Will Clean Energy Prevail Under New House Democratic Majority?
Greenpeace’s Janet Redman talks to Marc Steiner about whether the new House Democrats will usher in green economic measures
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us. We’re about to talk with Janet Redman, who is a Greenpeace USA climate and energy director. We’re going to explore what this flip in the House means for the environment, energy movements, and more, and some of governorships and what they mean. Janet, welcome back. Great to have you with us here on The Real News, as always.
JANET REDMAN: Thanks so much. It’s great to be here.
MARC STEINER: So the House flipping, that was- people thought it was going to happen, and it did. The question is what is its significance.
JANET REDMAN: Yeah. Right off the bat what this means is that there’s not a blank check for Trump to continue pushing his deregulatory agenda, which is important for environmental protection across the board. But it’s certainly important in the energy and climate realm, because it means his energy dominance agenda doesn’t move forward as quickly as it has been. He’s been setting up expansion of the oil and gas industry, trying to revive the coal industry. We can talk about whether that’s working or not. But it means that there is going to be at least a check on that power to just move deregulatory agendas forward.
MARC STEINER: Which is, I think- we don’t go into detail with this, but that’s one thing that I’ve been saying for a while leading up to this election, that if the Democrats take the House it blunts the power.
JANET REDMAN: That’s right.
MARC STEINER: It helps keep it in check.
JANET REDMAN: That’s right, yeah. It means, also- and we can go into specific races in a minute- but it means also that there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for oversight, and some investigations in House committees. A number- again, whenever the Congress switches, the House committee chairs will switch to be Democratic. And there are a number of people waiting in the wings who’ve been climate champions, or who’ve been at least champions of giving Donald Trump a hard time. You know, we’ve got people like Grijalva, who’s poised to be the House Committee Chair on natural resources. He’s very interesting. He’s been very active in the Congressional Progressive Caucus; he’s been talking about climate for a long time. He’s thinking about pressing for more renewable energy production on public lands, thinking about how to dial back oil and gas production on public lands.
MARC STEINER: Right, because that’s exactly what Trump is doing, is trying to push oil and gas production, and cattle, and everything else on federal land.
JANET REDMAN: That’s right. And so we’ve got some, we’ve got some people now who can help slow that down. I think one of the, one of the priorities that he’s talking about is making sure that the mining law from 1972, which was enacted as a way to protect public lands but also put some resources aside for public use, would actually kind of be permanently reauthorized, so it doesn’t have to go back every year and then get reauthorized.
That’s true also on the Appropriations Committee. We’ve got Betty McCollum, who … The Appropriations Committee sounds kind of nerdy and boring, but it’s the people who decide how the money flows out the door.
MARC STEINER: Oh no, it’s money. It’s money. It may be nerdy and boring, but that’s where the money is.
JANET REDMAN: I think she’s really framing her new role as potentially stopping the attacks on science, the attacks on climate science, and science more broadly. And that’s, of course, really important for anything that has to do with climate and energy. She’s going to … What we’ve heard about her office is that she’s thinking about really making sure that the EPA and the Interior Department are doing their job well, protecting human health and using public resources wisely.
The Department of Energy is a really interesting space, and a number of different committees where Democrats will now have interesting chairmanships. We’re hearing people talk about really taking on Secretary of Interior Zinke right now, who is embroiled in a little bit of a, a little bit of trouble, having some scandals. Not quite like Scott Pruitt yet, but you know, it looks like perhaps he will leave office before we even get to this next Congress. But if that happens, that means we’re going to see a whole new discussion about who’s going to take his place. And we would, we would imagine that having a Democratic House means that will, you know, while they’re not the body that actually-
MARC STEINER: That’s the Senate. Right.
JANET REDMAN: … puts someone in place, they’ll be making sure there are checks and balances on what happens in the Department of Interior. So I think that’s really important kind of as part of the overall picture of what we’re looking at right now because of the flip in the House.
MARC STEINER: And before we went on the air you were talking a bit about some of the new races, people who won who are coming in who you think can be really important voices.
JANET REDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think one of the things we’re seeing about this particular set of wins is that there are a number of people who are standing up and saying we’re ready to push back against the fossil fuel industry. So a really interesting piece that I saw was that 19 out of the 34 freshmen Dems actually have taken something called the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, which is a pledge that was released to everyone, Republicans, Democrats, from local races all the way up to the top, the highest races that were happening in this cycle. And it just says, I promise not to take money from oil, gas, or coal companies, or their, their cronies, basically the industry associations. So that means there’s a block now in the House that’s not just climate friendly, but is actually saying we’re resetting what climate championship means.
