The Green New Deal Is Only the Beginning of the Search for National Consensus
Given all the green talk—positive and negative—that has gone on since Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) Green New Deal hit the headlines it’s not surprising that others have begun to step forward with proposed alternatives. The climate debate’s current driver is the run for elective office. What will sustain it long past the 2020 elections is the increasing incidence, costs, and consequences of climate-related weather disasters.
Compared to the Democrats making climate change a principal platform of their 2020 election strategy is the protestation of Donald Trump that there’s no problem to solve and the willingness of many Republican conservatives to follow wherever he leads. The heat of the partisan debate will rise faster and burn hotter than Earth’s temperatures between now and when ballots are cast next November.
Climate calamities don’t distinguish between red and blue states. Voters in ever larger numbers are admitting to having been touched by the consequences of global warming and are recognizing the causal connection between human activity and the release of harmful greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon and methane. These personal experiences reflect global reality.
Farmers and ranchers are hurting, and there are pockets of this country where
the economy is not strong.
--a GOP lawmaker
Trump’s crowing about his having launched an unprecedented economic miracle rarely seen before belies the harms his economic and environmental policies are causing farmers, ranchers, and agro-businesses in America’s heartlands. Consequently, Trump and the Republican Party may find themselves victims of climate change come election day 2020. If it happens, their defeat will have been significantly contributed to by the loss of a key core constituency--rural voters.
Combined with the growing number and intensity of climate-related natural disasters Trump’s trade wars with China, Mexico, Canada, and the European Union have put American farmers—particularly family farmers in Midwestern and Plains states—in a much-weakened economic position.
As reported, the White House’s acting chief of staff explained why voters would continue to support Trump’s run for a second term:
You hate to sound like a cliché, but are you better off than you were four years ago? It's pretty simple, right? It's the economy, stupid. I think that's easy. People will vote for somebody they don't like if they think it's good for them.
Dateline May 3, 2019
Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed the first major climate legislation in nearly a decade. The Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9) prohibits the use of federal funds to advance the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement. The Act also compels the Trump administration to submit to Congress how the United States will achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 level by 2025, within 120 days of its enactment. The targeted reduction levels were the ones President Obama committed to as the US’s nationally determined contributions (NDC) per the provisions of the Paris Agreement.
The outcome of the vote, largely along party lines, was hardly surprising. The Act’s primary sponsor, Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), was joined by 223 Democratic co-sponsors—five more than the number of votes needed for passage. Most interesting perhaps was the favorable vote of three Republican representatives Vern Buchanan (FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) and Elise Stefanik (NY). Castor is the chair of the newly created Select House Committee on the Climate Crisis.
With Republicans firmly in control of the Senate, the legislation stands no chance of passage. The only surprise I can imagine would be Majority Leader McConnell letting it see the light of day on the Senate floor. It is not to say that there wasn’t any drama surrounding the legislation.
A respect for the limits of your branch of government, a respect for the role of other branches of government is sort of the oil that makes the machinery work. Absent that, things break down. And I think we’re definitely seeing that with this administration in unprecedented ways.
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA)
No matter what the Mueller Report says about Donald John Trump’s possible crimes while in office, by my count, he is batting a perfect seven for seven in the sins department. Of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth—it is his pride that most threatens the state of our union. Although Trump’s pride may well lead to his fall from the grace of American voters in 2020--it is not an impeachable offense.
The bombastic 45th president of the United States describes himself in grandiloquent terms.
I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.
Trump not only speaks of himself in hyperbolas and the third person he hears what others say—or imagines them having said—in equally braggadocian terms. Responding to a question about US-China relations he quoted the director of the Center for Chinese Strategy, a conservative think tank.
If you look at Mr. Pillsbury, the leading authority on China…he was saying that China has total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump’s very, very, large brain.
Hubris has brought down many a tragic figure throughout history and literature. Would the consequences of Trump’s boasts be his alone to bear and not serve as a precedent for other presidents to follow, I would be less anxious over the fate of the nation. It is no exaggeration to say that Trump’s actions while in office have the potential to weaken the underlying foundation of the republic for which he and we stand.
