Today’s tale is a cautionary one. It centers on the proposed Green New Deal (GND) and the possibility that Republican lawmakers may soon be compelled by circumstances to introduce their notions of a national climate policy. The GND has been the talk of Capital City since Democrats captured the House of Representatives and America’s youth took to the post-2018 election battlements.
Push-back on the GND by Republican climate change deniers and their conservative media allies has been both chiding and ferocious. At one level, all the deniers’ talk is about the technological infeasibility of converting the current fossil fuel economy to 100 percent renewables in a bit more than a decade. Deniers also speak of the impossibility of making every building in the US energy efficient—presumably within any time frame—and the cost of such an undertaking.
Republican attacks on the GND are not limited to technical feasibility and price. Fingers are being pointed at Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the growing number of progressives suspected of wanting to drag the nation into socialist territory. Mind you, not the genteel socialism of Scandinavia. Trump, as well as Republican operatives and conservative economists and news media presenters like Ben Stein and Hannity, claims the GND—its authors and endorsers—want to turn the US into a repressive red socialist state.
Dateline 20 February 2019
I am not a big believer in coincidence—fate maybe. In Capital City, there are no coincidences. There are always dots to connect in Washington. It’s naturally part of D.C.’s charm.
This morning I’ve found three dots that need connecting.
Dot 1: Late last week rumors were circulating that Dan Coats’s days were numbered—perhaps in the single digits, Coats is Trump’s Director of National Intelligence. The source of the rumors is Chris Ruddy, CEO of conservative Newsmax TV and a close confidant of Trump. Ruddy’s rumors, unlike the other Rudy’s, have shown themselves very reliable in the past.
A former Indiana Congressman and Senator, Coats is a respected Republican who has a habit of publicly speaking truths Trump doesn’t want to hear—especially about Iran, Russia, and North Korea. If maintaining his integrity on intelligence matters were not crime enough, Coats also happens to believe that climate change poses a threat to national security:
The impacts of the long-term trends toward a warming climate, more air pollution, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent—and possibly upheaval—through 2018….
Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages
The talk about town is Trump not only doesn’t like hearing much of what Coats has to say; he hasn’t been happy about what the Defense Department has to say about climate change and the future of the good ol’ USA—USA—USA. Coats was in cahoots with General Mattis and part of the now greatly diminished group of experienced advisors who knew how the game was played and was perhaps old-enough that Trump might them show them some respect---allowing them to be more honest with Old 45 than more junior staff. It was the theory anyway.
Climate defenders are finally getting our wish; climate change is on the front pages of newspapers and the lips of politicians of both parties. Social media is lit up with the talk of climate, and even late-night talk show hosts have gotten in on the act. This is what we’ve been waiting for--isn’t it?
The principal catalyst for this sudden turn-around in climate chatter is the Green New Deal (GND) that was proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in her successful Congressional bid. Since the Democrats have taken control of the House, the GND concept has gone viral and with it has come the demand for more specifics.
Responding to the call, Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) put pen to paper and drafted House Resolution 109 (H. Res. 109) Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. The Resolution, currently sponsored by 68 Democratic representatives, is only a placeholder for legislation that’s to be introduced months into the future. The Resolution has no legislative meaning and is non-binding. Release of the Resolution at a press event outside the Capitol has set-off a maelstrom of comments and criticisms across the climate defender-denier landscape.
I worry the announcement of H. Res. 109 and the events surrounding it—before and after—may end up doing more harm than good to the prospects of comprehensive climate legislation over the next 18 to 24 months. I understand the need for a rapid and broad-based response to Earth’s warming. I support a just transition. I agree that combatting climate change must occur on multiple fronts. In fact, there are few GND goals and objectives with which I disagree.
Nobody understands how the hell this is going to be addressed.
This is one of the most complex scientific problems that we've got in the world.
— John Dingell
Politics like most of life moves in a circle. I was reminded of this the other day when Senator Markey (D-MA) and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) stepped onto the Congressional stage to announce their proposed Green New Deal Resolution on the day John Dingell, Jr. died. A decade ago Dingell, Markey, and Speaker Pelosi were the actors in a different production. As the 111th Congress got underway, a fight over the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee was going on. Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Dingle had different ideas of national environmental policy. While Dingell fought to keep his chairmanship—a position he held from 1981-1995 and again for the two years of the 110th Congress—Pelosi wanted a change.
