tweeted.

"Yet we should also commit to showing up everywhere- every space where there are decisions &formative conversations – w/ mvmt voices," she continued.

Ocasio-Cortez has been an internationally recognized progressive firebrand since winning a 2018 primary against a Democratic incumbent and has a dedicated, largely young fan base that cares deeply about climate change but has been disappointed in Biden’s climate stances so far.

She’s an outspoken supporter of Sanders but said last month she would vote for Biden, and has encouraged other Sanders voters to do the same.

"A united party is key to defeating Donald Trump this November and moving our country forward through an unprecedented crisis. As we work toward our shared goal, it is especially critical that we not lose sight of the pressing issues facing Americans," Biden said in a statement with today’s announcement.

"From health care to reforming our justice system to rebuilding a more inclusive and fair economy, the work of the task forces will be essential to identifying ways to build on our progress and not simply turn the clock back to a time before Donald Trump, but transform our country," he said.

She is not the only former Sanders’s backer on the panel. Varshini Prakash, head of the Sunrise Movement, announced her participation in the task force via a post in Medium this morning.

"I will always call for the scale of change that is necessary — a bold Green New Deal at the scale of the crisis that centers justice for frontline communities, provides a just transition for workers, guarantees good jobs and healthcare for all, protects migrants, and more — and work to build a movement that can move it from impossible to inevitable," she wrote.

"At this moment, I feel a responsibility to bring our movement to the table to win whatever we can from this platform."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a strong backer of the Green New Deal, co-chairs the health care task force. She, like Ocasio-Cortez, backed Sanders in the primary.

Kerry, who served in the Obama administration when Biden was vice president, played a leading role in negotiating toward the 2015 Paris Agreement. Biden has claimed significant credit for that climate pact and promised to immediately work with world leaders toward increasing nations’ pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Biden has said for weeks he plans to expand his climate change platform, particularly in areas such as environmental justice and interim greenhouse gas reduction targets before his 2050 goal of net-zero emissions in the United States.

His climate plan, released last year, would cost $1.7 trillion and seek to rapidly build out renewable energy, zero-carbon transportation and other investments.

But it pales in comparison to progressive requests, like Sanders’s $16.3 trillion plan that envisioned a far more significant government role in clean energy and more action to fight fossil fuels.

Biden previewed that agenda of the climate task force in an interview with KLAS 8 News Now in Las Vegas yesterday.

"We’ve set up joint committees together to deal with how we would deal with everything from the virus all the way down to education, the criminal justice system, the New Green Deal, etc.," he told the station, his strongest indication yet that he’d adopt Green New Deal policies. Biden also said Ocasio-Cortez would be on one of the task forces.

President Trump’s reelection campaign said that interview shows Biden supports radical environmental policies.

"Biden putting AOC in a leadership position on the Green New Deal is practically an in-kind contribution to @TeamTrump," Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted.

"Good luck explaining that in PA, where people depend on natural gas and fracking for jobs and economic development," he said.

Republican National Committee spokesman Steve Guest said it shows Biden "is the bannerman for socialism."

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