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Some Climate-Hawk Democrats Cool on Green New Deal (2)

Feb. 7, 2019, 8:13 PMUpdated: Feb. 7, 2019, 9:33 PM

Many Democrats who have been active on climate change aren’t rushing to embrace the Green New Deal resolution unveiled Feb. 7, saying Congress is too far from a consensus on what to do about the issue.

The Green New Deal’s ambitious approach, outlined in a resolution by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), has the backing of some of the Senate’s heavy hitters. They include several vying to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, such as Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

But a split exists among Democratic backers of climate action on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a panel that includes Gillibrand and Booker, that would have to do the heavy lifting on any climate legislation.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ben Cardin (D-Md), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) all told Bloomberg Environment they aren’t ready to endorse the resolution. The same is true for some other usually reliable backers of climate action who aren’t on the committee, including Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

Rallying behind the green deal now, Whitehouse said, risks making it an easy target for powerful opponents, including the fossil fuel industry and Republicans who still control the Senate.

“I fear that those forces that vehemently oppose climate action and are constantly up to no good around here will take every opportunity to try and use something like this to divide us—when in fact there’s enormous agreement that something big needs to be done on climate,” Whitehouse said. “But we’re more likely to do it and win and be effective if we stay united and work with each other rather than get into the usual Democratic circular firing squad.”

Whitehouse is perhaps the most vocal Senate climate activist, who since 2012 has delivered hundreds of weekly “time to wake up” speeches urging Congress to act on the issue.

Markey spokeswoman Giselle Barry said Feb. 7 that as many as 10 Senate Democrats are expected to endorse the resolution by day’s end.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), became a cosponsor, saying in a statement that he welcomes “seizing the opportunity to transform our economy to generate millions of good-paying jobs, more opportunities for communities, and a more just and more prosperous nation that gives everyone a chance to thrive.”

Similarly, fellow Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said he hopes to use his position on the finance panel to target incentives for fossil fuel energy.

“What’s appealing to me is that there’s a process for reform on several fronts,” Wyden said.

“I’m going to work with all those good folks to throw the many dirty energy relics, the dirty energy tax relics of yesteryear, into the garbage can and put front and center clean energy, from sea to shining sea,” Wyden said.

Divisions Spilling Out

Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica complained that the resolution had abandoned an earlier call for an end to fossil fuels, though he backed other parts.

The proposal also calls for moving away from nuclear power, which some climate advocates back because it’s largely carbon-free, according to a fact sheet on the plan distributed by Ocasio-Cortez’s office.

The resolution isn’t a bill containing specific legislative proposals, but rather is meant to define the scope, scale, and purpose of the Green New Deal, according to the fact sheet.

At least for now, Markey’s backing hasn’t registered with the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, including Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the panel’s top Democrat. He says it’s far too early to endorse one approach.

The resolution is useful in that it can “start a conversation and articulate a vision,” Carper said in a Feb. 7 statement. He urged his committee colleagues to examine the measure “and consider the ways in which we may be able to incorporate its ideas within our work this Congress.”

Maryland’s Van Hollen, who is revising a carbon tax bill from the last Congress that would refund the proceeds to U.S. households, said he supports “a major investment in clean energy and addressing climate change,” but isn’t ready yet to endorse the resolution.

Schatz, of Hawaii, said he will wait for the legislative process to begin. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the former ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she is still mulling over the resolution.

An ‘Existential Threat’

But California’s Harris, who hopes to make climate change a key issue in her 2020 campaign, said the resolution calls for the kind of ambitious action needed to tackle climate change.

“It’s an existential threat,” said Harris, who endorsed the concept of a Green New Deal in January. “If we don’t address it with a smart and efficient and immediate response, we are going to look at the deterioration of this planet.”

In the House, more than 40 Democrats endorsed the Green New Deal, including House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who said he signed on earlier this week.

But the chairman stressed that it will be up to House committees, including the Energy and Commerce panel, with input from the new House select climate panel, to determine what specific legislation to move.

“We have a select committee, we have chairs of jurisdiction, and they are all agreed they are going to put their heads together and come up with a road map on how we will move forward,” McGovern said. “But I can’t tell you where the majority of them are going to be, or where they’re at now, on policy.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn’t throw her support behind the package, but lauded the backers’ “enthusiasm.”

—With assistance from Tiffany Stecker.

(Adds comment from Sen. Jeff Merkley in 9th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Susan Bruninga at; Chuck McCutcheon at