Former Vice President Joe Biden is facing scrutiny after being questioned about his relationship with the fossil fuel industry at CNN’s town hall on the climate crisis Wednesday. An audience member asked Biden about his plans to attend a fundraiser hosted by fossil fuel executive Andrew Goldman the day after the town hall, despite taking a pledge to reject oil and gas money. Biden initially denied Goldman’s ties to the fossil fuel industry, despite Goldman co-founding a natural gas company called Western LNG. When pressed by Anderson Cooper, Biden said he would look into the matter further. We host a roundtable with Mustafa Ali, former head of the environmental justice program at the Environmental Protection Agency; journalist Kate Aronoff; and Mattias Lehman, digital director at Sunrise Movement.
More from this Interview
- Part 1: Last Night, Biden Touted His Climate Plan. Tonight, He’ll Attend a Fossil Fuel Exec’s Fundraiser.
- Part 2: Climate Crisis: Should U.S. Nationalize Fossil Fuel Industry? Warren Says No, Sanders Says Yes.
- Part 3: After DNC Rejects Climate Debate, Candidates Discuss Green New Deal, Environmental Justice at Forum
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ten Democratic presidential hopefuls took to the stage in New York City Wednesday night for a climate town hall hosted by CNN. The event was held less than two weeks after the Democratic National Committee rejected a resolution that would have allowed candidates to participate in a debate focused on the climate crisis. For months, the Sunrise Movement and other environmental groups pushed the DNC to hold a climate debate, but the party refused.
AMY GOODMAN: At Wednesday’s event, each candidate appeared on stage alone and took questions from CNN hosts and the audience. Several candidates, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, voiced their support for the Green New Deal.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: It’s about a new deal for people who work. It’s about justice for people whose communities have been destroyed. It’s about racial justice on environmental issues. It’s about worker justice.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: At the CNN climate town hall, Senator Bernie Sanders called for the nation to rethink its spending priorities.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Maybe, just maybe, instead of spending a trillion-and-a-half dollars every single year on weapons of destruction designed to kill each other, maybe we pool those resources and we work together against our common enemy, which is climate change.
AMY GOODMAN: Just hours before the town hall, The Intercept reported former Vice President Joe Biden was planning to attend a high-dollar fundraiser tonight in New York by the founder of a fossil fuel company. During the town hall, Isaac Larkin, a 27-year-old Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern, asked Biden about this.
ISAAC LARKIN: I know that you signed a “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge. But I have to ask: How can we trust you to hold these corporations and executives accountable for their crimes against humanity, when we know that tomorrow you are holding a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by Andrew Goldman, a fossil fuel executive?
JOE BIDEN: He is not a fossil fuel executive, I’m told. He is not a fossil fuel executive. And the fact of the matter is that what we talk about is: What are we going to do about those corporations? What have we done? And everywhere along the way — for example, I’ve argued and pushed for us suing those executives who are engaged in pollution, those companies who are engaged in pollution. I’ve never walked away from that.
AMY GOODMAN: Later in the town hall, CNN host Anderson Cooper brought up the same issue.
ANDERSON COOPER: Mr. Vice President, Isaac earlier mentioned that the fundraiser — I do want to clarify, Andrew Goldman, the guy who’s one of the co-sponsors of the fundraiser, he had a company called — he was co-founder of a company called Western LNG. He currently doesn’t have day-to-day responsibilities.
JOE BIDEN: What I was told by my staff is that he did not have any responsibility relating to the company. He was not on the board. He was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all. But if that turns out to be true, then I will not in any way accept his help. But my point of the fact is that — the point I was told by my staff. And we check every single contribution. That’s why we don’t send — we don’t list them immediately. We go through every contribution to make sure that we are not accepting money from people we said we wouldn’t or we shouldn’t.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by three guests. Washington, D.C., Mustafa Ali is with us, the former head of the environmental justice program at the EPA. That’s right, the Environmental Protection Agency. He quit under President Trump. He’s vice president now of the National Wildlife Federation. In Minneapolis, Mattias Lehman is with us, the digital director at the Sunrise Movement. And here in New York, Kate Aronoff, fellow at the Type Media Center, contributing writer to The Intercept, Guardian and Jacobin.
