The Green New Deal Must Take on the Fossil Fuel Industry

February 7, 2019

Greenpeace's Janet Redman says the Green New Deal proposal from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Markey is a step towards unprecedented climate action, but that it must mandate a phase-out of oil, gas, and coal

Greenpeace's Janet Redman says the Green New Deal proposal from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Markey is a step towards unprecedented climate action, but that it must mandate a phase-out of oil, gas, and coal


The Green New Deal Must Take on the Fossil Fuel Industry

Story Transcript

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Climate change and our environmental challenges are one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life.

DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.

On Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced a resolution to create a Green New Deal. It aims to decarbonize every sector of the U.S. economy, and create millions of jobs in the process.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Today is the day that we truly embark on a comprehensive agenda of economic, social, and racial justice in the United States of America. And what this resolution is doing is saying this is our first step. Our first step is to define the problem, and define the scope of the solution. Small, incremental policy solutions are not enough. They can be part of a solution, but they are not the solution unto itself. Today is also the day that we choose to assert ourselves as a global leader in transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy and charting that path.

DHARNA NOOR: The resolution stresses the need to protect frontline communities who have been most severely harmed by environmental and socioeconomic injustices. It also proposes a just transition for those employed by the fossil fuel industry, and aims to create a federal jobs program and instate universal health care. But as our next guest has pointed out, it doesn’t directly take on the fossil fuel industry or call for an end to new oil, gas, and coal projects.

Joining me now is Janet Redman. She’s the climate policy director at Greenpeace USA. And in a statement today, she said: “A Green New Deal must include a just and managed phase-out of oil, gas, and coal, starting in the most overburdened communities.” Thank you so much for being here today, Janet.

JANET REDMAN: It’s great to be with you.

DHARNA NOOR: So, before we get into your critiques of this resolution, I should just say you’ve also given it high praise. You said the resolution is “moving the national climate debate to places no one thought it was even possible to go a year ago.” Could you talk about that?

JANET REDMAN: Yeah, this is an enormous step. There’s no way to, I think, overstate the importance of this resolution today. What we’re seeing laid on the table is a vision that’s comprehensive, it’s ambitious, it brings the intersection of systematic injustice and climate change together, and that’s a critical, important step that we’ve been calling for for a decade at this point. There are provisions for labor. There are provisions for a national job guarantee. There’s talk about family-sustaining union job creation while combating inequality.

It’s an incredibly ambitious resolution. I think that’s a great first marker. Our–not complaint, but our point, is that you need to do even more. I think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez really laid it out in a great way. This is not the entire solution, but it helps us define the scope. I think it’s really important for all of us who have been struggling to fight climate change and for climate justice or to remember and to be reminding our legislators and our lawmakers that that scope has to also include winding down the fossil fuel industry, because of the fact that they’re polluting our atmosphere, they’re polluting our air and water, they’re polluting our communities, but they’re also polluting our democracy.

DHARNA NOOR: So, again, this plan does call for net zero emissions by 2050. But unlike the original proposal for a Select Committee on a Green New Deal that AOC and youth environmental group the Sunrise Movement put forth in November, it doesn’t call for 100 percent renewable energy. Talk about what the difference is between those two things.

JANET REDMAN: Yeah, renewable and clean are slightly different. Renewable energy means wind, water, and sunlight. Things that are coming from the environment around us that never run out. Clean energy can mean a lot of different things to different people. It can mean nuclear power to some people. It’s clean because it doesn’t emit carbon. It’s not clean because we need to do uranium mining to make that energy, and we need to do something with that waste that’s now toxic. Sometimes lawmakers and environmentalists have tried to sneak in gas as a way of talking about clean energy, because it, in some forms, is less dirty than burning coal. Studies have recently shown that that’s not true at all; unfortunately, it’s just as bad, as climate-harming, as other forms of fossil fuel. It is, in fact, a fossil fuel.

So that distinction is actually fairly important when we think about what we’re building out for the future. In particular, we’re thinking about building new infrastructure. When we’re putting new power plants in place, when we’re putting new pipelines in place. If we’re talking about, for example, gas as clean, and that fits into this one 100 percent renewable–this 100 percent future–then we’re actually locking in decades of fossil fuel combustion and more climate change.

DHARNA NOOR: Some have also noted that a move to net zero emissions could also include some market-based solutions to the climate crisis like, for instance, carbon trading, which is a system where governments or companies can receive credits to produce a certain amount of emissions, and they can trade them with others. Or carbon sequestration, which is a process where carbon is captured from the atmosphere and stored. Do those of market solutions have a place in the Green New Deal?

JANET REDMAN: I think the challenges we’ve seen with market-based solutions like carbon trading are twofold. One, it’s really easy for the industries to game it. And the systems we’ve tried so far in other parts of the world haven’t actually worked to lower emissions. Things like carbon capture and storage, if that’s being captured–if carbon’s being captured in the soil through ecoagriculture, then that can be a really good thing. But unfortunately what we’re seeing being tested and tried, R&D moving forward in the U.S., is for the kind of carbon capture and storage that actually allows us to pump more oil out of the ground. So it’s not–it’s not actually net zero.

I think the challenge with net zero and the way we’re talking about it is often demand side. That means we’re not using, we’re not meeting our electricity needs, with fossil fuels. But it actually says nothing about supplying fossil fuels to other parts of the world. Part of what we’re seeing in the U.S. right now is we’re planning to export massive amounts of oil and gas. You can talk about 100 percent renewable energy or 100 percent clean energy and not touch any of that fossil fuel that is going to get burned and is going to impact climate change coming from U.S. soils.

