Climate activists take fight over climate legislation to incoming House energy committee leader
Dozens of climate activists gathered in Rep. Frank Pallone’s (D-NJ) office on Friday morning to urge him to support a massive national mobilization to transition the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy while creating green jobs and infrastructure.
Borrowing from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is pushing a “Green New Deal.” As part of the ambitious plan, the soon-to-be congresswoman has introduced a resolution that would create a select committee specifically empowered to draft “Green New Deal” legislation to mandate 100 percent green energy in 10 years.
The demonstrators, organized by the Sunrise Movement, targeted Pallone, because he is expected to take over as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has broad legislative jurisdiction, including over environmental, climate, and energy issues.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, joined Pallone in his office to meet with the demonstrators.
Varshini Prakash, founder of the Sunrise Movement, told reporters outside Pallone’s office that she believes the two Democratic members of Congress truly care about the climate crisis.
“But frankly, these folks have been trying to do something about the climate crisis for longer than we’ve even been alive on this planet,” Prakash said. “It’s absurd that people like Frank Pallone would try to stall progress or kill the best and only shot we have right now of actually tackling the climate crisis at the scale and scope that science demands as laid out in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution.”
The Sunrise Movement is a campaign of young people formed in 2017 to make climate change an urgent policy priority for politicians and other policymakers. Earlier this week, on Tuesday, a larger group of Sunrise activists converged on the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA) to urge the House Democratic leader to advocate for aggressive climate legislation that would create jobs and address the climate crisis.
About 50 protesters were arrested at the sit-in at Pelosi’s office for “unlawfully demonstrating” in the House Cannon Office Building, according to the Capitol Police. None of the demonstrators who entered Pallone’s office on Friday were arrested.
Pallone, who has served in the House since 1988, told the group of demonstrators that he agrees with the “basic outlines” of Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal. But the long-time New Jersey congressman said he will not back the resolution calling for a committee to push through a Green New Deal.
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) November 13, 2018
The creation of a new committee with jurisdiction over climate change would add another layer of bureaucracy that could delay the drafting of climate legislation, Pallone told the demonstrators.
Eshoo, a member of Congress since 1993, explained to the demonstrators jammed into Pallone’s office that she agreed with their goals. “I don’t think you realize you’re preaching to the choir, but it’s music to my ears,” she said.
Pallone was asked numerous times to take the no fossil fuel money pledge. Taking the pledge means that a politician and their campaign will adopt a policy to not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 from the PACs, executives, or front groups of fossil fuel companies — companies whose primary business is the extraction, processing, distribution, or sale of oil, gas, or coal.
The congressman declined to take the pledge and questioned how the activists characterized some of his political donations.
Pallone has taken in about $20,000 from oil and gas PACs and about $100,000 from utilities in 2017 and 2019, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
“I’m feeling frustrated that we asked him over a dozen times to take the no-fossil fuel money pledge and he flat-out refused,” Prakash said.
The Sunrise Movement plans to stay active in Washington pushing for the passage of a comprehensive climate bill, similar to the Green New Deal, over the next two years.
“We need to lay the groundwork now. We have 12 years, as laid about the U.N. climate report to radically transform society and our economy to stop the climate crisis,” Prakash said. “If we delay another two years to even draft the plans and start to build the political will and public consensus around the solutions, we will be well behind our timeline and that’s a death sentence for our generation.”