Dingell was a genuine force of nature throughout his nearly sixty years on Capitol Hill. The Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein wrote: Dingell has had a hand—a hugely constructive hand—in nearly every major advance in social policy over the past five-plus decades, including civil and voting rights, health, and the environment.
Although proudest of his role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964), his environmental record is impressive by any standard. He either wrote or was instrumental in the passage of the: National Wilderness Act (1964); Water Quality Act (1965); National Environmental Policy Act; Endangered Species Act (1973); Natural Gas Policy Act (1978); Clean Air Act Amendments (1990); and Energy Independence and Security Act (2007). Dingell also took pride in having had his hands in the passage of Medicare and Medicaid. He was a supporter of single-payer healthcare long before Medicare for all.
Dingell used his power as Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee to investigate irregularities at EPA during Anne Gorsuch’s ill-fated term as Administrator. Dubbed Sewergate, by the press, the incident involved the misuse of Superfund dollars by Rita Lavelle. Lavelle was indicted for contempt of Congress and ultimately served a year in prison on one count of wire fraud and two counts of lying to the FBI. Others he took down included Mike Deaver, a top Republican strategist for lying under oath and Stanford President Donald Kennedy for using federal grants to help pay for a 72-foot yacht.
A day before he died Dingell dictated a letter to his wife—the current member of a clan serving in House since Dingell, Sr. was elected in 1933. The Washington Post ran the letter My last words for America. Many of those words focused on today’s politics and the environment.
After I posted last week’s article Juliana v. US: For Children of All Ages/The Last Hurrah? the plaintiffs filed an Urgent Motion For a Preliminary Injunction. The motion asks the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to enjoin the federal government from authorizing the following activities through leases, permits, or other federal approvals:
The motion alleges much of what their original petition accused the federal government of doing in contravention of the plaintiffs’ rights to a habitable environment. The youthful plaintiffs in this instance are not asking the Court to enjoin the government from engaging in the enumerated activities permanently—but for a time that coincides with the Court’s decision on the government’s interlocutory appeal.
In lay terms, the plaintiffs are pushing back on the government’s continued efforts to prevent the case from going to trial. The Administration’s strategy these days is to go around trial and appellate court rulings by directly seeking relief from an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.
I’ve been writing about Juliana vs. US for over three years—slightly less time than the plaintiffs in the case have been waiting to have their day in court. To date, Juliana has turned not on the substantive scientific or constitutional questions the plaintiffs have asked the courts to answer but on such procedural issues as whether the 21 youthful petitioners have standing to sue, e.g., have they suffered an actual harm that a court can redress?
For Juliana, I believe the end is nigh—or at least can be predicted with some certainty. Based on the judicial events that have taken place since the middle of October 2018 the case is not likely to be won.
Over the course of the past several years, I’ve endeavored to give readers an understanding of the substance of the plaintiffs’ legal claim that they have a constitutional right to a habitable environment and their allegation that the federal government has actively abridged that right by favoring fossil fuels.
Equally, I have tried to present fairly the government’s counter-arguments that the problem of climate change, if it exists, is neither of its doing nor within the judiciary’s power to redress. It is, according to Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys, a matter for the legislative and executive branches of government to decide.
The number of climate-related lawsuits has been rising steadily over the last five years. Since Trump was elected, the trendline has gone vertical. Recent polls show a substantial majority of Americans recognize the realities of climate change, and an increasing number of respondents indicate they have personally experienced its effects.
Just today (2/7/2019) two simultaneous hearings on solving the climate crisis were held by the House Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees. It was the first time in nine and six years respectively that these committees had addressed the issue.
Under Republican control, years of committee time were wasted trying to prove what was happening in front of their eyes was a hoax. A week ago, Trump was tweeting that a few days of record cold was all the proof he needed to continue ordering his administration to roll back existing environmental protections and peddle the nation’s fossil fuels at home and abroad.
It is hardly surprising, given the failures of the legislative and executive branches of government, that the judiciary is being turned to as courts of last resort. Integral to the rising number of legal actions is the testing and refinement of the novel legal theories upon which they are based. Juliana is a case in point.
If the Juliana plaintiffs fail in their quest, it will not be because their arguments lack merit or their science is fake. Lawsuits are brought, argued, and decided within certain strictures. Like many things in life, there are rules to follow.
It is critical for climate defenders to understand why a case succeeds or fails in the courtroom for two basic reasons. The first is to carry the knowledge and experience forward when choosing the next case to pursue; the proposition is true whether the case just decided won or lost.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MS, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.