As president of the United States, Trump has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; bear true faith and allegiance to the same…and…well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office for which he now holds.
When it comes to Trump’s assault on the constitutional foundation of the country, I am not speaking about theemoluments clause and his possibly profiting off his occupation of the White House. Most presidents these days have found their time in office a stepping stone to immense wealth—whether selling their memoirs or charging exorbitant speaking fees.
The climate is changing, and humans are contributing to these changes. We believe that there is much common ground on which all sides of this discussion could come together to address climate change with policies that are practical, flexible, predictable, and durable.
— The US Chamber of Commerce
The US Chamber of Commerce, through its Global Energy Institute (GEI), recently announced the launch of a major new climate initiative called the American Energy: Cleaner, Stronger campaign. It’s admitted purpose is to “counter the Green New Deal (GND) with an energy innovation agenda…to persuade the public and Congress that technology is better than regulation in addressing climate change.” (emphasis added).
In taking a swipe at the GND, the Chamber has handed its progressive Democratic authors and supporters a key victory—certainly something it had not intended to do.
Whatever the Green New Deal is or isn’t, the idea of it has accomplished what was thought Impossible just months ago--the admission by traditionally conservative deniers that climate change is real and needs to be acted upon now. The Chamber’s announcement boldly states inaction is not an option. The actions to be taken, however, remain matters of dogmatic ideological debate.
On its face, the Chamber’s call to action is a far cry from its 2017 policy priorities. Today climate change is on the minds of voters because it is on the lips of every Democrat in Congress, as well as those vying for the party’s presidential nomination. The Chamber’s newly announced campaign is an effort to remain relevant.
Should there be any doubt about the positive impact of the 2018 midterm elections on the willingness of politicians at least to discuss the realities of climate change and what the reactions of lawmakers should be, let me dispel them now.
It is being reported that the Trump campaign has put out a call for a list of climate change victories that can be attributed to Trump’s time in office. According to the McClatchy report, the call reflects a shift in strategy ahead of the 2020 election as polls show growing voter concern over global warming, two sources familiar with the campaign.
If true, the willingness of Trump to speak in terms of climate change victories marks a stunning turnaround from his usual references to climate change science as a huckster's hoax perpetrated by liberal university-types to frighten governments and foundations into giving them funds for fake research.
A few days ago, Trump was telling the audience at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner that he hoped Hill Republicans wouldn’t attack the Green New Deal so completely as to defeat the Democrat’s desire to do anything about climate change. Why? Because he intends to beat them up over their socialist notions on energy and the environment.
The Green New Deal, done by a young bartender, 29 years old. The first time I heard it, I said, 'That's the craziest thing.
If they beat me with the Green New Deal, I deserve to lose.
It was during this dinner speech that Trump said that the noise of windmills cause cancer.
Technically the Green New Deal (GND) has yet to live as a formal legislative proposal as compared to “a sense of resolution.” Therefore, any reports of its demise would be premature.
The Senate’s vote on Majority Leader McConnell’s GND resolution seems to have marked the end of a chapter. Although the GND concept will continue to be talked about, America’s climate plan will ultimately be defined by a series of legislative acts rather than a single integrated piece of legislation. Therein, perhaps, lies the problem.
Disaggregation of the various elements of the Green New Deal, as broadly-brushed during the 2018 election cycle by Representative Ocasio-Cortez and socially progressive organizations like the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, is as real as it is apparent. Much less apparent is whether the introduction of individual pieces of legislation reflects a rejection of the broader vision and will ultimately lead to an ignominious end to the newly charged national climate debate.
No one would be blamed for thinking that breaking apart the GND’s component pieces will end as badly for the environment as it did for Mr. Dumpty following his great fall. How many times have politicians parceled out pieces of a broadly integrative policy for solving complex social problems only to make it easier to kill?
