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'Underwhelming and Inadequate': Green Groups Slam New Senate Democrats' Climate Report

The Green New Deal is mentioned only once in the 263-page report—in the footnotes. 

Sunrise Movement activists gathered at the U.S. Capitol for the D.C. Climate Strike on September 20, 2019 call for a Green New Deal. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr Creative Commons)

Youth climate activists with the group Sunrise Movement call for a Green New Deal at the U.S. Captitol in Washington, D.C. during the D.C. Climate Strike on September 20, 2019. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr Creative Commons) 

A climate action report released Tuesday by Senate Democrats drew disappointed reactions from green groups and progressive campaigners who say it does not do nearly enough to combat the potentially existential threat of catastrophic global heating caused by human activity. 

The report—titled "The Case for Climate Action: Building a Clean Economy for the American People" (pdf)—was authored by 10 Democratic senators, including Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced a Green New Deal resolution in Congress last year. However, the 263-page plan mentions the Green New Deal only once—as a footnote on Page 228.

In March 2019, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) launched the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis to study the impact of climate change and devise a strategy to mitigate its damage.

The newly-released report, which is the result of dozens of hearings and closed-door meetings, calls on the government to spend over $400 billion annually with the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. It also aims to create at least 10 million new U.S. jobs in clean energy manufacturing, research, and development, while reforming lobbying laws to curtail the outsize influence of the fossil fuel industry. 

According to the report, the price tag of the plan is equal to about 2% of U.S. gross domestic product. It claims that at least 40% of the benefits from these investments will "help communities of color and low-income, de-industrialized, and disadvantaged communities." 

"We have the opportunity to build more and better jobs for the American people, jobs that'll help re-stimulate the economy and aid in our transition to clean energy," Sen. Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. "When Democrats retake the majority in the Senate, we will unify to move swiftly on legislation to tackle the climate crisis," he added. "Passing climate legislation will be a top priority for Senate Democrats and me." 

However, climate activists blasted the report as woefully inadequate to deal with what is arguably the greatest threat facing humanity today. 

"[The plan] completes a trifecta of underwhelming and inadequate proposals from Democratic leadership." —Mitch Jones, Food & Water Action 

Mitch Jones, director of policy for Food & Water Action, said in a statement that the report "completes a trifecta of underwhelming and inadequate proposals from Democratic leadership," adding that the plan "relies on false solutions designed to placate the oil and gas lobby." 

"Further, it fails to address the vital need to end the extraction, processing, and burning of fossil fuels, and instead sees a future for fossil fuels tied to the false promise of carbon capture," Jones said. "It even fails to include a call to ban new fossil fuel extraction on public lands, a position that was endorsed by vitrually all candidates in the Democratic presidential primary." 

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Brett Hartl, director of government affairs at the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona-based nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered species, called the Democrats' plan "weak." 

"By ignoring fossil fuel extraction and the urgent need to slash planet-warming emissions 50% by 2030, Senate Democrats have utterly failed to make the case for climate action," Hartl said in an email to Common Dreams. "If these weak recommendations are turned into law, future generations will know that the desire to please a few special-interest polluters left them with a devastated planet." 

"We need strong action now to curb drilling and fracking and move quickly toward cleaner forms of energy" Hartl added. 

"Strong action now," at least on paper, is being promised in Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's recently-unveiled climate plan, which proposes $2 trillion be spent over the next four years boosting clean energy in the transportation, power and building sectors as part of an ambitious economic recovery plan.

The proposal by the former vice president—who served in an administration that promoted fracking at home and abroad and was itself assailed for not doing enough in the face of the growing climate threat—has drawn praise from some activists and climate-minded political leaders. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who made climate change the central focus of his failed 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, called Biden's plan "visionary." 

"This is no status quo plan," Inslee told the New York Times last month. "It is comprehensive. This is not some sort of, 'Let me just throw a bone to those who care about climate change.'" 

Biden's plan stands in stark contrast with the policies of the Trump administration, which earlier this month finalized plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—one of the largest intact unspoiled wildernesses on the planet and home to indigenous peoples who rely upon the healthy ecosystem for their physical and spiritual survival—to oil and gas development.

During Trump's tenure, the U.S. has become the world's largest crude oil producer, a position it had not held since 1973. 

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