The Democratic leadership have selected Rep. Kathy Castor to chair a select committee on climate change they're planning to revive once the 116th Congress comes in session. The move all but ended the push by environmental activists and progressive darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to create a select committee on the Green New Deal, an ambitious reform that seeks to tackle climate change and income inequality in the next decade.
But despite the setback, it's unlikely this is the last we will hear of the Green New Deal. In fact, it seems that the policy proposal and the issue of climate change as a whole will continue to be a major talking point.
Ocasio-Cortez, the congresswoman-elect of New York's 14th District, made a bold move when she joined a sit-in environmental protest outside of the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi last month. The action, organized by the environmental youth organization Sunrise Movement, called for the presumptive House Speaker to create the Green New Deal's select committee. Immediately, the proposal became part of a mainstream debate. In the past month, 43 members of Congress have joined the freshman congresswoman in supporting the plan, including some lawmakers likely to be 2020 presidential hopefuls. Last week, more than 300 local and state officials across the U.S. also got involved and called for the proposal to be considered.
The last month has not only proven a change in how much political will there is to tackle climate change. According to a poll released Monday, a staggering 81% of registered voters said they are supportive of the general policies outlined in the Green New Deal, including the transition to using 100% clean energy in the country and providing training for green jobs. Per the survey, the proposal has the support of 92% Democrats, 88% Independents, and 64% Republicans.
"The entire conversation about climate politics in America has shifted," Varshini Prakash, co-founder of Sunrise Movement, told Refinery29. "Rather than discussing half-measures, politicians and the people alike are grappling with the true scope of the [climate change] crisis and what it takes to combat it."
One of the main elements of the Green New Deal was the creation of the select committee. This working group, comprised by 15 members both Republican and Democratic, would have one year to draft a climate change and income inequality reform. Activists called for members of the committee to be barred from taking campaign donations from oil and gas companies. They argued this stipulation would prevent the legislation from being watered down by outside interests.
But the Democratic leadership chose instead to revive a dormant U.S. House select committee on climate change, tapping Rep. Castor as the leader. The ban on campaign contributions specifically ruffled weathers among some representatives. Castor, a six-term congresswoman, told E&E News the issue with that stipulation is that "I don’t think you can do that under the First Amendment, really." Inadvertently or not, the Florida representative echoed the reasoning used by multinational oil and gas corporation Exxon Mobil Corp. in court when it defended funding right-wing think tanks that churn misinformation and denials about climate change on purpose. Castor also told E&E News that while she believes in some of the components of the Green New Deal, the proposal would not be the only focus of the committee.
But Prakash said that despite the setback, activists will continue to push for the Green New Deal and policies to fight the climate change crisis. "Thousands have taken action in recent weeks, tens of thousands have joined our growing youth movement, over a hundred new Sunrise chapters have launched in towns and cities across America, and dozens of politicians have backed policies like a green jobs guarantee, and a move to a 100% renewable energy future that leaves no community behind," she said. "We always knew the Select Committee would be a long shot. But the road to the Green New Deal doesn't start and end in Washington, D.C. The organizing continues into 2019."
On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez stressed the urgency of passing reform that addresses climate change and income inequality. She added that Democrats "shouldn't be afraid to lead" when it came to taking a stance against letting the members of the committee take fossil fuel money.
"We don’t have time to sit on our hands as our planet burns," she said. "For young people, climate change is bigger than election or re-election. It’s life or death."