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.
Nontraditional alliances are forming to defeat local projects
I had coffee with my landlord—Mark— the other day. He asked me about an article in the Washington Post (WaPo). The piece was about environmental advocates opposing the site of a solar farm that is to provide Georgetown University with up to half its electric needs. He was surprised by the conflict and said he naturally assumed that solar energy developers and enviros are hand in glove with each other.
Mark asked if such conflicts happened often? More often than one would imagine, I replied. As to the “hand-in-glove” remark, I said something about it being true in a sense—if the gloves were for boxing and each side had a pair.
I think Mark’s assumption, that things are all good between solar developers and the environmental community is typical of most people’s understanding of the relationship between clean energy project developers and the environmental community. More to the point I don’t think enough attention is being paid to these kinds of local conflicts by big-picture thinkers in Washington.
Such conflicts promise to slow the transition to a low-carbon economy. Whether Green New Dealers or carbon taxers no allowance seems to be made for opposition to the projects needed to get the US off the fossil fuel standard. The parties to the conflicts are not just climate defenders and deniers.
Leadership has no age requirement
The nation owes a debt of gratitude to the voters of New York's 14th congressional district for having elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). I think it fair to say had AOC not been elected that climate change would still be vying for a place at the front of the pack of national political priorities. Today the causes and consequences of Earth’s warming are one of the top two or three policy issues talked about on Capitol Hill.
I would even venture that climate change is becoming one of the topics most talked about—or like religion and politics not to be talked about—around dinner tables. I credit the rising tide of youth activism for this rather sudden reversal of fortune.
What AOC, other newly elected House Democrats, and organizations like the Sunrise Movement, Justice Democrats, Fridays For Future, have added to the mix is a new voice—a very large and loud voice—being heard around the world.
Notwithstanding years of opinion surveys showing climate and the environment as abstract matters of voter concern, these expressions seemed never to translate into sustained political action. Congress has been virtually inert on climate matters for over a decade. The boldest federal climate defense measures over the period have been the result of executive actions and judicial decisions.
Executive orders—as we’re seeing—are as easily erased by one president as they were first written by another. Litigation is lengthy, and the judiciary is limited in what it can order. With the rise of student activists and their close relationships with dynamic progressive Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez, it is possible that the pattern of the past is about to be broken. For Mother Earth, it has already been too long in coming.
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.
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.