We Can’t Afford to Let Nancy Pelosi Bury the Green New Deal

Incoming speaker creates climate committee with limited powers—undermining a far more ambitious initiative.

Christopher D. Cook

The question is not: Where does Pelosi stand at the opening of this session of Congress? Rather, it is: Where do the people stand?

As House Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers pre­pare to reclaim pow­er this Jan­u­ary, they are clamp­ing down on insur­gent pro­gres­sive ini­tia­tives like the Green New Deal, which could be side­lined in favor of a broad­er cli­mate com­mit­tee with lim­it­ed powers.

“Achieving the goals outlined in the resolution for a Select Committee on a Green New Deal are the bare minimum we need to preserve life as we know it for our generation—anything less from our political leaders is a betrayal of young people around the world.”

Despite pledges from at least 43 Democ­rats to sup­port a Green New Deal select com­mit­tee — includ­ing promi­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tives like Bar­bara Lee (D‑Calif.) and John Lewis (D‑Ga.) — incom­ing House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi (D‑Calif.) derailed the move on Thurs­day by cre­at­ing a cli­mate com­mit­tee with no explic­it com­mit­ment to craft­ing a Green New Deal.

Thurs­day after­noon, The Huff­in­g­ton Post report­ed that Pelosi picked Flori­da Rep. Kathy Cas­tor (D‑Fla.) to head the new cli­mate com­mit­tee, which may include mem­bers who take cam­paign mon­ey from the fos­sil fuel industry.

The set­back threat­ens to derail one of the more hope­ful and fast-ris­ing pro­gres­sive ini­tia­tives in the new Con­gress — and comes as sci­en­tists world­wide warn we have 12 years to stem the cli­mate cri­sis from yet more cat­a­stroph­ic and irre­versible dis­as­ter. Ocasio-Cortez’s pro­pos­al would have cre­at­ed a select com­mit­tee to craft a full Green New Deal plan by 2020. Pelosi’s move, at min­i­mum, sig­nif­i­cant­ly stalls that effort, even as the cli­mate-cri­sis clock ticks away.

Pelosi’s move must be approved by the House Rules Com­mit­tee in Jan­u­ary to be offi­cial. On Fri­day, Rules Chair­man Rep. Jim McGov­ern (D‑Mass.) announced he is already craft­ing a pro­pos­al for a cli­mate com­mit­tee which, accord­ing to Ener­gy & Envi­ron­ment News, will have no leg­isla­tive or sub­poe­na pow­er, nor will it be specif­i­cal­ly tasked with craft­ing a Green New Deal’ bill.”

Fur­ther con­firm­ing the committee’s lim­it­ed abil­i­ties, Rep. Ste­ny Hoy­er (D‑Md.) said Wednes­day that it was his under­stand­ing that the com­mit­tee wouldn’t have the legal author­i­ty to demand doc­u­ments,” The Hill report­ed. Hoy­er told reporters, My expec­ta­tion [is] it will not have sub­poe­na pow­er. It will be a rec­om­menda­to­ry com­mit­tee to the Ener­gy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee and the envi­ron­men­tal committees.”

Accord­ing to The Hill, A Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship aide lat­er con­firmed the lack of sub­poe­na power.”

Pelosi’s office did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to calls and emails from In These Times request­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion. On the phone, one staffer cit­ed the gov­ern­ment shut­down” as cause for their inabil­i­ty to reply.

Response came swift­ly via Twit­ter from Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, the incom­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tive for New York who is one of the chief advo­cates of the Green New Deal. Our ulti­mate end goal,” she wrote, isn’t a Select Com­mit­tee. Our goal is to treat Cli­mate Change like the seri­ous, exis­ten­tial threat it is by draft­ing an ambi­tious solu­tion on the scale nec­es­sary — aka a Green New Deal — to get it done. A weak com­mit­tee miss­es the point & endan­gers peo­ple [sic.].”

Corbin Trent, an aide to Oca­sio-Cortez, told The Hill that sub­poe­na pow­er is essen­tial to the leg­isla­tive process. We think that the com­mit­tee needs to have the author­i­ty and the capac­i­ty to devel­op a plan for a Green New Deal to tran­si­tion our econ­o­my to a zero-car­bon econ­o­my in a 10-year time­frame,” Trent said. With­out sub­poe­na pow­er, with­out the abil­i­ty to draft leg­is­la­tion, with­out the com­mit­ment to not put mem­bers in seats that are tak­ing mon­ey from the fos­sil fuel indus­try, then we don’t think we would have the capac­i­ty to do so.”

