The first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice was held on Friday night in South Carolina. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and former EPA official Mustafa Ali co-moderated the event.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, Tom Steyer, Marianne Williamson, John Delaney and Joe Sestak took part in the forum at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.
The forum — hosted by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and leaders from frontline and tribal communities, civil rights, youth and environmental organizations — included discussion on how presidential hopefuls intend to manage the impacts of the climate crisis on the communities most affected.
AMY GOODMAN: From South Carolina State University here in Orangeburg, this is the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice. I’m Amy Goodman, host of the Democracy Now! news hour. I’ll be co-moderating tonight’s event with Mustafa Santiago Ali, the vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, former official with the Environmental Protection Agency. All candidates were invited to participate tonight. Those presidential candidates who accepted will be speaking tonight in order: Tom Steyer, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, John Delaney, Joe Sestak and Marianne Williamson. But first we’re going to hear from the president of the university and environmental justice activists from around the country.
But before we go to them, I want to ask my co-moderator, Mustafa Ali, what does environmental justice mean to you? You’ve been an activist in this area for decades. Environmental justice and environmental racism?
MUSTAFA ALI: Environmental justice is the disproportionate impacts that continue to happen in our communities. The things that no one else wants, they place them in communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous lands. They become the sacrifice zones, the sacrifice zones for coal-fired power plants, for certified animal feeding operations, for waste treatment facilities, for unhealthy housing where we find lead and so many other impacts that are happening. So, in essence, the environmental injustices that continue to happen are happening to people of color and low-income communities.
AMY GOODMAN: And these are the issues we’re going to explore tonight with six presidential candidates. But before we do, I want to introduce our host for tonight, Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter. She’s president of the NBCSL. That’s the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. She’s the first African-American woman to represent Orangeburg in the South Carolina Legislature. Representative Cobb-Hunter, the floor is yours.
REP. GILDA COBB-HUNTER: Thank you, Amy. Thank you so much. OK, guys, that’s enough. Y’all are going to make me think I’m special. You’ve heard enough from me just welcoming. Thanks for being here. I want to introduce the president of this fine institution, to bring greetings and welcome you to Bulldog Country. Please join me in welcoming the president of South Carolina State University, Mr. James Clark. Mr. President?
JAMES CLARK: Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
JAMES CLARK: Once again, good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
JAMES CLARK: Welcome to the 2019 Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice, and welcome to the campus of South Carolina State University. Founded in 1896, South Carolina State University is one of only two land-grant institutions here in the state of South Carolina and is the state’s only publicly supported HBCU. You are at an institution that develops leaders — leaders in politics, as exemplified by our loyal son and majority whip, Congressman James E. Clyburn; leaders in engineering, as exemplified by the South Carolina State having the state’s only undergraduate nuclear engineering program amongst its many wonderful engineering offerings; leaders in science, as exemplified by our joint initiative with MUSC, and cancer research, focused especially on the disparities found amongst African-American males in this region; leaders in athletics, as exemplified by the fact that, until very recently, South Carolina State was the only institution in the state with anyone in the NFL Hall of Fame, the NFL Football Hall of Fame — and we had not one, not two, but three; leaders in education, as exemplified by the fact that a significant portion of the educators in this state, be they teachers, principals or superintendents, got their degrees right here on these very grounds, grounds where one can go from three to Ph.D. in education right in one location; leaders in the military, as exemplified by the fact that only West Point has produced more African-American generals or flag officers, with 26, and we’re at 22 and gaining on West Point.
This proud institution has a legacy of understanding, having an understanding of and being responsive to the needs, concerns and the issues of its community. So it is only proper that this forum, and that a forum on environmental justice, something that affects us all, but our communities disproportionately, is being held on the grounds of this great institution. So, again, I say welcome to South Carolina State University, and welcome to the 2019 Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice. Thank you.
REP. GILDA COBB-HUNTER: Thank you so much, Mr. President. Great job. At this point, before we start hearing our candidates, we thought it important that you hear from people who are actually on the ground working on this issue, not just talking about it. We are pleased to bring you five activists, frontline community workers, who are going to take two minutes each to share their stories. They will appear in this order: Harold Mitchell, ReGenesis in Spartanburg; Richard Moore, Los Jardines Institute; Sofía Martínez, Concerned Citizens of Wagon Mound; Dr. Mildred McClain, Harambee; and Michele Roberts, Environmental Justice Health Alliance. And we’re going to ask all to come in that order, please. Mr. Mitchell?
HAROLD MITCHELL: Good evening. I want to first thank President Cobb-Hunter and her leadership and the sponsors for hosting this event, this historic event, on environmental justice, and the presidential candidates who saw it was serious enough to show up tonight at this event.
As a 26-year veteran of environmental justice and grassroots organizing in Spartanburg, South Carolina, I grew up in a toxic suit, a community with two Superfund sites, four brownfield sites around our house. With that, we were able to take residents from the community and revitalize this community as serious stakeholders at the table. We took a $20,000 small grant, leveraged it into $270 million, provided healthcare, housing, amongst other things, job training, transportation, and we’re now moving into a renewable energy stage, where we’re converting the landfill into a solar farm and creating aquaponics for the community itself. This came about in a collaborative effort. This is one that has to continue to happen around the country with organizations like NBCSL and other leaders within the community, because what we don’t want to do in the environmental justice community is to become — as the phrase says, we do not want to be on the menu, but we want to be stakeholders at the table.
RICHARD MOORE: Good evening, sisters and brothers. My name is Richard Moore. I’m with Los Jardines Institute, the Gardens Institute, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I just wanted to say, in regards to these brief comments, it’s an honor to be back in the beautiful state of South Carolina. And we appreciate all of the work that organizations — community-based organizations and student organizations and students and so on.
First of all, just to remind ourselves a little bit of the history, there’s hundreds upon hundreds — and I think it was identified, over a thousand environmental and economic justice organizations not only in the southeastern part of the United States, but throughout this country. That’s very, very important for us to keep in mind as we have this dialogue this evening.
I think, second of all, as a reminder, we’ll remind ourselves that many of those organizations convened the first National People of Color Leadership Summit in 1991 in Washington, D.C., where over a thousand of us came together and redefined environmentalism and conservationism as where we work, where we live, where we play, where we pray and where we go to school or where we learn. I think, additionally, coming out of that and redefining environmentalism, then, based upon that, the principles of environmental justice were established in Washington, D.C. And so, out of that convening then, as we say then, environmental and economic justice as a relationship to climate change, the issues that are being impacted in our communities were reput back on the table. So there’s a lot of history there. In New Mexico, we’re faced with many of the same situations and the issues that we visited here in South Carolina on several of our trips and so on.
I would just highly encourage you, lastly, those that are here that don’t understand our history and the connection between civil rights and environmental and economic justice and the intersection of environmental racism and environmental genocide — the intentional targeting of communities of color, Native indigenous communities and others for any thing that others do not want in their community. So, I thank you very much for allowing us the opportunity to speak with you this evening, and we’re looking forward to the forum. Thank you very much.
SOFÍA MARTÍNEZ: Good evening. My name is Sofía Martínez. I’m from Wagon Mound, New Mexico, although I also live in Albuquerque. I want to thank the folks that worked on organizing this environmental justice forum for the presidential candidates tonight, and I also want to thank those presidential candidates that showed up.
Environmental justice is about justice. It is the paradigm shift of environmentalism. Environmental justice is — hold a minute here. Environmental justice is not merely the places that we preserve, conserve and go to recreate. It is where we live, play, pray and go to school. It is this definition that was developed by a collective of racially, economically, gender and sexually diverse grassroots peoples that launched the EJ movement. Environmental justice is place-based health impacts. It is climate justice. It is economic justice. It is reproductive justice. It is about continuing our struggle for justice for all poor and people of color.
I come from New Mexico, a rural state that has continued to be the neocolony of the United States, regardless of who is in power. Our natural resources have been and continue to be used as a cheap supply of raw materials, weapons development and cheap labor. And we have the Superfund sites and the health issues to prove it. We are host to Los Alamos and Sandia labs, second only to Livermore labs in California in terms of military weapons development, including weapons of mass destruction, weapons that have poisoned indigenous nations in the uranium belt of New Mexico, weapons that only the United States has dropped on human populations, weapons that have poisoned the population in New Mexico with newborn babies showing toxins from the nuclear chain, weapons’ hazardous waste that is taken back to New Mexico , the only hazardous dump in this country — the Waste Isolation Project, or WIPP. We continue to be one of the poorest states in the nation. People of color, indigenous folks and the very county that I am from are in competition with predominantly black states for which is the poorest.
The lesson here is that we need to come together as poor, indigenous and people of color to challenge our continued minimum-wage labor and support not only the 1% — that supports not only the 1%, but that liberal 25% that with the 1% consumes 75 to 80% of the world’s resources. We must demand protection of the natural resources, a free, nonracist education, forgiveness of student loans, a level minimum wage that recognizes those that have built this country. It is not Facebook, Google or the liberals that come to our state and our communities to “protect” and “help” us. You must stop building your reputations, résumés and careers on our poverty and contamination. We will not let your New Green Deal be just the same old deal.
Today, as I speak, a nuclear summit is taking place in New Mexico. Activists from the United States, Japan and other countries will come together tonight to build power to challenge liberal contentions that nuclear is clean. It is as dirty as the politics we see on television each day from the White House. And like the rollback of environmental protections, that will plague us for decades, hazardous waste will haunt us for hundreds of years, just as climate change will eliminate life as we know it. In 1972, polluting facilities paid for research to identify where might be the easiest place to site polluting facilities. The result, the Sarel [phon.] report, suggested regions that were poor, with little education, rural, little news circulation, bilingual and Catholic, among other characteristics. This is why we, as poor white and people of color, must come together to continue this type of forum and to continue to challenge our marginalization by some politicians. We also know that they are not all white. Workers unite. We shall overcome.
MILDRED McCLAIN: We are sick and tired of being sick and tired. But most of all, we are sick of dying from being exposed to pollutants that come out of industries and factories and manufacturers who care nothing about us as people. They only care about profits. We are victims of environmental racism, and we demand environmental reparations. We are community people. We are families, we are sisters and brothers, we are aunts and uncles, who are concerned about our children’s future. “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired” has been the battle cry of the environmental justice communities from the time that we started, and it should always be, until we establish policies that will promote justice and equity and will eliminate inequities in our health system. Our health is our wealth. And without health, what can you do?
We call upon all of our young people, our elders, our children, our academicians, our scholars, our researchers, our scientists, our mothers and fathers to join hands in the name of our organization, which is Harambee. Harambee means let’s pull together. And without pulling together, we will not be able to dismantle this machine that keeps moving and moving and moving in denial that there is environmental injustice. So, tonight, as the candidates come before you, our question becomes: How will each of you, if elected, engage you, the public, engage the impacted communities, engage the frontline and the fenceline communities, and those community-based organizations who have for the last 30 years worked on an environmental equity and just platform that addresses indeed climate justice?