Kate Aronoff, let’s begin with you. The minute — soon after Joe Biden came onto the set and started answering questions, he was asked about this fundraiser he is supposed to be holding tonight here in New York that is hosted by Andrew Goldman. Can you talk more about this, what The Intercept revealed right before and then he was questioned about?
KATE ARONOFF: Yeah. So, as my colleague Akela Lacy at The Intercept reported shortly before the debate, as it seems like Joe Biden may not have been briefed on before, before he took the stage, he is scheduled to go to a fundraiser tonight with Andrew Goldman, who is the co-founder of a company called Western LNG. And so, what the debate ended up being about last night and that Anderson Cooper ended up talking about was whether or not Andrew Goldman is technically in the management of this company.
AMY GOODMAN: In the day-to-day operations.
KATE ARONOFF: In the day-to-day operations. And so, there was some back-and-forth online. And at the end, Anderson Cooper sort of corrected, but, you know, as Splinter dug up and as, I think, my colleagues at The Intercept really sort of affirmed, Andrew Goldman is a co-founder of this company. Just last year, in a filing in Canada, he was listed as among the senior management of the company. I think it would be very hard to argue that Andrew Goldman is not very well bound up in the natural gas industry.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet Joe Biden has taken the “no fossil fuel” pledge. What does that mean? And what was your assessment of last night?
KATE ARONOFF: Yeah. So, he’s taken the “no fossil fuel” pledge. And what groups like Oil Change International and the Sunrise Movement have said, especially Oil Change International, is that, you know, while technically — while Andrew Goldman does not sit on the board, is not in the SEC filings of Western LNG as a fossil fuel executive, the going to a fundraiser with him certainly violates the spirit of the “no fossil fuel” pledge. And so, I think, you know, as long as Joe Biden is splitting hairs about exactly how bound up Andrew Goldman is with the fossil fuel industry, I think that’s pretty clear that this violates the spirit of this pledge.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Mattias Lehman, you’re with the Sunrise Movement, which, of course, has been critical in pushing for a discussion of the climate crisis. And a number of people from the Sunrise Movement students asked questions at the town hall last time. Your response to the town hall, and what you think the most crucial things are that came out of the discussion?
MATTIAS LEHMAN: Yeah, so we see this as a pretty big win for us. It’s not the win we wanted, obviously. It’s not a climate debate. And part of that is evident if you look at how the event was hosted. It actually doesn’t go through the paywall for live TV, like debates do, so lots of people couldn’t watch it, because they don’t have access to, say, a cable network provider. But this is the most we’ve ever talked about climate change on American TV for years, so just ever. We had about six minutes and 23 seconds in 2018, which is less than the royal wedding got. We just got seven hours, in a row, every major presidential candidate talking about this issue. So, we’re superexcited about what this means and what comes next.
But our big takeaway is that when you look at the different candidates on stage, there is room to look at the differences between those candidates, not just in what plans they’re proposing, but, as Buttigieg noted, also just in how they’re going to prioritize pushing them forward. And going back to your Joe Biden point, when we look at prioritization and how we trust candidates to act on climate change, going to a fundraiser the next day with the co-founder of a fossil fuel company is not a good look.
AMY GOODMAN: Mustafa Ali, you are formerly with the EPA. People might refer to the EPA as the EPA that once was. But you quit under President Trump. You’re deeply involved in the environmental justice movement, now vice president of the National Wildlife Federation. Can you talk about what was raised? And particularly talk about how the candidates diverged on how they’ll deal with the fossil fuel industry.
MUSTAFA ALI: Yeah. I mean, I think, as was stated before, you know, it was a good start, but there were a number of areas that we really need to hear much more about, and especially — so, let me start off with saying that, you know, in the first presidential debate that happened, it was like 7,200 seconds, and the words “environmental justice” were never mentioned the first time. The one that we had last night in the town hall, thankfully, there were a handful of candidates who actually said the words and began to play with the surface of what’s going on in frontline communities. So we had some of the basics that were talked about.
