More Than 600 Environmental Groups Just Backed Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal

Photo: AP

Pressure continues to mount on Congress to get its act together on climate change. The latest salvo came on Thursday, as 626 groups delivered a letter to every member of Congress laying out their support for a Green New Deal and their demands.

The list of groups includes heavy hitters in the climate and policy world like Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, 350, and Indivisible, as well as a raft of local groups in a show of how the idea of a Green New Deal has captured grassroots activists. But the letter also highlights some areas of disagreement with previous proposals for how to shape a Green New Deal, particularly when it comes to pricing carbon and nuclear power.

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Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez popularized the proposal for a Green New Deal to wean the U.S. off fossil fuels in a little over a decade during the midterm election, and protests on Capitol Hill have galvanized support. Add in the fact that there’s basically a decade left to get our act together to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, and it’s clear the time is here to shape the only climate plan in line with the science into a specific set of policy proposals.

“With a new House majority, which is so diverse and so representative of a new generation, now is the time to emphasize the urgent need for climate action,” Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Earther.

The letter sent to Congress on Thursday lays out the 626 groups’ vision for a Green New Deal. On the energy side, it calls on the government to stop leasing federal lands for fossil fuel extraction, to end approval for new fossil fuel infrastructure, and utilize the Clean Air Act to set more stringent standards for greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. It also calls for shifting to 100 percent renewable power by 2035 if not sooner.

The letter emphasizes respecting indigenous rights and a transition away from fossil fuels that centers justice, including a “comprehensive economic plan to drive job growth and invest in a new green economy that is designed, built and governed by communities and workers.” A similar plan has been implemented in Spain to help coal workers, while the pitfalls of not engaging with the people most impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels are clear in France’s yellow vest protests.

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The plan isn’t totally feasible right now because of, as Snape put it, “the toddler in the White House,” but he added that the growing impacts of climate change mean that “at some point we believe elected Republicans will have no choice but to join our effort.”

Getting Republicans under the tent may take compromise, to say nothing of other groups already on board with the Green New Deal. The letter sent to Congress notably mentions that any energy transition must “exclude all combustion-based power generation, nuclear, biomass energy, large scale hydro and waste-to-energy technologies.” That rules out a lot of carbon emission-free energy, notably nuclear, which Snape referred to as “fool’s gold.” (Environmental groups have long had a tenuous relationship with nuclear power due to the risk of meltdowns and the toxic waste, and critics also cite the high costs.)

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In comparison to the letter, a number of groups are advocating for nuclear to be a part of the Green New Deal or for that matter, any future where the world strives to keep the globe from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Progressive think tank Data for Progress, which has conducted polling and crafted a policy brief around the Green New Deal, includes nuclear and carbon capture in its proposal. Almost every scenario in last year’s bombshell U.N. report about limiting warming to 1.5 degrees shows nuclear power and carbon capture will have to increase dramatically.

“I think this issue of technology mix should and will be a part of the legislative process and consensus-building, and I expect some tough fights,” Greg Carlock, a senior advisor with Data for Progress, told Earther. “I also think it comes down to prioritization and practicality,” he continued while noting groups will have to weight co-benefits for cutting pollution, and the engineering and economic challenges that come with implementing any specific Green New Deal policy.

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The letter also doesn’t explicitly mention putting a price on carbon. Again, Data for Progress’ plan includes a carbon price, and moderate Republicans have been clamoring for a carbon tax in recent years. Reconciling that may not be as hard, though. According to reporting by Axios, the omission isn’t because the letter signatories don’t support carbon pricing, but rather because they wanted to highlight ideas that often get shorter shrift.

These differences in priorities and opinions don’t mean the Green New Deal is DOA. But they do show that the popular idea will also need groups and policymakers invested in it to keep talking and working to get on the same page. Knowing that the clock is ticking is a key guardrail to making sure they get there.

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This post has been updated with comments from Greg Carlock.

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