I woke up one morning in 1991, and the headlines in the Savannah Morning News was 20,000 picacuries of tritium leaked from the Savannah River site, which is located in Aiken, South Carolina. But the water tributaries end in the Savannah River in my neighborhood, in the plantation where I live, where a small community of 300 or 400 people are right at the mouth of the river, and they’re right in a donut of 17 polluting industries. These are moms and pops who go to work every day. So, environmental justice addresses a myriad of issues. But I don’t want you to forget that nuclear weapons facility right here in South Carolina, because it is a part of a national complex that is run by the Department of Energy.
Through our work, we were able to help the department develop an environmental justice program. But that’s not enough. That’s not enough. What’s going to be required of us is that for everyone who’s sitting in this audience to become an activist, an advocate and a mover and a shaker, a mover and a shaker to shake up what already is, to replace a new vision, a new agenda, that looks at all of us as creations of the creator. And as such, we have a human right to clean air, clean water, clean land and healthy bodies. So I challenge each one of you, and those of you who are looking and listening and recording, to go out and bring somebody else into the environmental justice movement. Remember, environmental justice is climate justice. Climate justice is environmental justice. And one day we want to say, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, Mother Earth is free at last!” Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Mildred McClain, co-founder and currently serving as the executive director of the Harambee House / Citizens for Environmental Justice. That’s right, people on the frontlines of the climate crisis today from all over the country. We are now going to the final activist.
MICHELE ROBERTS: My name is Michele Roberts. I’m the national co-coordinator for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform. I want to thank you, South Carolina NBCSL and all others who put significant work into this process. I am a proud graduate of an HBCU, Morgan State University. And at Morgan State University, I became a trained scientist. You know there’s no blacks in science. But HBCUs produce the best and the brightest.
The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform is a collective of what we call legacy fenceline, frontline groups. You know the ones — People Concerned About Chemical Safety; Mossville, Louisiana; Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice, where I am originally from; Los Jardines Institute, who you heard; and many more. Our communities — and let me not forget West County Toxics, Dr. Henry Clark, Alaska Community Action Against Toxics. Our communities are legacy communities that have been harmed by centuries of racism, colonization and economic injustice and exploitation. We are part of the change, that we hold the solutions that are necessary to make effective change in this country. The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, EJHA, as we call ourselves, we provide the capacity support for our communities, from that of building capacity to that of supporting with technical assistance and the solutions that’s necessary to make effective change in this country. And as a result, as you heard all of the other speakers before me, we are sick and tired of sick and tired of being hurt, sick, dying. I just left my father’s hospital room from early this morning, where he, Leslie R. Roberts, and thanks be to God, is better this week. But my father said we must stand against this racism.
And so, as a result, as you heard Richard say, Richard Moore, in 1991, the first People of Color Summit brought thousands of people to Washington, D.C., and redefined environmentalism and conservationism. Well, we’re proud to say, 28 years later, we took the national groups to task, national groups that included environmental and advocacy, legal advocacy groups. And now we have created what’s called the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform. The necessary point of that is that we must go beyond that of the carbon-centric, market-based conversations that we’ve been so consumed in that will not take care of our people. We must be about addressing cumulative impacts of all those impacts that span back 400-plus years, and bring it into the forefront of addressing how we have mandatory emissions reductions, not that just of the carbon-centric conversation that we are caught up in.
We are asking our brilliant students here to be part of this process and to help us move this initiative. It is high time that we take the principled integrity and solutions that our communities have been asking for, for over and over and over and over again. You see the 17 principles in the environmental justice principles. Our vision for a just climate future includes a healthy climate, air quality for all, access to reliable, affordable sustainability, electricity, water and transportation for every community, an inclusive, just and pollution-free energy economy with high-quality jobs, safe, healthy communities and infrastructure. And guess who should be at the front of that line: our communities.
Enough is enough. It is time for a change. We are standing here for an equitable and just climate future for all, where no community is left behind. We thank everyone who showed up. And for those who didn’t, catch up, because now is the time for us to change this narrative. It is time. It is time. It is time. Will you join us? Thank you very much, South Carolina. Right on, and power to the people!
REP. GILDA COBB-HUNTER: OK, guys, let’s give all our frontline activists a big round of applause. And I hope you hear — after you’ve heard them, I hope you understand why we thought it important that you hear from them. More importantly, we want you to remember the challenge that Dr. McClain gave to all of us.
At this time, I will introduce to you our two moderators for tonight. They, in turn, will introduce our candidates. We are pleased that we have six candidates who will be joining us tonight. Our moderators are Amy Goodman with Democracy Now! and Mustafa Santiago Ali with the National Wildlife Federation. Give them both a round of applause.
AMY GOODMAN: Well —
REP. GILDA COBB-HUNTER: Thank you, moderators.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to move right into the presidential candidates right now, from the grassroots activists on the frontlines of the environmental justice struggle. Again, the candidates who have agreed to attend tonight’s first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice are Tom Steyer, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, John Delaney, Joe Sestak and Marianne Williamson. We begin with three minutes of a public statement by Tom Steyer.
TOM STEYER: Good evening. Let me start by saying that environmental justice is not an afterthought at all for me. It is absolutely central to what I’m doing. I have said that climate is the number-one priority of my presidency and that I’ll declare a state of emergency on day one. But that climate plan is described as a justice-based climate plan. And environmental justice is the planning process that we’re going to use in order to make sure that it’s just and that the communities where pollution has been concentrated will be in the lead in terms of policy and execution.
I think a lot of the people who are going to follow me here at this podium are going to talk to you about what they’re going to do. But I want to tell you what I’ve done over the last decade. I led the fight for clean energy in California. And the reason we won was because environmental justice was at the heart. That fight has put together the biggest pot of money to redress frontline communities where pollution, air pollution and water pollution, have been centered. A billion-and-a-half dollars has already been spent. There’s 3 billion more dollars in the pot to redress that, and it will continue. I’ve also led the fight for clean energy outside California, in Nevada, in Michigan, in Arizona, and always environmental justice has been at the center. I worked with the activists in Oxnard to stop the last fossil fuel plant I hope is ever proposed for California, which they were going to put in a low-income Latino community where they already had a series of toxic plants and where they thought they could get away with it. And I’ve worked with activists around this country. I’ve gone to Flint, Michigan. I’ve been to Fresno, California. I’ve been to East Porterville, where you can’t drink the water. I’ve just come today from Denmark, South Carolina. It’s not my first trip to Denmark. I know what the water situation there is. And I also know that it’s going to be much broader than people know. You can’t do climate, you can’t do the environment, you can’t do pollution, unless you have environmental justice at its core.
Environmental justice is just another word for saying racism. They’ve chosen to concentrate air and water pollution in black and brown communities, and specifically African-American communities. So, if we’re going to repair that injustice, we’re going to have to do it deliberately in terms of clean air, clean waters. And as we rebuild this country in a sustainable way, the people from those communities have to be in the front of the line for the millions of good jobs that we’re going to create.
And I want to finish on a hopeful note. The best environmental justice project I’ve ever seen in the United States is in South Carolina. It’s in Spartanburg. It’s the ReGenesis Project. It’s fantastic. I know Mustafa has worked on it, started by a fantastic, brilliant man named Harold Mitchell from South Carolina.
MUSTAFA ALI: Tom, welcome.
TOM STEYER: Mustafa, nice to see you.
MUSTAFA ALI: It’s good to see you, too. You mentioned environmental racism, so let’s start off with a basic question that all candidates should be able to answer, especially for the audience that we have here tonight. How do you define environmental justice? And how do you define environmental racism?
TOM STEYER: Look, I don’t think there’s any — I don’t think there’s any question that this country has focused its air pollution and its water pollution in communities of color. And I think that if you look around — you can look at South Carolina, you can look at every part of this country, and I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg that we know right now. Yes, I know what’s happened in Denmark? I’ve talked to the activists there and worked with them. But I can tell you, I think we’re going to see that across South Carolina. I think it’s going to be based on race. I know — if you go to Flint, Michigan, ask who lives there. If you go to Newark, ask who lives there. Go to East Porterville, go to Fresno. West Fresno has a 15-year lower life expectancy than North Fresno, that’s two miles away. It’s based on pollution of every kind you can think of. So when I look around the United States of America, I know that the politics have concentrated the dangerous health of pollution in the communities of color, specifically African-American.
MUSTAFA ALI: So, let’s go a little bit deeper. Environmental racism is the new Jim Crow in regards to food, housing, jobs, education. What is your plan to address environmental racism?
TOM STEYER: Well, we are going to — look this, is my number-one priority, is to rebuild this country in a sustainable fashion and to make sure that we handle the climate crisis. But we’re going to do it with environmental justice in the lead. So that means, as we rebuild this country, whether that’s the $90 billion that we’re going to spend on residential water, whether that’s the $700 billion that we’re going to spend on the grid, whether it’s rebuilding the roads or the public transit systems, I am going to make sure that the planning process starts in the communities and they start with the leaders from communities like Denmark, South Carolina, to make sure that as we do this we redress the air and water problems specifically and that the jobs go to those communities first. So when I think about this redression, it’s everything. I mean, Mustafa, you asked a question that suggested, “Is it just air and water pollution?” No, it goes far beyond that. And I believe we can rebuild this country spiritually, as well as physically, by undoing this injustice and this racism, specifically through a gigantic program of rebirth.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Steyer, there’s been a lot of talk about billionaires in the last few weeks in the presidential race, and there may be another one entering the race: Michael Bloomberg. It’s not clear if one of the candidates. President Trump is one himself. But you, at this point, are the only billionaire in the Democratic primary as you run for president in 2020. How do you talk about the issue of environmental justice and economic equity? The Climate Accountability Institute did a study saying the world’s wealthiest corporations are most responsible for the climate crisis. And, of course, the communities of color, indigenous communities are most impacted by that crisis. The Climate Accountability Institute says more than 70% of global emissions come from just 100 companies. What have you done to challenge your fellow billionaires when it comes to this inequity? And what would you do as president?
TOM STEYER: So, let me say this. I started a business. I ran it for 27 years. I started it in one room, with no employees, not even any windows in the room. Then I took the Giving Pledge to give more than half my money to good causes while I was alive. I walked away from my business to build coalitions of normal American citizens to take on unchecked corporate power. And together, we’ve been beating them for over a decade. I’ve taken on the oil companies. I’ve taken on the tobacco companies. I’ve taken on the utilities. I’ve taken on the drug companies.
