Proposed Green New Deal Fails to Include Moratorium on Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Interview with Anthony Rogers-Wright, board member of the Center for Sustainable Economy, conducted by Scott Harris

In the months before and after the November 2018 mid-term election, discussion and debate on the Green New Deal has drawn attention to the climate crisis, while offering a set of bold policy prescriptions to address climate change. The non-binding joint resolution sponsored by Democratic rising star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D- New York, and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachussetts, lays out a plan for a decade-long mobilization to transform the U.S. economy and move to a carbon-free energy future. 
The resolution’s preamble states that America is in the midst of two crises, a climate crisis and an economic crisis of rising inequality. To address the climate crisis, the resolution spells out five goals, 14 projects, and 15 requirements.The measure aims to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, revitalize energy systems, retrofit buildings, and restore ecosystems. As the Green New Deal reduces green house gas emissions, water and air pollution, it’s sponsors say it would also create millions of new “family-sustaining” jobs. Those benefits would go first to working class families and communities of color that have been losing ground as economic disparity has increased.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Anthony Rogers-Wright, a board member with the Center for Sustainable Economy, who assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed federal Green New Deal resolution, with a focus on the need to halt the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

ANTHONY ROGERS-WRIGHT: First and foremost, you know, kudos to the activists and the organizers on the ground, who, you know, pushed for this and they’ve gotten it to the point that it’s at. It’s also important for people to understand that what was introduced by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as well as Sen. Markey is not policy. It’s not a bill as much as it’s a resolution and a very bold and forward-thinking mission statement. And that’s not to diminish the need for a very bold mission statement coming from people’s government as it pertains to a addressing the climate crisis, which of course is a quintessential threat not just to the United States, but the entire world. But it’s just for people to understand that even if, you know, the president saw the light and did sign it, you know it would still be equivalent, if you will, to the Paris Climate Accords, which are not legally enforceable.

At the same time, you know, there are some issues with it in that it did leave out mention of specifically, getting the country off of fossil fuels altogether. And it also left the door open for potentially the use of nuclear energy, as the language of the resolution really just focuses on net zero emissions rates. And, the problem with that is that it opens the door up for the concept or the idea of the Green New Deal to be co-opted. For instance, in my home state – I live in Seattle now, but I grew up in New York City – in my home state, Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo just introduced his version of the Green New Deal, which does in fact include the use of nuclear power. So you can see that we’re already having a bit of an issue on what the overarching paradigm is as to “Hey, this would qualify as a Green New Deal” and “This is set of policies would not.”

So I think that what this is really opening the door to is something that I’ve actually been advocating for as it pertains to climate policy in general, is that this is really going to have to be a bottom-up process led by local grassroots organizing, especially groups representing frontline communities like the Climate Justice Alliance, like Got Green in Seattle, Front and Centered in Seattle, OPAL in Portland, (Oregon) and other frontline groups throughout the country. And, I think that that’s a really, really good thing because I think the people do have a lot more power at the local level. Like, like for instance, I wrote a letter to my governor, Jay Inslee about my concerns with his leadership on climate change. And wouldn’t you know it, I have a meeting with him this Friday morning as a result.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Anthony, in the Green New Deal resolution as it’s proposed, is there an explicit call for a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure? In other words, things like new natural gas pipelines, fracking and all the rest. Is there an explicit call to end the public investment into these infrastructure projects which will last another generation.

ANTHONY ROGERS-WRIGHT: Right. No, there is not. And that is why while it’s being applauded by amazing groups like the Climate Justice Alliance, which includes the Indigenous Environmental Network, who both said that this framework overall is very, very good. Yet, we are very concerned about the fact that it is not calling for this outright moratorium by “X” amount of time of fossil fuel infrastructure.

And this is a completely different than two better – I don’t want to say better than the Green New Deal – but two of the better climate policies that have been released in so many years. A senator in Oregon right now as a matter of fact, Jeff Merkley’s 100 by ’50 Act which did call for a fossil fuel moratorium by 2050 and then, of course, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who is now running for president – her Off Fossil Fuels (For a Better Future) Act calls for a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure even sooner.

And this is really important because I’m seeing the organization I’m on the board, as well as their sister organization Center for Sustainable Economy. One of our strategies for really addressing this is fossil fuel risk bonds, which we’re hoping would be so expensive that people would just not bother with constructing and trying to permit new fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as an outright fossil fuel moratorium similar to what was passed, as I said previously in Portland, Oregon and more recently in King County, Washington.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Anthony, I did want to ask you about what has been accomplished by your organization in King County, Washington. Tell us a bit about the fossil fuel moratorium that you and your organization were able to pass there and its immediate and long-term effects.

ANTHONY ROGERS-WRIGHT: In terms of what we accomplished in King County – amazing local organizing groups like 350 Seattle, as well as groups like Front and Centered and Got Green. What happened was that we were able to get county votes for a six- month moratorium and within that six months to take part and commence studies. It’s limited in scope to some extent and it certainly also gives people time to keep organizing and to keep the pressure on to their county commissioners while also sending a message to other counties in Washington state so hopefully they’ll fall suit.

For more information on the Center for Sustainable Economy, visit sustainable-economy.org.

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