The decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring up the "Green New Deal" for a Senate vote is prompting a rush to define the terms of progressive Democrats’ ambitious proposal to tackle climate change.
GOP lawmakers are scrambling to highlight the possible side effects of the deal, outlined last week by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in some cases relying on a document distributed and later disavowed by the New York Democrat’s office (Climatewire, Feb. 12).
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) took to the Senate floor yesterday to outline a host of ramifications of the plan, which he said would mean the end of ice cream.
"Livestock will be banned," Barrasso said. "Say goodbye to dairy, to beef, to family farms, to ranches."
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), a supporter of renewable energy who faces a tough re-election in his purplish home state in 2020, told E&E News he had no qualms about the upcoming vote, which is expected after the Presidents Day recess next week.
"I’ll vote against socialism every time," Gardner said in a brief interview yesterday echoing Republican talking points against the plan.
Asked if he welcomed the underlying debate on climate change, Gardner reiterated the point.
"I think a debate on socialism is incredibly important," he said. "The fact that they’re going to remodel every home and house and building in America, they’re guaranteeing jobs and benefits to every single American, paying the unwilling to work, income redistribution. I hope that we can have a vote on this, I hope that we can vote on it every day."
As he walked away, Gardner made sure the reporter heard him say the plan should be called "the green new steal."
Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, took to Twitter yesterday with his own nickname — the "Green New Disaster."
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, saw McConnell’s call for a vote as a way to push Democrats to take an early position on the ambitious proposal.
"He wants to take an idea or framework that is not fully vetted yet, and even some Democrats think is more expansive than they’d like, and force them to put them down for a vote sooner rather than later," Zelizer said.
The result of the vote could alternately embarrass Democrats who vote no, revealing them to proponents of the plan, or it could make proponents of the plan appear to be too radical.
Zelizer said McConnell and other Republicans recognized the proposal had been successful in generating debate about green policies. "It’s his effort to try to kill it," he said.
Democrats largely shrugged off McConnell’s gambit.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called the "Green New Deal" an "aspirational document" with goals he supports. But he added that the broad proposal might not easily translate into legislation that can pass Congress.
"It’s an aspiration, I have an aspiration to be able to sing opera, you know; I don’t think I am going to make it with this voice, but that is my aspiration," he added.
Durbin said he was not worried about the "Green New Deal" becoming an easy target for Republicans. Instead, he said Democrats should use their criticism to ask the GOP about its own climate plans.
"I hope they are going to bring the Republican approach to climate change as well. We’d like to see their approach," said Durbin, who like many Democrats has chided the GOP for taking no action on global warming in recent years.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) took to Twitter to highlight the Republicans’ lack of a climate strategy.
"When I say that R’s have no plan for climate change, I know it’s twitter and people are prone to exaggeration, so I want to be super clear: Republicans actually have no plan to address this threat to the planet. This is why young people are abandoning the Republican Party," he tweeted.
Schatz went further later in the afternoon, telling reporters, "Republicans have no plan for climate change except to aggressively make it worse." He added, "They’re the only major political party on the planet that is dedicated to making climate change worse."
Markey told E&E News, "We haven’t had a debate on climate change in 10 years, so I think it’s very important for us to have as large a debate about the issue as we can. It’s obvious that the ‘Green New Deal’ has unleashed incredible enthusiasm."
‘Bring it on’
House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said McConnell’s move to vote on the resolution would simply be a messaging tactic for Republicans and an opportunity to rail about "creeping socialism."
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) rejected the links between the "Green New Deal" and Ocasio-Cortez’s socialist leanings.
"I hope all my colleagues read the actual resolution," he told reporters. "Why would we be against creating a whole bunch of jobs and saving the planet from destruction? You don’t have to endorse everything the House author stands for economically by voting for the ‘Green New Deal.’"
RL Miller, political director of Climate Hawks Vote, noted broad public support for a "Green New Deal."
She referenced a December poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication that found 81 percent of registered voters from both major parties either somewhat strongly or strongly supported the proposal’s main objectives.
Miller also suggested that a no vote could instead hurt Republicans facing tough challenges for their seats in 2020.
"Bring it on. Seriously, if he wants to bring a nonbinding resolution to the floor that is backed by 80 percent of Americans, give the people of Colorado a reason to vote Cory Gardner out of office," Miller said.
Co-sponsors of the "Green New Deal" resolution include many Democratic 2020 hopefuls, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who may also run for president, is keeping a distance from the "Green New Deal" for now, defending his environmental record.
CCS and nuclear
Barrasso said he welcomed debate by Democrats on climate change, noting his bipartisan efforts on carbon capture and sequestration and advanced nuclear technology — two issues addressed by bills that have been signed into law by President Trump.
"Those are the only two things that are out there that actually deal with carbon on what Secretary Moniz called large-scale successes," he told E&E News, referencing testimony by former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week (E&E Daily, Feb. 8).
"Everything else doesn’t move the dial. If you’re not doing one of those two, all you’re doing is talking, and they’re not really doing anything that is productive."
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who also expressed skepticism about the "Green New Deal" during last week’s hearing, declined to offer an opinion on how he would vote on the proposal but reiterated his own skepticism of the plan.
"I just know that I’ve spent a lot of my life in renewable power, and I know what’s realistic and what isn’t," King told E&E News. "I don’t think the proposal is very realistic, but we’ll wait and see if it comes up for a vote."
‘Wouldn’t encourage it’
Speaking before McConnell’s announcement, at least one Republican senator said yesterday he had reservations about a possible vote on the "Green New Deal."
"I wouldn’t encourage it. I mean, it’s just an opening salvo, frankly," Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told E&E News. "I’m rather enjoying the Democrats debating it themselves. From a political standpoint, the more it can get talked about the better the politics looks for our side. But I also want to maintain some opportunity to make deals."
Noting his own state’s mix of fossil fuels and renewables, Cramer said he’s anxious to explore some energy deals with Democrats.
"I want some of the tax credits to work better for coal, I want infrastructure permitting for oil and gas, particularly the gas," he said. "I haven’t done a ledger yet of what could be traded for what, but there’s lots of pieces on the table."
Reporters Niina Heikkinen, Kellie Lunney and George Cahlink contributed.