Two key liberal leaders on Tuesday signed onto Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a “Green New Deal” in the new Congress next year, as progressive activists warned that Democrats will pay an electoral price among young voters if they don’t get behind the plan.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said climate change has emerged as a must-fight issue for Democrats and the Green Deal is one way of advancing that agenda.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s plan would have the House create a special committee tasked with guiding the anti-global warming project, which includes the goal of shifting 100 percent of U.S. power demands onto renewable sources within a decade. Renewables, including solar and wind, fueled 17 percent of U.S. power production in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration.
“There are so many champions here of taking on climate change,” Ms. Jayapal said at the Capitol. “So many of us have introduced bills and feel the urgency around it, and we want to help move this forward, and this urgency from the young people is amazing.”
Incoming House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, of Massachusetts, enthused activists who confronted him Monday by backing their cause.
“I am committed to the select committee,” he told them. “I want to make sure that it happens.”
All told, 31 Democrats have signed onto the plan to establish what would be known as the Select Committee for a Green New Deal. It borrows its name from the sweeping overhauls and work projects that President Franklin D. Roosevelt deployed in response to the Great Depression.
The plan envisions a 10-year push to overhaul the nation’s power grid to make it more efficient.
Homes and offices would see more solar panels, electric vehicles would hit the roads, and communities would invest in local agriculture to reduce greenhouse gases.
It also seeks to make green energy services and know-how a major U.S. export, so other countries can transition to cleaner sources.
The committee would have nine Democrats and six Republican appointees.
The issue of climate change took on new urgency in the wake of an October report from the U.N. that said greenhouse-gas emissions must decrease by 40 percent to 50 percent by 2030 to stave off catastrophic effects of climate change.
Activists seeking to drive the issue have staged sit-ins at Democratic leaders’ offices on Capitol Hill. Monday’s protests resulted in about 140 arrests.
Activists moved their protests to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s offices in San Francisco on Tuesday.
The Democratic leader, who is poised to become House speaker, supports reviving the climate change panel she launched as speaker about a decade ago, before the GOP disbanded it in 2011. As new members transition in, she wants to have caucus-wide discussions about the “appropriate way forward,” said spokeswoman Taylor Griffin.
“Addressing climate change remains a top priority for Speaker-designate Pelosi,” she said.
Yet liberal activists want a bolder commitment this time around, namely a mandate to transform the economy through a Green New Deal instead of just calling attention to climate change.
“It’s now time to move on from investigating and reporting to action,” a draft amendment to House rules says.
Activists say any White House candidate who ignores their plea for sweeping changes will be sorry.
“Any politicians, especially 2020 presidential contenders, who want to be taken seriously by our generation need to show they have the courage to stand up to the fossil fuel billionaires who bankroll Congress, and back the Green New Deal,” said Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement.
While House Democrats figure out how to push new legislation when they seize the majority, any effort is sure to run into a wall of opposition from Republicans who say the plans will cost trillions of dollars, without guaranteed results.
“This thing is so absurd it’s not going to go anywhere. There’s a reason they don’t talk about the cost of something like this,” said Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican who once threw a snowball on the Senate floor to dispute human-made climate change.
Activists acknowledged the opposition and said their goal is to have a plan ready to go when a new Congress convenes in 2021 — one they hope will be more sympathetic to their mission.
Democrats of all stripes appear to agree that aggressive action is needed, though they’re still discussing the division of labor and timelines for slashing emissions or other goals, before Congress settles on a rules package that would establish a new panel.
Rep. Frank Pallone, the incoming Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, has tried to head off activists’ plans by promising his own panel will take bold steps on its own.
“The ideal of getting to a carbon-free America is certainly something I agree on,” he said. “How long it takes to do that, how we would get there and the details of the legislation, all that has to be worked out. But the idea is a good one.”
Ms. Jayapal said organizers of the effort recently made tweaks to try to accommodate Mr. Pallone and others. Whatever plan the select committee devises will still need to refer the policies to existing committees to pass them.