Yesterday the Green New Deal, in the form of a resolution, was brought directly to the Senate floor for a vote. S. J. Res. 8 made it into the full Senate through a procedural ploy that limited public debate by side-stepping what should have been a routine referral to a standing subject matter committee, e.g., Energy and Natural Resources, for open hearings.
As expected, the measure failed to garner the needed votes. Had it succeeded, it would have put the Senate on record denying the proposition that the Federal Government has a duty to create a Green New Deal.
The ostensible purpose of the resolution was to express the opinion of the Senate on the concept of the Green New Deal, as it has been sketched out in S. Res. 59 and H. Res. 109 by its more than 100 sponsors and co-sponsors. In Congressional parlance, these are known as “sense of” resolutions.
The election of a Democratic House majority has radically altered the national dialogue on climate change. It is fair to say that the primary catalyst for the change has been Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and very progressive proponents of the Green New Deal like the Sunshine Movement and Justice Democrats. Whether or not one agrees with their tactics and proposed policies, there’s no denying they’ve struck the match that caused climate to burst upon the 2019-2020 political scene in a way no one imagined before last November’s midterm elections.
Notwithstanding the outcome of the vote on S. J. Res. 8, the climate cat is out of the bag. There’s very little Senate Majority Leader McConnell, the White House, the fossil fuel industry and conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation can do to stuff the newly freed feline back where it came from other than continuing to tell tales of Democratic socialists wanting to morally and financially bankrupt the nation.
We fix the pipes in Flint [Mich.] first. We fix the electrical grid in Puerto Rico first.
And we fully fund the pensions of coal miners in West Virginia.
-- Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)
Operators Get the Mines—What Do Miners and Taxpayers Get?
President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) promised to stop the war on coal and put miners back to work. Because of market economics, these promises are hollow and cannot be kept. However, what of other promises that can still be kept?
This is a tale about the negative environmental and health effects of coal and obtaining justice for America’s coal miners. It is also a tale of how large contributors to the campaigns of both Trump and McConnell can appear to have been given dispensation to duck out of their obligations.
The heart of today’s health and pension fund problems dates to 1946 when President Truman took control of the nation’s coal mines to keep them operating during the biggest strike wave in US history. During the war years, labor worked under a no-strike pledge. With World War II over, virtually every sector of industry—auto, oil steel, coal meatpacking, railroads, electrical transportation, communication, and utilities—walked off their jobs seeking higher wages and benefits.
The coal strike was settled by the Krug-Lewis Agreement of 1946. The agreement was between the federal government and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The deal was subsequently accepted by coal operators. It established two funds for miners—one covering health care (black lung) and the other union pensions.
Because of the Krug-Lewis Agreement, coal companies have historically borne responsibility for funding the miners’ health and pension funds. Today both funds are in trouble and being made worse by companies seeking the protection of bankruptcy courts and asking to be relieved of their health and pension fund obligations. Requests granted by the courts.
Since Day 1 of the Trump presidency, the auto industry had been hoping to re-negotiate the deal it struck with the Obama administration on auto and light truck fuel efficiency standards (CAFE) for the period 2021 through 2026. On April 3, 2018, then EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the Agency was rolling back the previously agreed to targets—proving that in the age of Trump wishes can come true.
Now, nearly a year later, the auto industry is learning the meaning of the phrase be careful what you wish for; it just might come true. The bad news came to industry representatives in late February on a conference call with the White House. They were told that the Administration had cut-off any further conversations with California officials and was going ahead with its proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule that freezing the standards at 2020 levels.
The freeze has been called the Trump administration’s most environmentally significant regulatory rollback yet" by the Rhodium Group following its penetrating analysis of the rule’s impact on the environment. The call is not surprising. The transportation sector has surpassed electricity as the major contributor of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere; and, Trump’s efficiency 36.9 mpg is standard is 14.5 mpg more lenient than Obama’s 51.4 mpg.
Before going into why the auto industry is unhappy about the freeze decision and the role played in all of this by California, a bit of background will help to set the stage.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.