So, Amy, when you ask me what I’m going to do, the reason I’m running for president is because I believe these corporations have bought the government. That is my reason for running. We’re not getting what we want. We’re not getting anything we want, until we break — they are strangling our government, and they are strangling us. And until we beat them, we’re getting nothing, because that’s what they want us to have. So, when I look about clean air and clean water, when I look at environmental racism, we’re going to have to beat the corporation first.
And there’s no one else on — who’s going to come on this stage, there’s no one else running for president, who’s going to talk about term limits for every congressperson and senator of 12 years. There’s no one who’s going to talk about a national referendum to let the people of the United States pass laws when the Congress won’t do it, take away their monopoly to pass laws. So, this is my whole — look, I have a track record for a decade, as an outsider, of taking these people on. They’re not that smart. But they are that mean. And what I’ve seen — and honestly, environmental racism, a perfect example — they are willing to hurt people for money. And it’s not a heck of a lot more complicated than that. And so, what am I willing to do? I am willing to do whatever it takes to break that corporate stranglehold. And that’s my history.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think corporate executives should be put on trial? For example, in New York, you have the lawsuit against ExxonMobil. If you can explain the significance of this lawsuit? Just last week, 30 schoolchildren led a 42-minute die-in outside the ExxonMobil trial as Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, the former secretary of state under Trump, was testifying. Forty-two minutes, as on 13-year-old activist, Maria Riker, said to us, 42 minutes for the 42 years that ExxonMobil covered up climate change.
TOM STEYER: So, let me say this about corporations: They’re not above the law. I started the Need to Impeach movement because the president isn’t above the law. I promise you I don’t think corporate executives are above the law. So, what does that mean? It means if they paid $300 billion worth of fines because of the mortgage crisis and no one went to jail, how could that be right? If we put drug dealers in jail, why don’t we put corporate drug dealers in jail? If Exxon lied and endangered the health and safety not just of everybody in this room, but everybody in this country, are you telling me they’re above the law? Because they did it within a corporate system? No way. So, you’re asking me, Amy, what am I willing to do? I’m willing to hold them accountable for crime. And I’m going to — they are not above the law. If I’m not scared of the president, I promise you I’m not scared of the Exxon Mobil Corporation.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask one last follow-up. In the last weeks, in a leaked audio recording, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, was captured on tape saying, and I — please excuse me for using this language — that if Elizabeth Warren were to become president, it would suck for his company. What are your comments about what he had to say?
TOM STEYER: Look, corporations think — and they’ve been right — that they can write the laws of the United States of America for their benefit. The government of the United States is supposed to be of, by and for the people. We have got to take away the rights of the heads of these huge corporations, like Mark Zuckerberg, to think they run our country for themselves and their corporations. That’s got to end. So, who gets elected president should be dependent on who’s going to do the best job for the American people, who can they trust, and who calls out the problem. This election is about calling out the problem. And the problem is, they own the government. And we’re not changing anything until we change that.
MUSTAFA ALI: Mr. Steyer, you talked about making sure that you’re holding people accountable. So, what would you do in the instance that we find ourselves in right now? So, at the Environmental Protection Agency, the enforcement work that has happened there has become minimized greatly — the cases that are brought forward, inspectors going out, making sure that businesses and industries are in compliance. So, what would be your plan to enhance enforcement that would help the communities that are here in the audience?
TOM STEYER: So, I just want to start with the fact that every American has a right to clean air and clean water, period. So, when you think about the Environmental Protection Agency, they’re there to enforce that. And if there are corporations who are poisoning us, then we have to know it, and we have to end it, and we have to punish it. So, when I think about the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s got to be an enforcement agency that is carrying out the right of every single American to clean air and clean water. And we’re going to make that happen. So, part of it’s enforcement, but a big part of this is bringing the money, bringing the resources to the communities that don’t have clean air and clean water, and making sure that we rebuild in a way that they do.
MUSTAFA ALI: Well, let me follow up on that just real quickly. So, we know that the funding to address the environmental injustices that have happened, both in the past and the present, is extremely limited. How would you redirect resources to help those communities?
TOM STEYER: So, Mustafa, I would declare a state of emergency on climate on the first day of my presidency.
MUSTAFA ALI: OK.
TOM STEYER: I would use the emergency powers of the presidency, because it’s an emergency, to change the rules without needing Congress. I’m going to ask Congress. I’m going to ask Congress. I’m going to give them a hundred days. “Pass the Green New Deal. I’m begging you.” But they’re O for 28 years. So, for everybody who’s counting on the Green New Deal, this is a group that’s O for 28 years. And I want to say, on day one, we’re getting going. So, what am I going to do? On day one, we’re using the emergency powers of the presidency to get going on this problem, with environmental justice, the redress of environmental racism, at the core of what we do.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Steyer, you make very clear that you support the Green New Deal. What about what is being called a Red New Deal for indigenous communities? What specific funding opportunities would your administration provide for tribal nations, communities who wish to make a just transition toward sustainable housing and renewable energy? And how would you negotiate with tribes? For example, what would you do around pipelines? Standing Rock Sioux Reservation wants the Dakota Access pipeline stopped now.
TOM STEYER: So, Amy, no pipelines. That’s my rule on pipelines: no pipelines. There is no reason that we should spend one more penny building more fossil fuel infrastructure that we’re going to have to tear down. It makes no sense. Look, I was an investor for 30 years. And people love to talk in politics about infrastructure. And they say — they make it sound like infrastructure is, in and of itself, a good thing. But if you’re an investor, infrastructure is just building something and paying for it. So, if you build something stupid, it’s stupid. And if you build something smart and sustainable, that’s valuable. So when we think about rebuilding America, we’ve got to think about doing it in a way that actually serves the American people, that makes it possible for us to preserve the natural world that God gave us, and lets us hand it on to the next generation. So, when I think about what we’re going to do with indigenous people, for starters, we’re not building any more pipelines across their lands. We don’t have to worry about it. That’s out. But I also think we’ve got to respect their knowledge and their awareness and give them the right of self-determination as they think about how they can proceed in a just way.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the issue of environmental reparations? We just heard some very eloquent environmental justice activists talk about the destruction of their communities over decades by industrial polluters that destroy their communities and then up and leave. What would reparations look like?
TOM STEYER: They’d look like what we’ve done in California, is taking billions of dollars and directing them at frontline communities to make sure that we undo the damage that’s happened. And it means giving the jobs to the people from those communities to undo the economic damage that’s been done. It means acknowledging what’s happened, being aware of what’s happened, and then letting the leaders from those communities direct how we’re going to undo it. That’s actually what it looks like, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: And what would an activated Justice Department look like, if you were going to go after corporate crime —
TOM STEYER: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: — the corporate polluters?
TOM STEYER: Well, one thing you guys should know, I would put — I would create an Environmental Justice Department within the Justice Department. I don’t think there’s any way that we can actually deal with this in a significant fashion without separating it out, concentrating on it and giving people the right and the obligation to pursue it seriously. So that’s what it would look like. It would look like an organized group of people with the determination to make sure that we brought people to justice.
MUSTAFA ALI: And I think we’re going to go to a question from one of our students. Is Mr. Brandon Brown here? Mr. Brown, please approach the podium and share your question.
TOM STEYER: Call me Tom, Brandon. Make me feel young.
BRANDON BROWN: OK, Tom. OK. My question is, one of the issues to environmental justice is access to healthy food. What would you do to give access to healthy food to all Americans?
TOM STEYER: So, if you guys couldn’t hear Brandon’s question, it was access to healthy food. And this is actually a subject that’s really close to my heart, because in California my wife and I have started a program called California Food for California Kids, which is doing farm to table in the public schools. We’re in schools that provide 300 million meals a year to kids, and we — so, when I think what you have to do, we have food deserts in this country where people can’t find healthy food to buy in their neighborhoods. And that’s got to be addressed. But even more than that, we have hunger in this country. And, you know, I have talked to young people who have told me that they and their friends are routinely hungry, that they don’t have enough to eat. And it puts them in a terrible position in terms of trying to get access to food. So, when we think about the absolute basic job of a government, it’s to make sure that we provide for the basic needs of citizens, and food has got to be one of them. And the fact that we’re having this conversation in 2019, in the richest country in the history of the world, shows how far off we’ve gone from what’s right.
Look, I’m running because I believe these corporations have bought the government, and I believe that they’ve trashed, that they’ve stomped on the absolute rights of Americans. And that includes the right to affordable healthcare for every American, the right to quality public education from pre-K through college, the right to a living wage. Every — one job should be enough. The way the money is being distributed is shameful. And the right to clean air and clean water. But, good grief, food? The right to food and a roof over your head? That’s part of America.
So, when you ask me what am I willing to do — Amy was asking me: What am I willing to do to let people live without being poisoned? We’ve got to change the United States. Something has gone terribly wrong. And we like to make it seem too complicated. It’s not complicated. What they’re doing is cutting taxes on rich people and big corporations, and then they’re taking away education funds, healthcare funds, attacking unions and working people’s right to earn, and allowing pollution. That’s their whole economic program. And the reason we have to take away their right to write the laws, take away their stranglehold of our government, is we need to undo every single one of those things. We need to give back to the American people our share of this country. And it can no longer be run for these corporations. The idea that young people in America — that we would question whether it’s a good investment that young people be fed makes no sense.
Of course, the way we’re going to succeed is by investing in Americans. That’s how we’re going to prosper, by Americans succeeding. And so, if we invest, Brandon, in young people, including education and food and a roof over their head, that’s the best investment we’ll ever make. That’s the investment that will make us succeed. That’s the investment that will make us proud. And that’s the investment we will definitely make. But first we’re going to have to break these corporations. And that’s why I’m running for president, because I never want to hear that question: What are we going to do to provide food for young people? We should already have done that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I’d like to ask you, Tom Steyer, about foreign policy, as president, of course, a critical area. We’re speaking to you just hours after a court in Brazil has released the former president of Brazil, Lula, after he was imprisoned under this administration of the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who basically says the Amazon is open for business, the lungs of the planet. We’re speaking to you in the week that President Trump has said he’s moving forward with pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord. And we’re speaking to you just after Davos in the Desert, what many call the Disaster in the Desert, where President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, his Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and other corporate executives went to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, essentially shoring up the regime there, as Human Rights Watch has come out with a report talking about the catastrophe that Mohammed bin Salman represents when it comes to, for example, human rights activists, particularly the abuse of women in prison. What would you do about these relationships with the fossil fuel giant that is Saudi Arabia, with the close relationship Trump has with Bolsonaro?
TOM STEYER: So, let me say this. Every single thing that Mr. Trump believes about foreign policy, I disagree with. It’s a simple rule. He doesn’t believe that we have real allies. He believes we can only confront people and compete with them and try and bully them. He doesn’t believe that we can cooperate with people and create coalitions, the way President Obama did. And in particular, he doesn’t believe that we can lead the world on values. His friends are all dictators. Everything he stands for, I disagree with.