There was that conversation around a carbon tax or cap-and-trade. And for frontline communities, cap-and-trade is definitely an issue that brings up some great concerns around hotspots. I also appreciated what we heard from Senator Sanders and Senator Warren around a conversation about a just transition, about making sure that those workers who have been working in dirty industries, that there’s a pathway forward and that it doesn’t have to be a confrontational situation. When we look at the conversations that Mayor Castro had — or, former Secretary Castro had, excuse me, around the need for civil rights legislation to be a part of this process is incredibly important, as well, because what we’ve had on the books to date has not been strong enough to actually protect our most vulnerable communities. When you look at the conversations that Mayor Buttigieg had around the Department of Defense and the military playing a much stronger role in this process, that’s incredibly important also, because the military in the past has not been as transparent with some of the impacts they’ve had in communities, but they also understand, and they put out numerous reports, about the impacts from climate change and how they need to be better preparing for what’s going to happen. So, you know, there were a number of very positive things that were shared, actions that were talked about, but there was not enough conversation about how frontline communities are actually being impacted in a very in-depthful way.
And the other thing, Amy, that I’ll close with is that I’m not sure — and I’ve had conversations with every one of those candidates, some more in-depth than others — that folks are really getting what is being said in the IPCC report, in the National Climate Assessment, because if we’ve had this situation where we literally have a country, the Bahamas, that has literally been devastated, almost wiped off the map, and people are still having conversations around 2050 and 2045 as dates that, you know, are sort of their benchmarks, and we know that there’s 11 years and a few months left before we hit that tipping point, I’m very concerned that folks are not as focused and as serious about pushing a progressive agenda that will help to actually protect our entire planet, but especially our country.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and come back to this discussion. The CNN climate town hall, held in lieu of the DNC holding a climate crisis-focused debate, this was all going down as the Bahamas was devastated by a Category 5 — yes, Category 5, even if President Trump says he’s never heard of a Category 5, and there have been four Category 5 hurricanes during his tenure alone as president. Mustafa Ali with us, former EPA official. Mattias Lehman is joining us, of the Sunrise Movement. And Kate Aronoff is with us, of The Intercept and Jacobin. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer” by Ella Fitzgerald. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue to cover Wednesday’s climate crisis town hall. We turn to Senator Bernie Sanders being questioned by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
ANDERSON COOPER: Would you guarantee to the American public tonight that the responsibility for $16.3 trillion, which is a massive amount of money, wouldn’t end up on taxpayer shoulders?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, it will end up on some taxpayers’ shoulders. If you are in the fossil fuel industry, you’re going to be paying more in taxes. That’s for sure, yeah. And I happen to believe, in general, that at a time when we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality, where the richest three people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of American society, where major profitable corporations, like Amazon, who made over $10 billion in profits last year, didn’t pay a nickel in taxes — am I going to guarantee Jeff Bezos he’s not going to be paying more in taxes? No, I won’t.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bernie Sanders. Again, we’re joined by Kate Aronoff of The Intercept and Jacobin; Mustafa Ali, former EPA official; and Mattias Lehman, from Saint Paul, of the Sunrise Movement. So, there you have Bernie Sanders talking about whether he’d increase taxes. And before that, we played the clip of Sanders talking about, instead of spending a trillion-and-a-half dollars on weapons of mass destruction, we work together against our common enemy, which is climate change. Your response, Kate Aronoff?
KATE ARONOFF: Yeah. I mean, I think what Sanders is rightly pointing out here is that we spend money in a lot of wrong places, right? We spend so much money on fossil fuel subsidies, on the military. And the question that’s been brought up frequently in response to the Green New Deal — “How will you pay for this? These plans are so expensive” — really don’t take into account either that fact, that we’re spending money in these places we just don’t need to be spending money on and are actually actively harmful, and the fact that, you know, what happens if we don’t take on this crisis at the scale it demands, right? As Sanders points out in his Green New Deal plan —
AMY GOODMAN: Sixteen trillion.
KATE ARONOFF: His $16.3 trillion Green New Deal plan — there are many, many trillions of dollars to be lost if we let this crisis sort of go unabated. And so, I think, you know, what he’s rightly pointing out here is that, as well as the fact that there is not sort of a shortage of funds available to fund this transition, right? Both, you know, we have these sort of wrong priorities that the U.S. government is spending money on and the fact that we just can afford this transition, very simply. There’s no sort of constraint on the amount of money we have. There’s a constraint on the amount of resources we have, but that is the main concern, and there should be no expense spared in really going forward full ahead with this transition.