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Participant holding a sign at a climate march in Manhattan on September 20, 2020. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'Now Is the Moment to Deliver': Sunrise Movement Says Biden Climate Ambitions Require Abolition of Senate Filibuster

"Our generation will not accept any excuses for delay or inaction on delivering historic legislation to build back better."

Jake Johnson

Applauding President Joe Biden's newly announced executive actions as "a historic step forward" in the fight against the climate crisis, the youth-led Sunrise Movement on Wednesday said the Democratic Party must use its unified control of the federal government to go further with bold legislation that invests massively in clean energy, creates millions of good-paying jobs, and ensures a speedy and just transition away from planet-destroying fossil fuels.

And such sweeping legislation will only be possible, Sunrise argued, if Democrats swiftly move to eliminate the legislative filibuster.

"Today makes clear that President Biden hears our generation's demands loud and clear, understands the power of our movement, and is serious about using executive power to deliver on his campaign promises," Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash said in a statement celebrating the wave of climate-related executive orders Biden is expected to sign Wednesday afternoon.

"Democrats have a majority in the House, Senate, and a president ready to take action. Now is the moment to deliver transformative change for the American people."
—Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement

According to a fact-sheet released by the White House Wednesday morning, the batch of orders will—among other things—include a pause on all new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters, official establishment of the Office of Domestic Climate Policy and National Climate Task Force, and a directive mandating that federal agencies eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and "identify new opportunities to spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies."

While green groups nationwide applauded the measures and what they broadly signal, Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, said in a statement that Biden's orders fall well short of what's needed and "must be paired with serious plans to stop our deadly addiction to fossil fuels."

"We need a White House that is committed to stopping all drilling and fracking, and shutting down any schemes to export fossil fuels," said Jones.

Prakash also stressed the need for further action, declaring that "today must just be the beginning" of the administration's efforts.

"Our generation," she warned, "will not accept any excuses for delay or inaction on delivering historic legislation to build back better, creating millions of good jobs investing in clean energy, communities, and sustainable infrastructure."

"We have no time to waste," said Prakash. "The climate crisis, compounded by the pandemic, racial injustice, and decades of Republican obstruction and destructive policies, demands that we make up for lost time to match the scale and urgency of this moment. Democrats have a majority in the House, Senate, and a president ready to take action. Now is the moment to deliver transformative change for the American people."

Specifically, Prakash implored Senate Democrats to move quickly to eliminate the legislative filibuster, an archaic 60-vote rule that effectively gives the Republican minority veto power over much of Biden's climate agenda.

Though significant climate-related spending—such as the investments in green infrastructure that Biden and Democratic lawmakers have promised—can be approved through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process, the rules governing that procedural tool would prevent passage of key regulatory changes such as a binding clean energy requirement and other priorities.

Vox's David Roberts wrote last year that "to truly pass a complete climate policy, the kind appropriate to the challenge, Democrats... would have to stretch the reconciliation process well beyond its traditional bounds."

"Even if they were willing to do that, it's not going to result in particularly good policy," Roberts argued. "The filibuster needs to go. In a modern society, the majority needs to be able to legislate."

Prakash echoed that argument Wednesday, urging Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to "push to abolish the Senate filibuster to ensure the will of the people and deliver needed economic relief and transformation."

Biden and Schumer have both voiced openness to eliminating the filibuster, but to do so they would have to win over recalcitrant defenders of the filibuster such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who both reiterated their commitment to keeping the filibuster intact earlier this week.

Writing for the Arizona Mirror earlier this week, Sunrise Movement Tempe member Emily Kirkland warned that "as long as the filibuster remains in place, Democrats are stuck."

"We are facing a moment of peril almost unparalleled in modern history: hundreds of thousands have died from Covid-19, unemployment is at record levels, and urgent action is needed on racial justice, immigration, climate change, inequality, and other long-simmering crises," Kirkland wrote. "With a trifecta in Washington, D.C., Democrats have the opportunity to pass popular, common sense policies to meet this moment and improve the lives of millions."

"They should abolish the filibuster and get to work," Kirkland added.

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