Since presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday announced Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, green groups have responded by welcoming the choice and expressing hope that the California Democrat will push for ambitious, justice-focused climate and environmental policies if they win in November.
As a 2020 presidential primary candidate until late last year, Harris "showed her responsiveness to activist and movement pressure to make climate a top priority, and demonstrated her willingness to be held accountable," Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash said Tuesday. "She took our No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, ran on the Green New Deal as a core part of her platform, and mentioned it more in the presidential debates than almost any other candidate."
Harris was an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, a resolution introduced in February 2019 by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) that calls for creating a 100% renewable U.S. energy system along with millions of jobs. She also signed on to a resolution urging Congress to declare a climate emergency and initiate a major mobilization in response to it.
Noting that Harris is a sponsor of that latter resolution, Matt Renner of the Climate Mobilization said that "her addition to this ticket is a good first step toward the future that the people are demanding, and serves as an opportunity to continue to push the Democratic Party toward emergency climate mobilization."
Last week, @RepAOC and I introduced the Climate Equity Act, comprehensive legislation that addresses the realities of environmental and climate injustice in our country. Justice and equity must be at the forefront of combating the climate crisis. https://t.co/vG86M8Kp6j
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) August 11, 2020
The Climate Equity Act "demonstrates her willingness to tackle environmental and racial injustice head on and we applaud her prioritization of communities most impacted by the climate crisis," said 350 Action North America director Tamara Toles O'Laughlin. "We're confident that Harris' stated commitments to climate action means that she will work with Biden to implement a Green New Deal that prioritizes Black, Indigenous, and communities of color and builds in a just transition that phases out fossil fuels by 2021 for our health and safety."
Greenpeace USA climate campaigner Charlie Jiang declared that "the Biden-Harris administration must take transformative action from day one to advance a Green New Deal and end the era of fossil fuels."
"The baseline for ambitious climate action has shifted dramatically for Democrats over the past year—it will be up to both Biden and Harris to move beyond false solutions like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and tackle social, environmental, and economic injustice at their roots," he said. "The evolution of Senator Harris' climate platform as a presidential candidate speaks to her commitment to holding big polluters accountable for their role in the climate crisis."
Jiang, whose group ranked Harris one spot above Biden in its 2020 primary climate scorecard, added that "we hope to see her continue this pursuit of climate justice for vulnerable communities as a vice presidential nominee and double down on ending fossil fuel production in the United States and around the world."
"Notably, she was one of the first candidates to publicly commit to abolishing the filibuster in order to make a Green New Deal the law of the land," Prakash said of Harris. "She took on Big Oil as California Attorney General, has consistently shown a strong record on ensuring environmental justice for Black, Brown, and poor communities, and has worked together with frontline communities, environmental justice organizations, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez over the course of the last year to develop legislation that would ensure Green New Deal investments benefit and prioritize those communities."
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Prakash also acknowledged concerns about Harris' past as a prosecutor, for which she faced criticism even before the latest wave of protests demanding systemic reforms to address how the U.S. criminal justice system impacts people of color:
Over the past few months, our country has had a reckoning over issues of policing and racial justice, and our movement has taken to the streets alongside allies demanding transformative change. As a young Indian-American woman, I am holding the significance of this moment to see the first mixed-race Black and Indian woman on a presidential ticket. I'm also deeply aware of Sen. Harris' record as a prosecutor and the ways in which a number of her decisions harmed communities of color, which our movement has spoken out about in the past and will continue to. We hope that she has learned from her past mistakes and continues listening to the activists who have taken to the streets as she has joined alongside them.
While praising Harris for showing "a solid understanding of the scale of the climate crisis" and committing to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable, Toles O'Laughlin concurred that "as the contest unfolds, Harris has work to do to prove her support for the movement for Black lives, considering her record on police and prosecutorial misconduct. We need leaders who are ready to address the compound crisis of climate, racial injustice, economic inequity, and human health."
Given that Harris "has been known to be somewhat of a political chameleon" with a "habit of aligning her stance with the prevailing political winds," climate action advocates hope she will respond positively to political pressure for progressive policies. The impact of the planetary emergency on her home state of California, which Harris has previously discussed, could also compel her to act.
Harris "has come up against the effects of climate change firsthand in California, where wildfires, rising sea levels, and drought are near-constant sources of concern," Grist reported Tuesday. "As a result, her state has become a leader of the charge to tackle rising emissions in the United States. Let's hope Harris brings a little bit of that urgency to the ticket."
Today, we've got lots of environmental groups celebrating this choice. I think with VP Harris, we will see a big focus on environmental justice and accountability for polluters. And that sounds good to me!https://t.co/Mh0mNcUWSJ
— Leah Stokes (@leahstokes) August 12, 2020
Biden—who is expected to formally accept the nomination to take on President Donald Trump next week—recently put forth a $2 trillion green energy plan that progressives celebrated as a "major step forward" and a signal that he is responding to calls for bolder climate policies from activists and Democratic voters who backed Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the primary race.
"Meanwhile, Trump's climate policies are a raging dumpster fire," said Jiang of Greenpeace. "Communities across the United States are reeling from the compounding crises of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. But instead of taking action to prevent further suffering, Trump and his cabinet are bending over backwards to bail out fossil fuel CEOs."
Sunrise's Prakash vowed that "our movement remains committed to defeating Trump and Pence this November and hope to hold her accountable in office—just like we will with Joe Biden."
"Let's do our part to end this era of chaos and defeat Republicans up and down the ballot," she said. "Then, let's turn up to make a Biden-Harris administration lay the groundwork for a Green New Deal."