The issue of our national response to Climate Change has largely been presented in a partisan lens, with Democrats calling for greater action on climate, and only a small minority of Republicans showing anything but disregard or contempt for this concern.
However, such a lens obscures the great differences over this issue within the Democratic Party, which will control the U.S. House come January. And this issue is already coming to a head even before a group of insurgent Left-wing candidates are even seated.
Yesterday morning a group of activists from the Sunrise Movement conducted a sit-in in the offices of Nancy Pelosi (D-California), who is poised to become the next speaker of the House, demanding the creation of a select committee for the creation of a “Green New Deal”, including the goal of moving the nation to 100% renewable energy by 2030.
These activists were joined by Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), who has already written text for a proposed addendum to House rules to this effect and who called for these very things in her campaign.
Since then, this call has been backed by three other Members of Congress about to take seats: Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), Rashid Tlaib (D-Michigan), and Rohit Khanna (D-California). It is notable that Khanna is the only sitting Member of Congress, and that three of these four are about to join the body for the first time.
Additionally, as the children of immigrants, people of color and women (Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez are all three, and Haaland is one of two Native American congresswomen elected on November 6), these are very different faces than the older white men who have traditionally been over-represented in the U.S. Congress.
Pelosi had earlier discussed re-introducing a House Panel on Climate Change, and reiterated those calls after the protest. However the activists have said that Pelosi’s proposed committee would not have enough power, and Ocasio-Cortez has also stated that the new committee they are calling for should not include lawmakers who accepted campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industries.
Calls for national 100% renewable energy/Green New Deal legislation are going nowhere fast with a Republican Senate and President Donald Trump in office. However, the creation of the committee that the Sunrise Movement is calling for could put the Democrats in a position to act more boldly on this issue in 2020, if President Trump does not win re-election and/or if the composition of the Senate changes.
More than anything this protest highlights that today’s Democratic Party is a very different party than only a few years ago, with both greater ethnic diversity and a Left wing that is militant on climate and energy issues. The party has traditionally been hesitant to take bold action on these issues on the federal level, however the 2016 defeat of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), the “Blue Dog” Democrat who served as her party’s leader on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, opened the door for leadership less beholden to fossil fuel interests.
This movement is much more obvious at the state level, with five incoming governors calling for 100% renewable energy in their states, and three more calling for a move towards 100%. All are members of the Democratic Party.
The Sunrise Movement is now targeting Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D), Jamie Raskin (D), Mark Pocan (D), Raul Grijalva (D), and Tulsi Gabbard (D), who they describe as “prominent Progressives”.
Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has issued a cautious statement which stresses bipartisanship. “Solar has proven to be an energy source with bipartisan appeal,” Dan Whitten, the VP of Communications at SEIA. “And we share the enthusiasm of members of Congress who want to advance policies that address our changing climate.”
“Massive adoption of solar energy clearly is a part of the solution. It’s worth remembering that solar is disruptive to the status quo in electricity markets and we look forward to working with lawmakers in both parties who are determined to pursue policies that promote clean energy, job growth and a new energy economy.”