And let me say this: The number-one thing I would do in foreign policy is lead the world on climate and restore the United States as the moral leaders of the world. Look, I don’t believe we can solve the climate crisis without putting environmental justice at the heart. But I also don’t believe we can solve the climate crisis inside the borders of the United States. I think we have to lead the rest of the world. In fact, we all know we have to lead the rest of the world. And there’s no second choice. So, if we’re going to rebuild the United States, if we’re going to undo the inherent racism in the way we’ve polluted, if we’re going to create millions of jobs and rebuild our spiritual center here, we’re also going to have to do it around the world. And that is actually going to be the rebirth of us as the moral leaders of the world and the technological leaders of the world and the financial and commercial leaders. This is what we’re going to have to do. We can do it. We can definitely do it. It’s going to make us better employed, more jobs, better-paying jobs, healthier. And it’s going to restore the moral center to the United States of America, to where it should be, where we stand up for our values here. Justice at home, values abroad. That’s what we’re going to do.
MUSTAFA ALI: You mentioned climate change. So what is the boldest move you would do to impact climate change?
TOM STEYER: Well, I do think declaring a state of emergency on day one counts as bold. I do think that making it environmental justice-focused and have the planning process go from community up is bold. And I think that making it the heart of my international policy is bold. But I think the biggest thing, Mustafa, that I see is we don’t have a choice here. And we don’t have a choice in succeeding unless we put morality at the center, which means justice at the center. This doesn’t — this isn’t going to work unless we do it in a way that we understand what’s been unjust, where there’s been racism, where there has been cruelty, we acknowledge it, and we undo it. That is actually how we’re going to succeed in dealing with climate.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Steyer, you’ve been leading a movement to impeach President Trump. When it comes to the issue of environmental justice and environmental racism, what would be the articles of impeachment you would write against him?
TOM STEYER: For Mr. Trump? Oh, my goodness gracious! Whoo! Well, let me say that one of the people — I started the Need to Impeach movement, that more than 8 million people signed onto, over two years ago. But I want to be clear that I wasn’t the first person, and there is a guy, a congressman from Houston, Texas, named Al Green, who beat me to it, who I have a lot of respect for. And I’ve talked to Congressman Green multiple times, and he always says to me, “Tom, I know that this guy’s a criminal, and you’re holding him up to the world as a criminal. But I’m pushing for him to be impeached and removed because he’s a racist. And that’s my reason, so everything else to me is secondary.”
So, when I look at what he’s done from withdrawing — the people he’s appointed to all of the environmental posts, who are apologists for fossil fuels, withdrawing from Paris to show the world he has disdain for even attempting it, trying to increase the subsidies to fossil fuels, cutting the heart out of the EPA, you know, he has under — he’s never missed an opportunity to do the right thing — to do the wrong thing. He’s never been right. It’s kind of like if you imagine the worst thing he could do, he immediately does it. So, there’s — but, look, you can’t impeach a president on policy. This president is a criminal. You can impeach a president who’s a criminal for criminal acts. And the fact that his policy is also dead wrong is not a coincidence. But you have to get him on the criminal acts, Amy, and he’s done a lot of them.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tom Steyer, we want to say thank you very much for spending this half-hour with us.
TOM STEYER: Can I just say one thing, just so you guys know? This is where my heart is. Seriously, this is not — I started by saying this is not a side issue for me. This is the issue. This is how we rebuild a great country together. And we have to acknowledge where we are. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: You are watching the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice. I’m Amy Goodman, with Mustafa Ali. And today we’re going to hear from six presidential candidates. All were invited. Coming up, Senator Elizabeth Warren, then Senator Cory Booker, John Delaney, Joe Sestak and Marianne Williamson. We’re broadcasting from South Carolina State University here in Orangeburg. Next up, Senator Elizabeth Warren will take the stage and give a three-minute address on environmental justice.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Hello. It’s good to see you. It’s good to see you. It’s always good to see you. Hello. How are you? It’s good to be here.
You know, the best part about this is not what we have to say, any of the candidates who are here. It’s that you’re here. It’s that you’re lifting this issue and making this a major issue in a presidential debate, that we’re not just talking about climate change, we’re talking about environmental justice. We’re talking about justice in this country. We’re talking about who’s been left behind, who’s been deliberately shut out of the process, and what we can do to make real change. And for me, that means big structural change. So I’m glad to be here. It’s good to see you all.
So, here are the points I want to make in my little bit at the top. And the first is, we know we’ve got a problem. And the problem is one of communities that just consistently have been the places for the location of the dumps, the waste, the environmental polluters. And the consequences have been devastating, devastating for our children, devastating generation after generation, devastating economically because of what it does to the value of those communities and trying to build economic strength in those communities. And understand, because we all know what’s happening, it’s communities that are poor and communities of color. It’s about racism, and it is about economic injustice. So, that’s part one.
Part two is it’s not going to be enough just to come out and say, “I care about that.” It’s not enough to say, “Yeah, this is a problem,” and while we’re talking about making changes, we also need to stop every now and again and think about environmental justice. For me, the way I think about this is, if you’re really serious, then you’ve got to have some concrete proposals, some real plans on the table.
So, I just want to mention, the way I see this is I’ve made a commitment. I want to spend $3 trillion on our climate change and how to fight climate change over the next few years when I’m president. I will spend one-third of that in the communities that have been most devastated by our past racism, by our past attacks on these communities and that have left them so devastated.
The other is, I will elevate this to a White House position. So, we will have a Council on Environmental Justice. And in my first hundred days, we will bring together the groups that have been trying to cope with environmental justice for generation after generation, and to say, “Let’s lay out a plan for how to spend that money. Let’s lay out a plan for how to lift up the communities that have been left behind. Let’s make a plan together for big structural change.” So, that’s why I’m here. Thank you.
It’s good to see you. I’m so glad to see you. Thank you. All righty.
MUSTAFA ALI: Senator Warren, thank you for being here.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes, I’m glad to be here.
MUSTAFA ALI: So, many communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous populations are literally dying for a breath of fresh air. We have 100,000 people who are dying prematurely from air pollution in our country — communities like the Manchester community in Houston, Texas, to Cancer Alley running between Baton Rouge and Louisiana, oh, even here in Charleston, South Carolina. What would you do to address the epidemic that’s happening in our communities from air pollution?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So, part of it is we need to strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s a radical notion: How about if we don’t have a coal lobbyist to head up the EPA? You think that’s a good starting place? But it is. As they have tried to roll back — the Trump administration and the EPA, under his administration, have tried to roll back air quality standards. We need — no, we need to go in the other direction: We need to roll forward. And so we need to be much stronger on this.
But can I add a second part to that? Because I think it’s really important. And that is, I want to bring in the CDC. I want to treat this as the public health emergency that it is. Yeah. If people were dying of a mysterious virus, if it were cutting lives short in well-to-do communities, you better believe that we’d be coming in with the research, we’d be highlighting where the problems are, and we’d be figuring out how to fix them and to fix them fast. Instead, we just watch over and over and over how children who live in poor communities, who live in communities of color have higher rates of hospitalization for asthma. Why? Because what they burn in Ohio, you breathe in Massachusetts, and it’s hard on our children, because our children are the most vulnerable, and they live next to the places that are the dirtiest, that have the worst air. So, I actually want to treat this — I want to come in aggressively and treat this like the public health emergency that it is. I want the scientists on it, and I want to put the real resources behind fixing it.
MUSTAFA ALI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Steyer said he would declare a state of climate emergency the first day he were president. Would you do the same?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: We could. You know, here’s how I think of this. I want to use the tools available as president. And the way I think of using the tools, I want to think about what — I love saying this — a president can do all by herself. And the way I think of that is part of what I mentioned here. What I want to do is I want to make a position in the White House that is a permanent, ongoing position to address the injustices that we currently face on this issue. So, for me, what I have committed to do is both to create a position in the White House, and in the first hundred days not just to do it all by myself on this one, but to ask the groups that have been on the frontlines to be part of this, to come together and to start putting together an action plan.
And the reason I say that is, when we’re talking about the question of environmental justice, it’s a highly localized problem. You need national muscle. You need national money. You need a national will to get in there and fix the problem. But you don’t need someone at the national level saying, “Here’s the right answer.” Because the answer is different. It’s different on tribal lands out West than it is in sinking cities near the coast. It is different to be near a dump that smolders and burns than it is to be near a factory that continues to put poisons into the water. And so, for each of those, the way I see this is you make the concrete commitment on finances, you make the concrete commitment on bringing people together, and then you ask the communities to identify what needs to be done.
And then, if I can, the third part is we have to look at this holistically. It’s not just about cleaning up the dumps. It’s not just about making the factories either filter what they’re putting into the air and the water or shutting down. It’s also about lifting these communities up, because these communities have been damaged for generation after generation. So, it’s about investments — which I’d love to talk about — in housing. It’s about economic investments, investments in schools. It’s about making the investments in these communities, so we go from communities that, as you say, are literally killing people to communities that are actually thriving. That’s what I want to see.
AMY GOODMAN: Where do you stand, not just on the Dakota Access pipeline being built? It has been now, and it’s operating at a great capacity. But now the Standing Rock Sioux are in court. They’re saying a proper environmental impact statement wasn’t done and that the Dakota Access pipeline should be shut down. Do you agree with this? What would you do as president, both on Dakota Access pipeline, the Keystone XL, that President Trump greenlighted, and pipelines, overall, across the country?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So, let me start by saying I believe we ought to enforce our environmental laws. And when the appropriate environmental impact statements have not been done, then, yes, we should shut down the operations. That’s what it means to have these laws, is that we enforce these laws.
But if I can, I want to add an extra piece, because I think this really brings in the question of tribal governance and tribes’ abilities to be the good stewards of their land. I have already made a very public commitment to the tribes, both to honor that the tribes themselves make the decision about what happens on tribal lands — this is a nation-to-nation relationship. This is about our trust and treaty obligations. But I go a step further and to say on federal lands that abut tribal lands, that, as president, I will not approve any drilling, mining, pipelines that abut those lands, on these federal lands that abut the tribal lands, unless the tribes that are affected give their own informed consent in advance. I believe that they will be the good stewards of the land, and I believe they will protect the region.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you for the shutting down of the Dakota Access pipeline?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yeah.
MUSTAFA ALI: And how would you better protect? You know, we have this shrinking of our federal lands. You know, they have opened it up to mining and drilling and all these other types of things. What would you do as president to better protect our federal lands?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, like I said, this is one a president can do all by herself. And on day one, I will say, “No new drilling, no new mining, on our federal lands, and no offshore drilling.” You just shut it down. And, you know, that’s actually a pretty big impact, because, as you know, about a quarter of our lands are federally protected lands.
