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Sunrise Movement: Pelosi’s Actions on Climate Fall Woefully & Inexcusably Short of What We Need

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing criticism from some climate activists for failing to back a Green New Deal. Last week Pelosi announced the formation of a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, headed by long-standing Florida Congressmember Kathy Castor. But the committee is far weaker than what backers of a Green New Deal had envisioned. The committee will not have subpoena power or the power to draft legislation. We speak with Varshini Prakash, founder of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group that has occupied and lobbied at congressional offices, risking arrest to demand adoption of the Green New Deal and bold climate leadership.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing criticism from some climate activists for failing to back a Green New Deal. Last week, Pelosi announced the formation of a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, headed by long-standing Florida Congressmember Kathy Castor. But the committee is far weaker than what backers of a Green New Deal had envisioned. The committee will not have subpoena power or the power to draft legislation. One of the most prominent backers of the Green New Deal has been newly sworn-in New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. On Sunday, she was interviewed on 60 Minutes by Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER: You’re talking about zero carbon emissions, no use of fossil fuels, within 12 years?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: That is the goal. It’s ambitious. And—

ANDERSON COOPER: How is that possible? Are you talking about everybody having to drive an electric car?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It’s going to require a lot of rapid change that we don’t even conceive as possible right now. What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?

ANDERSON COOPER: This would require, though, raising taxes.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: There’s an element where, yeah, people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes.

ANDERSON COOPER: Do you have a specific on the tax rate?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, you look at our tax rates back in the '60s, and when you have a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, you know, let's say, from zero to $75,000 may be 10 percent or 15 percent, etc. But once you get to like the tippy tops, on your 10 millionth dollar, sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Boston, where we’re joined by Varshini Prakash. She’s founder of Sunrise Movement, the youth-led climate group that’s occupied and lobbied at congressional offices, including Nancy Pelosi’s last month, with the woman we just heard, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. People risked arrest to demand adoption of the Green New Deal and bold climate leadership.

Varshini Prakash, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what has been proposed. You know, when Nancy Pelosi did that historic gaveling-in, with the children and grandchildren of congressmembers, as well as her own, in her speech she called out the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. What do you think works about that committee, and what are you disappointed by?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Sure. Well, what we saw last week was—we were very glad to see that Nancy Pelosi mentioned the climate crisis in her address, but calling it a crisis and an existential threat and treating it like one are two very different things. So, essentially, Nancy Pelosi is reviving a 10-year-old committee, the Select Committee for the Climate Crisis, but we find that it’s actually woefully and inexcusably short—falls short of what we need in this moment in terms of climate ambition in this crucial juncture in history.

Namely, it falls short in three ways, some of which you already mentioned. It doesn’t include anything about creating a draft, sort of a blueprint, for a plan for a Green New Deal over the next year, ahead of the next presidential election. It doesn’t include any provision that actually bars people who are taking money from oil and gas executives and lobbyists, who are jeopardizing my generation’s future, from sitting on the committee, something that, frankly, we find to be a conflict of interest. And thirdly, it doesn’t include any power to subpoena, which actually renders this committee less powerful than the one we had even a decade ago.

So we were feeling really disappointed that Nancy Pelosi had failed to follow the leadership of the 45 members of Congress, including some of the freshest faces of the Democratic Party—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Joe Neguse, so many more—in calling for a select committee for a Green New Deal. And we’ve seen the hurricanes get bigger. We’ve seen fires level entire cities and towns. We’ve seen people struggling to breathe clean air and drink fresh water, fresh and clean water, and are not seeing the Democratic Party step up with the level of climate ambition that we actually need, that has been mandated by U.N. climate scientists.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Congressmember Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “In DC + even in our own party, it’s apparently too controversial to ask that we keep oil+gas co’s away from enviro policy.” Your response, Varshini?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Absolutely. I mean, putting somebody who takes oil and gas money on a committee to stop the climate crisis is akin to pouring oil on a fire and expecting to put it out. We’re talking about a fundamental conflict of interest. People who are taking money from the corporations and individuals who have spent the last 50 years misinforming the public on the science, misleading the public on the science willfully, and buying out politicians on both sides of the aisles—for sure the GOP, but also a large number of Democrats—should not be having a seat at the table in crafting and holding these public hearings and informing the public about the severity of the crisis and building the consensus around the solutions to do it. We’d be hard-pressed to really support somebody to sit on this committee who hasn’t taken the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, which is why we have been acting—why we have pushed and been pushing for Representative Kathy Castor to take the pledge.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you want Congressmember Ocasio-Cortez to head this committee?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Sure. We definitely think it would be a positive if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were able to participate and push this committee in some way. But frankly, we are seeing that our options, through institutional means, through this committee, are not really going to happen in the ways that we wanted. So we’re actually looking at not just pushing this Select Committee on a Climate Crisis to be better and push for the real solutions to the climate crisis, what U.N. climate scientists are saying unprecedented levels of change to our economy and our society over the next 12 years; we actually are realizing that need to take this fight to a Green New Deal beyond the Beltway and to the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: Pelosi’s office said they’d meet with you. Have they?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Yes, we met with them prior to the announcement about the select committee.

AMY GOODMAN: And what came out of that discussion?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Well, largely, they said they were supportive of our aims, and then created the Select Committee for a Climate Crisis. So it feels a little bit—a bit of a contradiction to say that they’re on our same page but not to include any of the clear demands and provisions that we had asked for previously. It’s clear that the Select Committee for the Climate Crisis is largely going to be a number of public hearings or information gathering. And, frankly, the time to raise awareness about the crisis is over.

And at this point in history, we need to start developing the plans to actually confront the crisis and lay the groundwork. We’re clear that we’re not going to be able to ramrod legislation through in the 116th Congress. That’s obvious, with a Trump administration that is completely bought and sold by fossil fuel executives and a climate-denying Senate. But we can start to lay the groundwork in these next two years for what an actual plan might look like. And that is an opportunity that Democrats are missing right now.

AMY GOODMAN: You did not get your demand for fossil fuel-funded lawmakers not to serve on the committee. Will you protest those or highlight those that are chosen for this committee?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Well, we definitely—

AMY GOODMAN: Will you ask that they stop accepting that money?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Absolutely. I think we will ask every single member on this committee to reject oil and gas contributions, oil and gas executive and lobbyist contributions, and prioritize the health and well-being of our democracy, our society and our climate instead.

AMY GOODMAN: Varshini Prakash, I want to thank you for being with us, founder of the Sunrise Movement, speaking to us from Boston.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at a stunning six-part documentary series that is just airing on Showtime called—that’s just airing on Lifetime called Surviving R. Kelly. Stay with us.

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