Despite the set­back, Green New Deal advo­cates are not giv­ing up. The Sun­rise Move­ment, one of the groups cam­paign­ing hard for a Green New Deal, told In These Times, Noth­ing will be offi­cial until the Rules are approved on Jan 3, so we’re going to keep pres­sur­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tives across the coun­try to sup­port up until then.”

In a more exten­sive state­ment issued late Thurs­day, Sun­rise Move­ment co-founder Varshi­ni Prakash wrote, With­out a man­date to cre­ate a plan and a require­ment that its mem­bers don’t take fos­sil fuel mon­ey, we are deeply con­cerned that this com­mit­tee will be just anoth­er of the many com­mit­tees we’ve seen fail­ing our gen­er­a­tion our entire lives.”

Prakash added, Achiev­ing the goals out­lined in the res­o­lu­tion for a Select Com­mit­tee on a Green New Deal are the bare min­i­mum we need to pre­serve life as we know it for our gen­er­a­tion — any­thing less from our polit­i­cal lead­ers is a betray­al of young peo­ple around the world.”

It remains unclear whether these con­cerns will be heard by new cli­mate com­mit­tee chair Cas­tor, who has received sub­stan­tial cam­paign dona­tions from ener­gy and nat­ur­al resources indus­tries. As The Huff­in­g­ton Post reports, Accord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Cen­ter for Respon­sive Pol­i­tics, Cas­tor accept­ed more than $73,000 from the ener­gy and nat­ur­al resources sec­tor over her 12-year tenure in Con­gress, includ­ing $60,000 from cor­po­rate polit­i­cal action committees.”

As Democ­rats con­tin­ue to bat­tle over the issue of pro­hibit­ing fos­sil fuel cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, Cas­tor told The Huff­in­g­ton Post Thurs­day, I don’t think you can do that under the First Amend­ment, real­ly.” But Cas­tor soon recant­ed, say­ing, Maybe that’s a dis­cus­sion we need to have in the caucus.”

Cas­tor said Thurs­day that the Green New Deal includes some ter­rif­ic ideas,” and may be one of many top­ics the new com­mit­tee takes on. But that’s not going to be our sole focus,” she emphasized.

Despite mount­ing pub­lic and polit­i­cal sup­port for the Green New Deal, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic House lead­er­ship remains resis­tant to the ini­tia­tive, which has stirred hope among many young activists and new­ly elect­ed mem­bers of Congress.

Estab­lished House lead­ers such as incom­ing Ener­gy and Com­merce Chair­man Frank Pal­lone (D‑N.J.), gen­er­al­ly want the select pan­el not to be formed or to have lit­tle real pow­er,” Ener­gy & Envi­ron­ment News explained. Pal­lone has opposed the Green New Deal select com­mit­tee, and refused to answer ques­tions about it over the last week. Pal­lone told reporters, I’m not talk­ing about the select com­mit­tee. I don’t want to.”

While Pelosi, Hoy­er and oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers seem bent on sidelin­ing the Green New Deal ini­tia­tive, polling has shown tremen­dous sup­port for Green New Deal poli­cies. As The Huff­in­g­ton Post report­ed, A poll released this week found 81 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers sup­port­ed the poli­cies out­lined under the Green New Deal res­o­lu­tion ― includ­ing 64 per­cent of Repub­li­cans and 57 per­cent of self-described con­ser­v­a­tive Republicans.”

For many, Pelosi’s move to scut­tle and side­line the Green New Deal com­mit­tee marks not only dis­ap­point­ment, but a missed oppor­tu­ni­ty. As Prakash put it in her state­ment, A Select Com­mit­tee that makes a plan for imple­ment­ing a Green New Deal is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Democ­rats in the House to advance pol­i­cy goals that 81 per­cent of vot­ers sup­port, and are in line with what sci­ence says is nec­es­sary to give our gen­er­a­tion a liv­able future.

With cli­mate cri­sis grow­ing, and vast pub­lic sup­port for a plan to cre­ate mil­lions of jobs to de-car­bonize the econ­o­my, elim­i­nate fos­sil fuels and expand renew­able ener­gy, Pelosi’s sti­fling of this surg­ing reform is not only a polit­i­cal set­back. In the face of the stark real­i­ties we face, the move seems to this reporter a kinder, gen­tler ver­sion of plan­e­tary suicide.

Christo­pher D. Cook is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of Diet for a Dead Plan­et: Big Busi­ness and the Com­ing Food Cri­sis. His writ­ing has appeared in Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Nation, the Los Ange­les Times and else­where. You can reach him at http://​www​.christo​pherd​cook​.com/.
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