DHARNA NOOR: Right, so technically we would be at net zero if we continued to drill for oil and export that oil elsewhere.

JANET REDMAN: It would count on someone else’s ledger. But it would be in our climate. It’s in all of our ledger when it impacts the climate.

DHARNA NOOR: Sure. I also want to take a look at a quote from Ocasio-Cortez, and Ed Markey, and the Sunrise Movement had a press conference this morning, Thursday morning. And there both AOC and Markey praised House Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

ED MARKEY: There is no greater champion on climate change than Nancy Pelosi. I was the chair on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: That’s right. That’s right. Nancy Pelosi is a leader on climate, has always been a leader on climate. And I will not allow our caucus to be divided up by silly notions of whatever narrative. We are in this together.

DHARNA NOOR: And hours before that, Pelosi called the Green New Deal “The Green Dream, or whatever they call it.” But AOC kind of brushed it off in the press conference. She said that it is a dream, and said that that didn’t offend her. What do you make of all of this? Is Pelosi a climate leader?

JANET REDMAN: I think AOC is being incredibly gracious, and I think it’s right. I think what matters right now is to make sure the caucus doesn’t become divided over cases of what climate change means and doesn’t mean, climate action means and doesn’t mean.

Pelosi has done some incredible stuff in her time, and she’s been, I think, a stalwart leader in the Democratic caucus. What we’re seeing, though, is a rise from the population, a rise from the climate movement, calling for more. And I think what’s exciting about what AOC and Markey have done today is kind of captured some of that new movement and captured some of that new energy. I think what we need to see is Will Pelosi pick up that energy and run with it. It’s hard to call her a climate leader if she ignores that call from the base.

And so I think we don’t have to make a final decision on whether we think Pelosi is a leader or not on climate. I think we can put this test to her and say, in your role as House Leader again, will you pick up this call for some real intense action, that moves in a moonshot–we’re talking about a moonshot level of action, a moonshot level of ambition to solve this climate crisis in the next 10 years, in the way that global science community has told us we have to do if we want to have a safe–a climate-safe future.

DHARNA NOOR: I don’t want to belabor this, and I do–of course I do understand the need to push within the real political system. But I think some were surprised to see these comments, because this is the same Pelosi who turned down AOC and Sunrise’s proposal to create the Select Committee on a Green New Deal. Instead she created a committee that doesn’t have subpoena power. And she’s also in the past said that fracked natural gas isn’t as bad as other fossil fuels. As you’ve mentioned, that’s problematic. She told Jake Tapper in 2016, Jake Tapper of CNN:

NANCY PELOSI: The fact is is you cannot go to a place where you say we’re never taking another fossil fuel–although we’d like to, with renewables, get to a place like that. But there are plenty of uses for fossil fuels that have nothing to do with degrading the environment.

DHARNA NOOR: Is it possible that people with these kinds of climate histories can be pushed by these kinds of resolutions?

JANET REDMAN: I hope so. I’m not sure they can be pushed by resolutions, but I think what they can be pushed for is a really robust, strong, vocal climate movement–in fact, broader progressive movement–that understands that climate leadership has to mean phasing out fossil fuels and ending fossil fuel expansion. So I think that’s what Pelosi will have to respond to, is an uprising, is a mass movement of folks that are saying no more fossil fuel industry mucking up our democracy and mucking up our planet as part of a Green New Deal, as part of a package of other kinds of provisions and policies that are bold, that are addressing environmental degradation, that are investing in environmental racism, that are addressing the fact that people need jobs and there is a lot of work to be done healing our planet right now.

So I think we’ll have to see that people energy really pushing on Pelosi. It can’t come from one resolution. I don’t think it will. I think it will come from all of us.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, I should finish by saying this resolution is nonbinding, so by itself it won’t create any policy even if it passes, and it’s unlikely to pass when Republicans still control the executive branch in the Senate. So why is this still important? If it’s not a binding resolution, why is it still so important?

JANET REDMAN: It sends such a strong signal as to what’s possible. I mean, think about it. A year ago the idea that someone would be even–that a lawmaker would be talking about a federal jobs guarantee, or that a lawmaker would be talking about really focusing investment in marginalized communities as a climate action. I think what’s really important this resolution is we’re having a conversation that’s starting to match the scale of the climate crisis on Capitol Hill with lawmakers.

And yes, this is one resolution. It’s absolutely nonbinding. But what it does do is start opening up a conversation. The call for a Select Committee was an opening salvo. This is the next step in that conversation. I imagine we’ll see a lot of different kinds of legislation coming out of the hill to try and define what a Green New Deal is and what climate leadership means. And then people like–people like you and me, organizations like Greenpeace will certainly be looking to the run up to the 2020 elections to start talking about what climate leadership means to people who want to be leading this country.

And so while this is nonbinding, this is absolutely opening the space for an incredibly important conversation that we’ll pivot toward the next 10 years on what we do on climate change, or what we end up being too afraid to do, and then, I think, walking ourselves into a very precarious corner.

DHARNA NOOR: Well, as we continue to see what comes of this conversation and what kind of legislation is put forth in the future, we really look forward to having you back on. Thanks so much for joining us yet again, Janet.

JANET REDMAN: Great to be here. Thanks so much.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.