MARC STEINER: And even though clearly that’s not a majority in the House, but it’s a majority of the new people who are elected by a bit, by a little bit, it also means that’s the kind of force that could politically push that agenda and put it at the forefront of discussions.
JANET REDMAN: That’s exactly right. Part of what we’re talking about right now, obviously, is it’s the day after the 2018 cycle, but we’re in the 2020 cycle now.
MARC STEINER: Yes we are.
JANET REDMAN: So we should be really clear that one of the things that’s being communicated by who won is kind of what the agenda is moving forward. So you know, we’ve been watching … I’m really interested in this group of four particular folks- Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib, Delgado in New York- who have been talking about putting in place a Green New Deal. We talked about this a little bit before in thinking about how we’re setting forward some of the ballot initiatives across the country.
But I think this is a place where new members of Congress, new climate champions, are really saying it’s not just that I believe that the climate science is real- which should be the lowest possible bar- it’s saying what we need to build, actually, is a green economy that puts people to work, billions of people to work; creates public sector jobs and puts the kind of economy in place that’s good for the climate; but is good for our public health, is good for being able to drive on safe bridges, drink safe drinking water, et cetera. And they’ve been running on platforms that incorporate climate justice, the idea of a just transition for both workers and communities. I think that’s pretty exciting. I think that’s something that we haven’t seen before, and that’s really new.
MARC STEINER: And they’re probably also going be part of that green economy push. I would think, knowing who these people are, that it’s not just about people fighting for a living wage in this new work, but people fighting for a wage people can live on.
JANET REDMAN: That’s right. That’s right.
MARC STEINER: Which is a big difference.
JANET REDMAN: It’s a big difference, you’re right. And I think the other piece that’s really interesting is they’re also talking about not just building what we need, but starting to dial down what we can’t continue to grow. So that’s talking about building new renewable energy, but also saying there comes a point where we can’t build new oil and gas if we want to stay within climate targets; basically the Paris agreement. Or another way of saying it is like, not getting to climate catastrophe, we have to stop pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So we can’t just build good stuff. We actually have to dial down the bad stuff, and these are the kinds of people that are talking about that already.
I think some of the other places that people are talking about that are around particular kinds of infrastructure. So for example, there’s been a lot of conversation about offshore drilling. And we saw some interesting upsets, some seats flip in New Jersey, in Florida, in California and South Carolina where those those folks were specifically talking about stopping offshore drilling. It’s, you know, kind of it’s a referendum on Trump and on Interior Secretary Zinke, who are trying to push an opening-
MARC STEINER: These were Republican seats now being held by Democrats in coastal regions.
JANET REDMAN: Across the country. So not just on one side of the country, but on two sides of the country. I think that’s also important to watch.
MARC STEINER: South, North, and West.
JANET REDMAN: That’s right. Yeah. A couple of interesting races I really- I was really interested in Florida in particular, where Curbelo, who has been kind of framed as a climate champion; he’s been a kind of co-leader of something called the Climate Solutions Caucus in the house. But that caucus has invited people into it who have been trying to dismantle the EPA, who have newly come to the idea that climate change is real. So I feel like that’s a really tough, that’s a tough place to sell as a real climate solution caucus. He was voted out of office in favor of Mucarsel-Powell. She was running on a platform- she actually comes out of a foundation that’s looking at coral restoration, so really a person who understands science, understands climate change, signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, and I think is really taking on this idea of greenwashing. So Curbelo had put, had-
MARC STEINER: Greenwashing is?
JANET REDMAN: Right. Greenwashing is saying something is environmentally sound when, in fact, it’s not. I think the prime example of that and the most dangerous example in the past year has been Representative Curbelo putting forward a carbon tax. That sounds interesting, we’re all interested in that. But hidden in the language of that carbon tax were dismantling regulatory agendas, and also making it explicit that oil and gas companies could never be held accountable for the impacts of their pollution. So in some ways it ties our hands, and it’s a, it was a really low carbon tax. We’re hearing from the IPCC we need $1000 per tonne taxes, not $40 per tonne taxes, at this point.
So I think that to me is a really interesting flip, where we’re seeing kind of the whole idea of what it means to really be a climate champion shift a little bit to a more progressive agenda.
