Even before they take their seats, the 116th U.S. House of Representatives is giving indications of a political shake-up. On November 13 200 activists with the Sunrise Movement were joined by U.S. Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-New York) in a call for a “Green New Deal” including a national move to 100% renewable energy in an action outside the office of Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-California), who is poised to become the next speaker of the House.
And while Ocasio Cortez’s platform may be the farthest Left that any incoming Member of Congress has proposed in decades, the movement which she has become the de-facto figurehead for is showing that it has legs. As of latest count, Sunrise Movement’s call for the formation of a select committee on Climate Change and a Green New Deal had the explicit support of no less than 18 incoming members of Congress.
At a press conference on Friday, the newest U.S. representatives and representatives-to-be to join this call explained why such a committee – which goes well beyond the purview of previous committees on this issue – is needed.
The 18 are all members of the Democratic Party, and it is notable that unlike Republican support of renewable energy – which usually is tied to economic benefits and consumer choice – the call for a Green New Deal explicitly ties rapid deployment of renewables to acting on Climate Change. This was expressed by U.S. Representative-elect Mike Levin (D-California), who complained about the Trump Administration’s release of the federal government’s Climate Change report the day after Thanksgiving, which he described as an attempt to “hide the details of the report”.
“If we don’t take serious action in the coming years, we are going to have unprecedented, catastrophic impacts, not only to our environment but to our economy,” said Levin.
It is also notable that such a position and a statement would be unimaginable for the Congressman Levin is replacing, Darrel Issa (R).
I was proud to stand with my new colleagues in DC this morning for a new House Select Committee on Climate Change and a Green New Deal.
We must act on the overwhelming scientific consensus and work collaboratively with standing committees and many partners.
Let’s get to work. pic.twitter.com/mesNZ28NXQ
— Mike Levin (@MikeLevinCA) November 30, 2018
Ambition for 2020
The details that have been proposed so far for a Green New Deal are nothing if not ambitious, starting with 100% renewable energy by 2030 including a national Smart Grid, energy efficiency retrofits of all buildings, decarbonizing manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation, as well as funding massive investment “in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases”.
It also includes training and education and a living wage job guarantee program for all citizens – and possibly a universal basic income.
Such a program will not see the light of day under a Republican Senate and President Trump, however it has widely been described as the beginnings of work on a program which could be enacted if Democrats regain the Senate and/or presidency in 2020.
Diverse, new voices
It is notable that many of the voices expressing support for a committee based on this maximalist position are not only new, but that they are much more diverse than the U.S. Congress writ large.
White men, who have typically been the dominant group in the U.S. Congress, make up only four of the 18 backers, which include the first two Muslim women elected to Congress (Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan and Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota).
And while Ocasio Cortez, Tlaib, Omar, Levin and three of the other supporters will be taking seats in Congress for this first time in January, eleven of those who have pledged their support are returning members of Congress. This includes Civil Rights icon John Lewis (D-Georgia).
However, there are notable limits to the group that has stepped forward. None are members of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the present House of Representatives, and Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) has expressed opposition to the creation of a select committee on Climate Change.
Also, the composition of the 18 incoming members of Congress speaks to regional splits. The 18 represent districts on the West Coast, East Coast, Midwest, Mountain West and Hawaii – with New York and California particularly well-represented, but none are from the Plains States, Texas or Florida, and Joe Lewis is the only one with a district in The South.