Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday accepted an invitation to tour a coal mine and meet with voters in Kentucky—taking advantage of an opportunity to engage with some of the Americans who could benefit most from a Green New Deal.
The invitation came from Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus who asked the New York Democrat to visit his district after she gave an impassioned speech in the House, blasting Republicans and centrists for dismissing the Green New Deal legislation that she is sponsoring as a proposal that would benefit only large coastal cities.
"Failure to plan is planning to fail and I feel like we've been failing Appalachian communities for a very long time, and it's time to turn that ship around." —Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)Barr, who wants the U.S. to continue to mine for coal even though it has become more expensive than solar and wind power, asked Ocasio-Cortez to "go underground" with him and talk to people in mining communities.
Ocasio-Cortez told McClatchy Wednesday that her staff is now arranging the visit, adding that the struggles of people in towns which have in the past relied on coal mines as major economic drivers are "very close to [her] heart."
"Folks may not think of that because I'm from the Bronx, but my family in Puerto Rico was a rural family too. I understand some of the challenges," said the congresswoman.
Ocasio-Cortez indicated she would use the opportunity to speak with Kentucky residents about how their lives and futures could be positively affected by the Green New Deal. The plan would include a federal jobs guarantee as Americans, including former fossil fuel sector workers, build a new sustainable energy infrastructure aimed at shifting to 100 percent renewable energy within ten years.
The new green energy economy would end a long era in which coal, oil, and gas companies have polluted drinking water and air, sent carbon emissions into the atmosphere and contributed to the climate crisis, and threatened public health all over the world, including in Appalachia, where many coal companies are based and where coal extraction has been linked to high rates of cancer and black lung disease.
"It's a complete injustice the cancer levels that a lot of these communities are confronting," Ocasio-Cortez told McClatchy. "We have to plan a future for all of our communities, no matter what. Failure to plan is planning to fail and I feel like we've been failing Appalachian communities for a very long time and it's time to turn that ship around."
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Some Kentucky residents extended a welcome to Ocasio-Cortez on social media ahead of the planned visit.
Dear @AOC, thanks for jumping at the chance to come to Kentucky to visit a coal mine with the congressperson who currently represents me. Many of us in Kentucky are glad to see you rise as a leader, and a voice for poor people. You are giving us hope!
— Ray Arnold (@raymondarnold17) March 28, 2019
@AOC We'll give you a tour of a coal mine and introduce you to miners suffering from black lung disease in Southeast Kentucky. We fight for justice in the coalfields by protecting local communities from the legacy costs of coal mining. Join us! #RECLAIMAct https://t.co/ynbBqd7Xt0
— Appalachian Citizens' Law Center (@AppCitizensLaw) March 27, 2019
— Brenton Ward (@brentondanger) March 27, 2019
@AOC You don’t have to go underground to sample a coal mine. Go live in the community for 6 months. Your curtains and furniture will be black. Your lungs will be full of soot (at the least harmful). When you sneeze - also black. I know. #GreenNewDeal
— Carol Warren (@WarrenSonam60) March 27, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez has fought criticism from centrists in her own party and Republicans since her surprise victory in the Democratic primary for New York's 14th congressional district last June, with critics claiming her outspoken embrace of a democratic socialist agenda, including the Green New Deal, appeals only to so-called "elites" in major cities.
"Where there are working-class people," Ocasio-Cortez told a crowd of 4,000 Kansans at the time, "there is hope for the progressive movement."