And right now this is really this fundamental question: who government works for. So, right now the mining companies, the drilling companies, that want to make big dollars by basically getting drilling rights and mining rights for pennies on the dollar and leaving behind waste for not only local communities to have to deal with, for the tribes to have to deal with, but destroying pristine land for generations to come. I believe that we have both a strong economic — I’ll start there — obligation, but also a strong moral obligation, to protect our public lands and make sure they remain safe. I have fought the Trump’s administration’s efforts to try to undo protection of our federal lands, and I will be a careful protector of those lands.
You know, I’ll just add on this. I know we talk about the huge ramifications. For me, it’s also personal. My husband and I are hikers. We’ve hiked much of these — many of these federal lands for decades now. And when we were hiking not long ago, we were talking about what it would mean if our grandchildren won’t come and see what we see, if our grandchildren will be denied the opportunity to come out and see some of the greatest beauties on this Earth. We have an obligation to future generations. It’s not about what they will inherit; it’s about what we are borrowing from them. And we must meet that obligation. We must meet it, because it is right for our country, because it is right for this world, but also because it is morally right. We need to live our values.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is wrong to say no to a debate specifically on the climate crisis?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How can you prevail upon him and the DNC to change their mind?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I’ve already weighed in on this one, quite publicly, and asked for a climate debate. Obviously, I haven’t prevailed on that. But I did this many months ago, because I think this is the urgent issue of our time. You know, I don’t have to say it to you, but it is worth repeating every chance we get, that climate change threatens every living thing on this planet, and that everything else we talk about depends on our having an Earth that we can live on for generations to come. So, I think, as Democrats, we should be happy to get together to lift this issue. As I said, I’m happy to be here now, in this forum, to lift this issue for people all around the country and all around the world. The United States is a leader on climate. We are. Right now we’re just leading in the wrong direction. We need to show that that’s not all of America, that is not who we are as Americans, that we treasure this land and we treasure this planet and we’re willing to put real resources behind protecting it.
MUSTAFA ALI: Well, Senator Warren, we know that communities of color, frontline communities, are hit first and worst —
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yeah.
MUSTAFA ALI: — from climate change, from Puerto Rico, where we lost over 3,000 lives, to Princeville, North Carolina, founded by freed slaves and have had to deal with these devastating floods. We used to talk about 50-year floods. Now we’re talking about 100-year floods and 500-year floods, all the way, of course, to what happened in New Orleans from Katrina. So, we asked the previous candidate who was sitting in the chair that you are, “What would be your boldest move on climate change?” What would be yours?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: A trillion dollars. That seems pretty bold. No, this is important. This is why I said I think it’s important to have specifics around this. And it’s really easy to say, “I’ve got a” — for someone, a candidate, to say, “Here’s a big climate plan. And, oh, yeah, we’ll think about environmental justice somewhere along the way,” and get it and say the right things, but somehow, in the decision-making, it just never happens. I don’t want to be that president. I want to be a president who commits in advance and says, “We know we have a serious problem here.”
So, I’ve got a plan to put about $3 trillion into climate remediation, direct dollars out of the federal government, a lot of leverage out of that. What I’d do is I’d commit to take a third of that and say we’re going to spend it on environmental justice. We’re going to spend it on going to the communities that are hit first, that are hit hardest, that have been hit the longest, generation after generation. As I said, I don’t want to dictate from Washington what it takes. You know, it may be a seawall in one place; it may be a sandbar in a different one. It may be relocation in some — you hate to say it, but it may be. There are all kinds of differences in how it should happen. And that’s the respect for the communities and for the community groups that have been fighting this for so long. But the role of the federal government is to protect. The role of the federal government is to provide the resources. The role of the federal government is to make sure that, as a country, we leave no communities behind.
MUSTAFA ALI: Let me just follow up real quickly on that. And I appreciate what you’re sharing with us. But the reality is, is that there are some states that have not had the best relationship with our most vulnerable communities. So, if we have a trillion, two trillion, three trillion dollars on the federal level, how will we ensure on the state level that they do the right things to address the impacts that are happening in our communities?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Good question. So let me do this both ways. On the federal dollars, they don’t have to go to the states. You can make the federal dollars go straight to the communities, so that communities have the ability to come in and say, “Here’s our problem. We qualify for federal funds,” so you don’t have a governor or state legislature in between sucking up that money, that comes in buckets and ends up being distributed to some communities with an eyedropper. So, that’s part one.
But the second part, I think, is — you are right. We need states to have their own environmental laws. We should do this at the federal level, but we need environmental enforcement at the state level, and environmental rules that are appropriate to those states. I think the best way we make that happen is when we strengthen the groups on the ground. So, think of it as an action like this. When you’ve got a federal government, when you’ve got a president who is really committed on environmental issues, and you’ve got a lot of local groups that both have the ability to get to funding, have the ability to make a difference in their communities, that strengthens those groups. That strengthens those communities. And that gives them a lot more muscle to deal with state governments that may otherwise have overlooked them.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Warren, you’ve said a crucial distinction between you and Bernie Sanders is that you’re capitalist and he’s a socialist. Many activists, though, say that an economic system based on perpetual growth is fundamentally at odds with a stable, clean and sustainable environment. How do you reconcile this?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So, you know, the way I see this, I believe in markets. I think markets bring us a lot of innovation, a lot of creation, a lot of change, that’s good. I want to see, for example, markets for clean — not just clean energy, but how we’re going to clean the carbon out of the air, how we’re going to clean the filth out of the water. But understand this: Markets without rules are theft. They’re theft. It allows, whenever you get a chance, when you have a market that people get to — corporations get to cheat people, that’s theft. That’s not a market. And that’s not how markets are supposed to operate. So, my efforts, for many years now, have been about how we get those markets to function so that we get the best out of the markets, but that people don’t get cheated.
And maybe the best example of that is, in the early 2000s — I’ll just give you an example — toasters. I’m sorry, I’m not going to start with my toaster story; I’ll just start it with mortgages. Mortgages were so dangerous and so complex that someone who got a mortgage had a one-in-five chance of losing their home over that mortgage — not through a fire, but for through foreclosure. Communities of color were targeted for the worst-of-the-worst mortgage. And the government, they weren’t on the side of the people. They were deep in the pockets of the big banks — in fact, so deep that they let the big banks sell enough of those mortgages to crash the entire economy.
So, after that crash, I had an idea. And the idea was for a consumer agency, that would come in just like a consumer agency that protects you from buying toasters that would burst into flames, a consumer agency that would protect people who are buying mortgages and credit cards and student loans, and be on the side of the consumer. And people told me, “Don’t even try to do it, because you’ll never get it passed. The big banks will stop you — big money, the Republicans and, frankly, a whole bunch of the Democrats.” But it was the right thing to do. So I got in that fight. A bunch of consumer groups helped out in that fight. And we took on Wall Street, we took on the big money, and President Obama signed that agency into law in 2010. It has now — yes! And here’s the thing. It has now forced those financial institutions to return more than $12 billion directly to people who were cheated.
Now, we know how to make government work for the people. And that means you’ve got to have rules. I don’t want to get rid of those devices. I don’t want to get rid of credit cards. I kind of like my credit card. I just don’t want them to be able to cheat me or anyone else. For me, that’s what this is all about.
AMY GOODMAN: Can I follow up —
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: — ask you to respond to two different men? Bernie Sanders says there should be no billionaires. Do you agree with that?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Why not?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Look, somebody has a great idea, and they follow it through, and they work hard, and they build something. Good for them. But here’s my pitch. You build a great fortune in this country, good for you. But you built it, at least in part, using workers all of us helped pay to educate. You built it, at least in part, getting your goods to market on roads and bridges all of us helped pay to build. You built it, at least in part, protected by police and firefighters all of us helped pay their salaries for. So, here’s my view. You make it to the top, to the tip-top, then the answer is: Pay a wealth tax, so that we can invest and create opportunities for everyone else. That’s what my two-cent wealth tax is all about.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the second man I want you to respond to is Mark Zuckerberg — right?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — CEO of Facebook, who said that a Warren presidency would suck for his company. That was in an audio leak that came out.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Boo hoo.
AMY GOODMAN: Which brings me to the Climate Accountability Institute, which said the world’s wealthiest corporations are most responsible for the climate crisis —
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — which of course impacts most, people of color and poorest communities. More than 70% of global emissions come from just 100 companies.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think should be done to challenge this, change this? What would you do as president? And what are you doing as senator?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, part one is we can regulate it. Look, three industries — three industries, we put serious regulations in place and say there can’t be any new buildings, any new homes built — after 2028, zero carbon emission; 2030, zero carbon emission on all automobiles and light trucks produced; and by 2035, zero carbon emission on all electric production. Three industries. We can cut carbon emission in the United States of America by 70%. Three industries. So, there’s one of your tools, is regulation, right there. You’ve got to be willing to come in on the regulation.
But let me make another point about this. Understand, those giant companies you’re talking about, yeah, they do a lot of terrible things, but they also have a lot of power, and they exercise that power. They exercise that power over their workers. They exercise it over their customers, over the communities where they’re located, and over the government in Washington. That is corruption, pure and simple. And we need to call it out and fight back. What I want to do on the first day as president, the legislation I want to push through is anti-corruption legislation. I want to get in there and fight the oil companies, the big polluters, because here’s the deal. Anybody who comes up here and tells you about their climate plans, who doesn’t have an anti-corruption plan, who doesn’t have a plan to beat back the influence of money in Washington, is not serious. Oh, we’ll end up with a plan that has some great name like “Cleaned Up the Entire World and It’s Now Full of Unicorns and Butterflies,” but what it will really do is continue to carve out enough exceptions that the profits keep flowing to the same people who are getting those profits right now. So, I’m out there to fight this corruption. That has to be step number one, is to go after them. I will —
AMY GOODMAN: Should corporate executives who pollute go to jail?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: If they do harm to people, they need to be held responsible. And I actually have a bill already on this. You shouldn’t be able to walk away from the injuries you create. No one should be able to do that in the United States.
We’ve got a problem right now in this country. And the problem we’ve got is too much power is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy and the well-connected. And they are using it every single day to keep Washington exactly where they want it. You know, it’s not only what Donald Trump has done and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s decades of this. People talk about a Washington that doesn’t work. Puh! Washington works great — if you’re rich! Washington works great — if you run a giant corporation.
Understand, when this administration wanted to get something done — tax cuts for their big donors — you know how long it took them? Five weeks. They went behind closed doors with their big donors and the lobbyists, scribbled out the bill, and passed it, and a trillion-and-a-half dollars went out the door, mostly to giant corporations and rich people. They know how to get something done.