MARC STEINER: So I’m really curious here, given the other conversation we had about the referenda around the country, and now talking about the House changing and what that could mean. Clearly, if you have to figure out where this goes, you have to take the long view. There’s not a struggle you win in the morning. So talk a bit about that, where you see- where you see this kind of juncture between people who’ve won in the House, are they going to change the nature of things going on the House, the referenda that lost- and some that won- around the country, and that difficult struggle given all the fossil fuel money that’s going in. And the need which I think this young movement in America, they sometimes forget, of really on the ground organizing to take the stuff that people fight for in the House and will actually turn it into something you do on the ground.
JANET REDMAN: That’s right. I think there are a couple of overlapping priorities, I would say. One is that certainly the organizing is an important and critical piece. I think we’re going to see a lot of organizing in the next couple of years where we see climate impacts happening. So you know, we saw some interesting shifts in Florida. We saw some interesting shifts in Texas, even though some of the races didn’t flip. I think the idea that Beto O’Rourke got so far, that was a surprise for everyone. So while that’s not a win in terms of flipping the seat, that’s a win in terms of thinking about the agenda in some of those really oil and gas-centered states. In Florida the race is too close to call; it’ll be a recount, sure. And Gillum lost in terms of the governor’s seat, but it was a pretty tight race. I think what we’re seeing there, also, is that people recognize the impacts of climate change. And it’s- there’s a little cognitive dissonance saying if we, how do we elect someone who won’t let us say the word ‘climate change’ when actually part of our shoreline is going underwater?
So I think really organizing in those places where we’re seeing climate impacts and people are feeling the lived experience of climate change will be important. I think, as we talked about in the last segment, really starting to be able to map out, well, then what are the alternatives if we’re not going to do this fossil fuel economy, where are we going instead, is going to be super critical. And that’s why I’m excited about this Green New Deal piece. But I think a part of that has to also be helping people understand why we can’t keep expanding fossil fuel extraction, that’s not going to be a winning strategy for us, and starting to build champions. And I think we build champions in that by really getting at this question of the money.
MARC STEINER: The money, as in the money that killed the referenda.
JANET REDMAN: The money that killed the referenda. And it goes to candidates who then take a weaker and weaker stance on climate change, or don’t confront the fossil fuel industry. And while we’re not going to change Citizens United tomorrow, we’re not going to change the way election contributions happen probably in the next year or two, what we can do is build a coalition around things like the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge where we’re saying you don’t get to call yourself a climate champion if you also take money from the people who are profiteering off of driving us down the path of climate destruction. I think it’d be really interesting to see if we can expand that kind of definition of climate championship from not just not taking money from the fossil fuel industry, but also saying, you know, I recognize that we can’t actually expand fossil fuel infrastructure.
So people saying no, like these folks have in Florida, South Carolina, California, no to new offshore drilling, no to new pipelines, perhaps no to new export terminals for gas, what does it look like when we actually take- I think we have to articulate what it looks like when we start taking climate change seriously, when we take these new global scientific reports that say we’ve got 10 to 12 years to turn this problem around or we’re cooked, that’s not a big timeframe. Two years of that will be setting up for this next race, and we’ve got eight years left to figure out what the heck we’re doing. So I think it’s an organizing strategy. I think it’s confronting fossil fuel money. I think it’s really helping people connect to climate impacts with the policies and the policymakers where they live.
MARC STEINER: It’s, to me, having this conversation with you, Janet, is refreshing, I’m serious, because to take a long view that allows you to have a positive view of the struggle that’s going to take place, who these new representatives are, what it means that some of the older progressive people in Congress will now chair committees, and that helps kind of tip of the struggle for climate, for changing the way we do energy and puts it at the forefront.
JANET REDMAN: Yeah. I think what we’re, I think what I’m seeing and I think part of these new wins tell us is that people who are in the decisionmaking roles, setting the roles both at the state level and at the federal level, are starting to wake up and see that there’s something happening around the country. And certainly we’re seeing a lot of polarization, but we’re also seeing a lot of resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure exploding across our country, and that resistance is exciting. I think it’s sometimes unnerving for people. It’s powerful. And I think the question is how can our decisionmakers grab onto that power and be propelled by it, as opposed to rejecting it. I think that’s part of our role in the environment community, is to really help those people understand and help new candidates understand that this is a fight for our lives, and people are dedicated to it. And we will put our bodies on the line, but we will also bring our votes to the polling stations, as well.
MARC STEINER: Janet Redman, thanks so much for coming to our studios today here at The Real News. Great to have you here. It was a great, important, positive, and thoughtful message you brought to us. I appreciate it.
JANET REDMAN: Thank you so much. It’s great to be with you. Thank you.
MARC STEINER: Our guest this hour- not this hour, but in this episode- has been Janet Redman, who is the climate and energy director for Greenpeace USA. And I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us. Take care.