When nothing is getting done on climate, when nothing is getting done on gun safety, when nothing is getting done on the cost of prescription drugs, ask yourself who benefits from that. Right? It’s the gun industry. It’s the polluters. It’s the drilling industry. It’s the pharmaceutical industry. They are getting the Washington they want. What 2020 is all about is it’s time for us to get the Washington that works for the people, not the one that just works for the big corporations. Yeah.
MUSTAFA ALI: Senator Warren, we’re going to go to a question from one of our students.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Sure.
MUSTAFA ALI: So, if Vladmire Haynes could come forward and pose your question to Senator Warren?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: It’s good to see you.
VLADMIRE HAYNES: Hello. How are you?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I’m good.
VLADMIRE HAYNES: I’m Vladmire Haynes. My question for you, Senator Warren, is: How can you ensure that no community will be left behind when it comes to the fight of environmental injustice? And I am a junior agribusiness major, as well as a member of the SCSU football team.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Whoa! What position do you play?
VLADMIRE HAYNES: Fullback and tight end.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: All right! All right! It’s good to see you, and it’s a good question.
I think the way we do that is we make specific commitments. We can’t make environmental justice an afterthought. It has to be a part of our climate plan design from the beginning. So, partly, this is why I talk about a commitment, a financial commitment, that goes to the frontline and fenceline communities. Partly, it’s why I talk about the commitment to our Native American tribes and their dominion over not just their tribal lands, but the lands that are adjacent to them, because that’s what it takes to protect our Earth. Partly, it’s about attacking the health aspects, coming at this from a different perspective, so that we start to look at this as a public health problem and we lift that up. I think, in each case, the more attention we can bring and the more directions, that’s how we make sure that the communities that have been hardest hit are not left behind.
This is why, as president, I want to make this a part of what I do in the White House. I don’t want it something that people just come in — and by the way, I should add to that, I want to make it a part of what every agency does. So, I want our agencies, I want our banking regulators, to be thinking about climate risk. Think about that. I want them to be thinking about that. I want the — I want our Department of Labor to be thinking about what it means. The Trump administration has rolled back protections for people who work in dangerous areas, what they breathe, what kind of chemicals they’re exposed to. I want each and every one of our departments to have someone at the top, near the top, who is thinking about the environmental impact of what happens, what that agency approves of, what that agency is responsible for, and what it means in the communities that are most affected. We need a lot of change, big change, but I believe we can do this together. This is one of these that’s about leadership at the top, and it’s about powerful communities at the grassroots all across this country. That’s how we make change.
MUSTAFA ALI: Senator Warren, just a quick question. So, many of our most vulnerable communities are being gentrified.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yeah.
MUSTAFA ALI: They’re being gentrified from the impacts from climate change. They are being gentrified by the guise of revitalization. What would you do about this displacement that is continuing to happen?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So, can I just do this one — I’ll start on housing, because this is the biggest area. We’ve got a housing crisis in this country. Gentrification is certainly part of it, but think about it in a larger context. Two generations ago, where was the source of new housing for working families, for the working poor, for the poor poor? Where was it? You had two places. One were private developers. They’re not there anymore. They’re not building that housing; they’re building McMansions. And I’m not mad at them; that’s where their profits are. But they’ve left the area. I grew up in a two-bedroom, one-bath little house. It was in the last row of — last street in Norman, Oklahoma. The garage had been converted into a bedroom for my three brothers. Nobody is building that house anymore. There are not private developers.
Second part is federal government, that used to pump money into housing and has really largely backed out of that. So, I have a plan for that. And that is to build about 3.2 million new housing units across America. We need more housing in America. And this is housing for working families. It’s housing for the working poor. It’s housing for the poor poor. It’s housing for the homeless. It’s housing for seniors who want to be able to age in place. It’s housing for people with disabilities who need specially outfitted housing. It’s housing for people who are returning from prison and who need a place to be able to live. We need to build more housing in this country. An independent analysis shows that my plan would reduce rents across the nation by about 10%. And what they do is they let people — we’ve got to get these down into the communities. They let people stay in the communities. They let people have new housing in those communities, housing that they can afford and be part of.
And then, one other little part, when you’re talking about housing, is the role that housing plays in wealth. You know, the number-one savings plan in America is buy a house, for middle-class families. Number-one retirement plan, live in your house and try to pay it off and then live on your Social Security when you retire. It’s the number-one way that wealth is transmitted from one generation to the next. If grandma and grandpa can hold onto the house until they pass, there’s something there for the kids and the grandkids and the great-grandkids. So it should be no surprise to you that for generations the American government, the federal government, subsidized the purchase of housing for white people and discriminated against the purchase of housing for black people. It’s called redlining. And it created a black-white wealth gap that continues even to this day because of the generational effects, as well as what’s happened in these communities.
So, my housing plan is not only about 3.2 million new housing units across this country, in little communities and big cities all across America. It also says we’ve got to stop and recognize the racial dimension of what happened here. So, I have first-time homebuyer assistance for people who live in formerly redlined communities, and people who were targeted during the financial crash and lost their homes, so we give people a chance to get back on level footing. We can’t keep passing these laws that are racially neutral on their face, where we say, “Oh, same housing for everybody.” We’ve got to acknowledge the past wrongs that are still felt today, the past official discrimination of the United States government that is still felt today, and we’ve got to take steps toward making that right. And that’s what my housing plan is about.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Warren, just 30 seconds left. But speaking about racial injustice, do you think the order of the primary states should change? You have Iowa and New Hampshire —
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Wait, let me make — let me just — before you finish, are you actually going to ask me to sit here and criticize Iowa and New Hampshire?
AMY GOODMAN: No, I’m asking about the order.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: No, that is what Iowa and New Hampshire are all about.
AMY GOODMAN: But let me just ask. They’re two of the whitest states in the country, and then we move to South Carolina with a very significant population of people of color, and it means the candidates spend so much of their time catering to those first two states. Overall, do you think that should change?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Look, I’m just a player in the game on this one. And I am delighted to be in South Carolina. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much.
MUSTAFA ALI: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: It’s good to see you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yeah. Oops, want to keep this?
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Elizabeth Warren. Next up, we will be joined by Senator Cory Booker. He will be followed by John Delaney, Joe Sestak, as well as Marianne Williamson. Senator Cory Booker will speak for three minutes, and then we’ll have a conversation. You’re tuned in right now to the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice. I’m Amy Goodman, with Mustafa Santiago Ali. And we’re seeing right now if Senator Cory Booker is in the wings.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Hello, everybody! Hello.
AMY GOODMAN: Hi.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: How are you?
AMY GOODMAN: Good. So, you have three minutes to freely associate with the audience here.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: To freely associate with the audience. I’m here because of Mustafa. No, I’m very serious. Mustafa called me up and said this is an important forum. We’ve had forums about every issue in this campaign that I can imagine. The two ones that most disappointed me are this one and the one on criminal justice reform with formerly incarcerated people, because those two forums — 2020 doesn’t stand for the year we’re running; it stands for the number of people that are in this race, 2,020 of us. But I’m disappointed because the two issues that disproportionately affect people of color have had the least attendance of the folks.
Now, Mustafa, the reason why I’m here is because when I called him up as a United States senator, having come from a community — I’m the only person in the United States Senate that lives in a low-income black and brown community. And when I called him up because I wanted to deal with issues of environmental injustice, this brother got into multiple types of vehicles, and we went through this nation.
We have a shameful reality in America, from Duplin County, North Carolina, where the pig farms and the corporate industrial agriculture are poisoning our soil and our rivers, to Uniontown, Alabama, where they take coal ash from some communities and dump it into a African-American community, to Cancer Alley, to Newark, New Jersey, to the 3,000 jurisdictions where children have more than twice the blood lead levels of Flint, Michigan.
This is not a presidential issue for me. This has been my entire career, working on issues of environmental injustice. The major bill in the Senate is the one that I wrote. And I say I wrote them — you know this: We actually called the activists together to write the bill. The caucus, first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus, I founded in the United States Senate. I’m here tonight because I owe loyalty to the guy behind me, because I know he is for real. And there’s a whole lot of talk on issues like this, not enough action.
MUSTAFA ALI: So, we know that currently our federal agencies have withdrawn themselves from addressing environmental injustices that are going on. Can you talk about what your administration will do to fix that problem?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: I’m smiling because he’s asking me questions that he knows we’ve talked about. So, first and foremost, what he means by the federal agencies pulling back is the EPA, they’re at half the levels they were in 2010 on inspections right now. The money they’re collecting from corporate polluters is at like a 15-year low. We have a federal government that right now is saying, “We’re going to let corporate polluters do what they want to do.” And we’re in a time of Grover Norquist, you know, this era where Republican legislators sign this pledge, no new taxes. This didn’t start in the time of Trump; this has been going on for a long time. Which means a lot of the mechanisms we had before to clean up these environmental sites, the federal government is no longer pulling in the resources, the taxes, necessary to clean it up.
One great example of this is just the cleanup of Superfund sites in America. We had a bipartisan accord. In fact, Reagan reauthorized a small tax on corporate polluters, chemical companies like those that are in Cancer Alley, to give us a fund to clean up Superfund sites. Well, even though Mitch McConnell voted on it when Reagan was president, he refused to reauthorize it now. And what we see now is, because there’s no money in the Superfund cleanups funds, you see the number of Superfund sites growing in America.
And so, I have a very strong belief, and it’s in the legislation that Mustafa was one of the people that helped us write, is — I just don’t trust the government right now on this issue. And that means that one of the best ways to deal with this issue is to push the power back to people. And so, my legislation, that I wrote as senator, that will become law if I’m president of the United States, is to make sure that local communities have the power, have standing, to sue their governments, which right now they can’t. And so, we know there’s a lot of communities, if they could sue their governments and had standing, we would see a lot more action. And we want to change — our legislation changes the ability to not just sue them, but to actually collect damages, as well. I believe that, as an African American, I know the legal system, all the way from Brown v. Board of Education to incredible work done by great legal activists like Charles Hamilton Houston and others, that some — giving the legal power back to communities to defend themselves is utterly important. And that’s just one tool of the multiple tools that I want to do to make sure that we begin to have a country where people can trust the air that they’re breathing or the water that they’re drinking or the soil which they want to plant crops in.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Booker, I wanted to ask you about nuclear energy. You are a proud proponent of nuclear energy, have argued it’s necessary to wean us off the fossil fuel economy. But you have a lot of environmental activists who are scratching their heads at your support for nuclear energy, particularly around the issue of nuclear waste. Here in South Carolina, for example, there are 35 million gallons of nuclear waste being held at a nuclear reserve south of Aiken. Environmental activists have been fighting it for years. You’ve got Savannah River. And, of course, we’re talking about communities, primarily low-income communities of color, who are dealing with nuclear waste in their own backyards, from New Mexico to Yucca Mountain to right here. What is your answer to the fact that there is no solution in dealing with nuclear waste?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Well, first of all, you’re a little bit mischaracterizing my views. I’m a realist that tells you right now the biggest existential threat to humanity is climate change. Fifty percent of our non-carbon-producing power right now is nuclear. And so, as some of my other opponents want to do is just get rid of it, it’s going to push us back to being more reliant on fossil fuels and make this, our ability to reach our climate goals, impossible. We saw what happened in Vermont when they cut down the Yankee plant there. Their carbon footprint expanded pretty significantly.
So, I look forward to phasing out nuclear waste and nuclear energy. But to do it right now, when we are in a race and have a 12-year race to meet our climate goals? The damage done to poor and vulnerable communities is significantly worse coming from climate change than it is the crisis of nuclear energy. If you want to weigh your poisons right now, the one that’s coming towards us like a barreling freight truck of climate change, the one that my community in Newark is feeling right now, because the temperature rises, asthma rates that are off the charts — and let me tell you something about asthma, as a guy that knows what it’s like in emergency rooms with black children dying at 10 times the rate than white children of asthma complications. So, for me, nuclear energy, I’m just — it’s just common sense to me right now.
AMY GOODMAN: To build new power plants?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Well, let’s — let’s be clear. The nuclear energy of the plants we have now, designed in the '60s and the ’70s and the ’80s, is very different than the new modular nuclear energy plants that are being proposed. Now, those actually have a much — they can actually take spent fuel rods and re-engage them for usage. The frontiers of nuclear science is not something we should just shut down. We should continue to investigate: Is there going to be eventually a safe way to do this? So, I don't mind exploring the future. I’m one of these people that considers myself a futurist. Why? Because you have two choices in life: to let the future happen to you or to shape the future and make sure it happens in a way that’s just.
So, this, to me, is a very, very simple equation, is, I’ve got a 12-year problem to solve. And if anybody wants to get rid of nuclear energy, tell me how you are going to replace 50% of the non-carbon-producing power that we would have right now, because what you’re going to do, you’re going to send us back to coal and oil. And I refuse to go backwards in the cause of environmental justice.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your plan for renewables, for pushing forward solar and wind and other forms of sustainable energy?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Well, this is what gets me frustrated about this conversation sometimes, is because you’ve got a bunch of people running for president who have been in public life for 20 years. Maybe the question is, is: What the heck have you been doing on these issues for the entire time?
So, you should know I have a record on these issues. Number one is, I do not believe that oil companies and coal companies should get tax breaks. It’s ridiculous that we are extending tax breaks in a way that companies like Chevron pay a net zero — in fact, they pay a negative tax rate right now because all the stuff we’re foisting upon them. And so, that’s number one, rolling back those tax breaks.
Number two is extending them to renewables. I fought not just for — when I was in the Senate, we were able to win a seven-year tax credit for — a renewable tax credit for wind and solar, which is really important, because you need some predictability if you’re going to be investing in those areas. But we wanted to see it for everything, from geothermal to battery life. We wanted to extend it for every type of renewable there is. Well, if I’m president, we’re going to make sure that we create a better incentive model for people to be doubling down in investments.
In addition to that, we’re going to create moonshots all around this country for science and research in the renewable space, which is critical because right now other countries are beating us in the race to solve these problems through innovation, and therefore they’re going to beat us in the race to create the new jobs that are being created. Right now there’s more jobs in solar than there are in coal. But we have many things that we could be doing. So, for me, this is all about making sure that we’re doing everything we can to incentivize investments, research, development, and to get to the point where I want to be, which is to have the electrification of our transportation sector by 2030 and then to be carbon neutral as a nation by 2045.
MUSTAFA ALI: Senator Booker, I want to build on what you were just talking about, because in our new clean economy that we are currently developing — and we know it’s going to grow over the years — when we look at those who are currently working in that space, we have some evolution to make sure that there are more folks of color in that space.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Yeah.
MUSTAFA ALI: When we look at the ownership of the businesses there, we also — I think it’s less than 2% of those businesses that are currently in the clean economy that are owned by folks of color. So, how do we — what would your administration do to make sure that those numbers increase?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: You know, when you’re in a car with Mustafa, you end up talking about a lot of things. Look, can we — let’s just be clear right now. We live in a country where there are savage racial disparities in every single corner of our lives. There are racial disparities in healthcare, racial disparities in education, in suspensions, in the criminal justice system. I can go through everything. And so, this, to me, is an issue of trust, because these issues are not right or left. They’re right or wrong. And the Democratic Party’s hands are not clean. I’ve sat where you’ve sat for so many presidential elections, living in an inner city, looking at people who we’re electing who are often part of the problem. Now, so, this, to me, is an issue of trust. Dealing with racial disparities, we need to make sure that the next president, this isn’t going to be a secondary issue, but that we understand that this is a real issue of trust.
Now, look, again, what have you been doing? I got to the United States Senate as the fourth-ever elected African American in the Senate’s history, popularly elected African American. And when I got there, I saw — don’t applaud me; applaud my ancestors, people who fought for me. My mom said, “You got there by the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before you.” And the key is not to be number one, two, three or four. The key is to make sure you’re not the last. This is why, South Carolina, please, please, please elect Jaime Harrison as the next senator.
And so — but let me tell you, it is not just enough to have a black senator. I got there, and I looked at the staffs. It was the least diverse place I had ever worked before in my life. And I looked at the Judiciary Committee staff, because I wanted to get on that committee, and I didn’t see one African-American staffer. You talk about Hamilton, being in the room when it happens. This was a committee making decisions about African-American lives and African-American bodies, and there wasn’t even an African American in the room. And so, what did I do? I went to Chuck Schumer, got a great young senator from Hawaii, Brian Schatz, and we just said, “This is outrageous.” Because most of the Democratic senators, guess how they get elected. With audiences that look a lot like this, African-American communities. And so, what we did is we said, “I only know one way of do things, is accountability, which is having standards, measures and consequences when things don’t happen.” And so, we asked Chuck Schumer, and he gladly did it, to have every Democratic senator publish your diversity statistics. How many women and minorities do you have in positions of power? And guess what’s happened since we’ve done that. The number of African Americans hired in the Senate has gone up.
And so, when you ask me about this, this is why I get — I get angry. Before I even get to that, let me just go with marijuana. This has been killing black communities. There was more marijuana arrests in 2017 than all the violent crime arrests in the country combined. And they’re not arresting everybody. People on college campuses — Stanford, I used to see people smoking pot all the time. No worries. It is disproportionately people of color. So now everybody’s moving to legalize marijuana. This is a big business. Hundreds of billions of dollars are going to be made in the business. And yet people, when they talk about legalization, they don’t go the next two or three steps. The first step should be — don’t talk to me about legalizing marijuana. I have the lead bill in the Senate to do it. But my bill is called the Marijuana Justice Act. You’ve got to also talk about expunging the records of all of those people. But let’s not stop there. Let’s not stop there. Now you want to make sure that in the communities that have been devastated by the marijuana — by marijuana enforcement, that people from those communities actually get a chance to have the licenses to sell marijuana legally. And that’s not happening right now. We’re about to shift into legalization of marijuana in state after state after state, and the people there are not — the people selling it are disproportionately not — are lacking the diversity that our nation does.
And so, to your point about the jobs of the future, I want to be clear. I had to have some very stern conversations with unions when I was a mayor of my town. We were building the first new hotel in 40 years. I had to go to my unions and say, “I know that you have people — systems of who gets on jobs when. But, I’m sorry, this is being built in an African-American community, and there needs to be African Americans, more diversity, in this union. And there needs to be apprenticeship programs for my kids.” And so, I just — I think Mustafa is 100% right. There is going to be a new energy job boom in this country, and we’ve got to make sure that those opportunities — because a lot of people want to talk to you about the wealth gap, the wealth gap, the wealth gap. Look, there are a lot of people in my community that want to be entrepreneurs, that want to be millionaires. And so, I always talk about the wealth gap, yeah, but what we really need to be talking about is the opportunity gap and to make sure that everybody has equal opportunity to start a business, to be innovators, to participate in the new job booms of the future and the new businesses of the future.
And this comes back to how I started, which is trust. If I am your president, a person who has spent my career working on these issues, I am going to make sure that these issues of racial equity are not on the side, that you will have a president, in me, someone who understands these issues intimately and makes sure that I am working every single day so that this nation is who it says it is — a nation of liberty, justice and opportunity for all.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Booker, Flint, Michigan, brought environmental justice to the national stage with the water crisis. Now, five years into that, people in Flint still don’t have clean water. And this year, people in your own community, your neighbors in Newark, New Jersey, where you once served as mayor and still represent them as senator, are also facing a crisis of lead contamination in the drinking water. Flint and Newark aren’t alone. Thousands of water system towns, villages and cities around the country —
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Including right here in South Carolina.
AMY GOODMAN: — are facing contamination, right here in South Carolina. What specifically are you doing to address this national crisis? And what are you doing in Newark, your own community, with people in the throes of this water crisis?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Yeah, so, look, leaders take responsibility and get things done. And so, when this crisis broke out in my city, I went right across the aisle in the Senate, where I’ve worked on building relationships, and passed a major piece of legislation. These are the kind of things that people don’t want to talk about, actually getting things done in Washington, that was — allowed states to shift resources, literally hundreds of millions, I think, in total, into funds that can get these lead pipes out of the water. This, to me, is — you said it: This is my family. These are my — this is my community. And my community isn’t alone. There are thousands of jurisdictions, as I said, right now where children have more than twice the blood lead levels of Flint, Michigan. And so, I’m taking action now as a United States senator. But if I’m president of the United States, enough. Lead service lines should not be in the ground in a 21st century America, period. And I will make sure that we have a fund to get every single lead service line out of the ground in cities all across America.
But we can’t stop there. We have — this is a true story, because I’m telling you — I’m admitting my inadequacies, because I got to the United States Senate as being the New Jersey senator — this is one of the things that led me on my environmental justice tour — and I was also on the Africa subcommittee as a foreign relations person. So I had this doctor, Dr. Peter Hotez, who came in to see me because I wanted to talk to him about neglected tropical diseases in African countries. And I’m flipping through his book as we’re talking about things I could do as a United States senator for the continent. And I’m flipping through books and seeing these maps of where the neglected tropical diseases are. And I almost fell out of my seat when I saw them in some states in the United States of America. And I said, “I didn’t know we had things like hookworm and the like.” And he goes, “Absolutely, in communities that are 100 to 200% of the poverty line.” The doctors don’t even think they exist in North America.
And I literally said, “I have to go see this with my own eyes.” And so I found myself in places in Alabama, in like Lowndes County, Alabama, where I stood there and saw communities that have — they can’t have septic, because the soil won’t allow it. And they have just straight pipes coming out of the people’s — back of people’s homes. I sat with families who talked to me about when it rains, about having all that stuff back up into their home. And so, when you start seeing what I’ve seen in this country, this is reflective of an impotency of empathy, that we could live in a nation where we don’t see what communities are suffering, who do not have access to clean water, who do not have access to proper sewage, who — in America, it should be a right of every citizen to have clean air, clean water and clean soil. And so, I have, in my environmental — in my climate plan, I’m one of the few people that has major pillars on environmental justice. And one of the things we’re going to do is make sure we have a community where everyone has access to clean air and clean water.
But it also means taking on sacred cows. And when I’m saying “sacred cows,” I’m almost literally talking about it, because the corporate industrial animal agriculture industry, we must begin to talk about what it’s doing to our country. You know, when I talked earlier about Duplin County, North Carolina, one of the reasons why groundwater is being contaminated is because you don’t have the heritage of our country, which is the way we used to raise pigs in farms. Now we have multinational corporations, like Smithfield, who have these contract farmers who live like sharecroppers. If you — we should have any empathy for them, too, because they find themselves in these contracts where they’re constantly living in massive debt. You see these massive things called CAFOs, concentrated animal feeding operations, that are all covered. And pigs produce 10 times the feces than human beings do. I sat and watched it going into these massive lagoons. In Duplin County, it’s historically black communities. And I stood there with activists as I watched the spray field spray the literal shit out onto the fields. And then I watched it waff into — you know, like when you spray your lawn, some of it mists off the property and into black communities. I sat in packed rooms with African Americans who told me about respiratory diseases, cancers, what it feels like not to be able to open your windows in your home, run your air conditioning. You can’t put your clothing on the lines. This is happening from Iowa to North Carolina, and we are not conscious of this crisis in our country. I met with a Republican farmer in the Midwest — still remember, western Illinois — who told me, when the CAFOs came around his farm, he can no longer fish in his creek, no longer drink his well water.
And so, I’m just fed up. It’s very hard for me to sit comfortably in Newark, even with our lead water crisis, and know that there are Americans who are facing diseases, cancers, who have lost the value of their land that they’ve been on since slavery, and we are doing nothing as a society about it. That is so against our country. And so, as president of the United States, I have in my plan funds to do something about it. And I’m going to make sure, as your president, I fight and become the president that champions environmental justice in a way like you’ve never seen before.
MUSTAFA ALI: All right. Senator Booker, we’re going to now go to one of our students.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: OK.
MUSTAFA ALI: Desmond Williams, can you please come to the podium?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: I saw the last student who came up here played ball.
MUSTAFA ALI: Right.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: He played my position, tight end.
MUSTAFA ALI: I saw that.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: In my mind, I can still run a faster 40 than he can.
MUSTAFA ALI: Well, the mind is an interesting place to be.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Yeah.
MUSTAFA ALI: Desmond, why don’t you go ahead and handle that?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Desmond, how are you, man?
DESMOND WILLIAMS: I’m great.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Man, what’s it like to have beautiful hair? You’ve got those those rolls, the waves in your hair, man. I used to have pretty hair, too, man. This is your future right here.
DESMOND WILLIAMS: Oh, I’m not looking forward to it.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: I’m not talking about his hair; he’s going to be a future presidential candidate. Go ahead, Desmond.
DESMOND WILLIAMS: Well, my name is Desmond Williams. I am a junior industrial engineer here at SCSU, SCS — SCSU, that’s the —
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Yes.
*DESMOND WILLIAMS: That’s what I said. But recently, you have stated that clean air and clean water shouldn’t be luxuries for the privileged. Yet, every day, communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous communities disproportionately face environmental hazards and harmful pollutants. So, I was wondering if you could elaborate on your statement.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: I mean, it shouldn’t — we were just talking about this. It shouldn’t be — no, stay there, Desmond. Let me look at you, man. Don’t get off that stage.
DESMOND WILLIAMS: I’m here.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: I know you’re nervous, and your hair and everything. Don’t worry about it. Just don’t do what Mustafa did. That’s an affront. That amount of hair is just so — it’s just like he’s trying to make me feel inadequate. That’s what he’s trying to do.
So, look, man, this is the United States of America. And clean air, clean water should not be the purview of the wealthy or the privileged. It should be an American right for everybody. But nothing happens automatically. We’ve got to fight for it. And this is the thing that’s stopping this from being an issue, is if the only people that are fighting for it are the people that are directly affected by it, we’re never going to solve this problem. We’ve got to have a more courageous empathy, that I learned from my parents. A leader of their generation used to always say that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
And so, that’s what I’m calling on you, because one thing I’ve learned is — and as much as I’m running for president of the United States because I know the things I can do from that office, I want to tell you right now that, historically, change does not come from Washington. It comes to Washington. We didn’t get — we didn’t get women’s suffrage because in 1920 a bunch of guys got together on the Senate floor and said, “Hey, fellas, let’s give women the right to vote.” No, that’s not how it happened. We didn’t get civil rights because one day Strom Thurmond changed his mind and came to the Senate floor and said, “I seen the light. Let those Negro people have some rights.” No, it happened because people fought for it. And so, my point is, is power concedes nothing, as Frederick Douglass says, without a demand, without — there is no progress without struggle.
And so, my challenge to you, and my warning to you is, as your president, is — I’m warning you right now, if you elect me your president, I’m going to ask more from you than as any president has ever asked from you and everybody else in their lifetime, because we are not going to change these things just by removing one guy from office and putting another guy in, even though I got a much better haircut than him. We are going to change things when we mobilize this country in the way we mobilized in other movements to change this nation’s destiny. Everything we’ve done has not been done with partisan majority swinging one way or the other. It’s done with new American majorities who are demanding the change that needs to be made.
And so, right now, I’m sorry, the inertia against climate change, the corporate interests, the powerful — the way we’re going to deal with the climate crisis is to mobilize this country, activism like we haven’t seen before. But the same thing goes with child poverty, which is violence against children in this country that’s going on with poverty. The same thing goes with gun violence. The majority of murders in this country are men like you. Young black men are the majority of homicides. All of these things are going to necessitate a level of activism. So, you’re going to have an activist president, but I’m going to need your help, too.
And my question back to you, because you don’t get to ask me one without me asking you one, is: Are you willing to fight and work and struggle with me and others?
DESMOND WILLIAMS: I am.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: All right. All right.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Booker, if you could talk about your personal decision to be a vegan, which really brings together the issue of the environment and personal health?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Would I talk about — I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the beginning.
AMY GOODMAN: Your personal decision to be a vegan.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Listen, my personal decision is to try every day to be a better — living the values in which I hold. And so, my veganism is a much better way to accord myself with my values. But I want to be clear with you that — because I don’t want this to be a holier-than-thou moment. I don’t know where the suit I’m wearing was made. And fast fashion is injustice. It is injustice. You know, these are vegan shoes, so I’m trying to be consistent with things. So, for me, all of us have to do a better job in living in accordance with what our values are. I don’t want to preach to people what our values are, but I know what corporate animal agriculture — not the farm heritage, the independent family farmers I’ve met all around this country, but massive corporate animal agriculture is destroying the environment. What’s happening to animals is something, if Americans — in fact, they’re passing these things called ag-gag laws, which I know you’ve heard of, where they’re trying to block Americans from actually knowing what’s happening to animals. That’s why those CAFOs are usually covered, so you can’t see in and the misery and the suffering going on with animals.
And so, for me, from everything from my health — the leading cause of death for black men is preventable diseases. As Ron Finley, this great — he has a TED Talk, black man in South-Central Los Angeles. He has this great TED Talk — you should watch it — where he says, “In South-Central, we got drive-bys and drive-thrus, and the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.” And so, I’m trying to do my best to live my values. I fail every day, but I want to get better and better and better, to be more conscious about the decisions I’m making. And in a capitalist society, you vote every day with your dollars. And so, my veganism is something I’m happy to talk about, and about the reasons why. But I want to tell you this — Martin Luther King said it more eloquently than I could ever say it. He goes, “I can pass — I can’t pass laws to make you love me, but I can pass laws to stop you from lynching me.” I can’t pass laws to change your heart, but I can pass laws to restrain the heartless. And so, I may not — I may not want to force my dietary habits on everybody here. But if I’m your president, I’m going to stop us subsidizing through our ag bills the corporate animal agriculture that ultimately is hurting our country. And I haven’t heard another presidential candidate that wants to talk about these issues.
Animal agriculture right now is the way — the large corporate animal agriculture is driving so much of the problems with climate change. The number-one reason for deforestation, rainforest deforestation, is grazing lands for the larger and larger consumption of meat. Scientists say that we would need four planet Earths if the rest of the planet ate the standard American diet. And by the way, China is moving towards the standard American diet. More people are eating like we’re eating. And so, we have to start talking about a free market, not the subsidization of corporations, whether it’s oil companies or folks that are doing it.
Now, if I have more sway over the ag bill, God, we’re going to let farmers lead us out of this. But we’re going to be doing things like incentivizing cover crops and no-till farming, things that pull carbon out of the air. We’re going to incentivize reforestation. I have a plan to plant 100 million trees in urban areas, which will cool them down, pull more carbon out of the air. We need to start using our incentives, our taxpayer dollars, to incentivize the right behavior and stop the human suffering that’s going on as a result of a lot of the things we’re spending — we’re doing with — subsidizing with our taxpayer dollars.
MUSTAFA ALI: Senator Booker, thank you for your time.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Mustafa! Hold on. Thank you! Thank you! I just want to — I just want to say one more time, first of all, I watch Amy on TV. Every time I see her, I get a little starstruck here, because she is an incredible voice of truth telling. She is fair, straight shooter, and she exposes a lot of the ignorance in our — so I want to thank you for what you do every day, for being one of those journalists who speaks truth to power.
And I just want to say, Mustafa is one of my heroes. He’s an unsung hero. He’s a low-key guy. And he blew up my text messages. I think you were sending me one every week about “You better be here.” And that’s when I knew it was for real. And we changed our schedule so I can be here.
But my point is, to you all, do not — do not think that just because we have a Democrat elected, it’s going to solve all of our problems. We have not seen that happen before. Please, please support the candidate you feel an authentic connection to, but then hold them accountable. Hold them accountable. We have to have a new era of activism in our country, or, if not, we are going to decline as a nation. And already our life expectancy is going down. Already the black-white wealth gap is growing again in this country. We have a lot of indices that portend of a decline. But I will not let that happen. We cannot let that happen. If we stand together, work together, sacrifice together, struggle together, like our ancestors have, we will not decline. We will rise. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Cory Booker, here at the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice. This is our special broadcast, going until 9:00 Eastern Standard Time. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Mustafa Santiago Ali, who is the vice president of the National Wildlife Federation and former official at the Environmental Protection Agency, as we move on right now to hear from our next 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, John Delaney, who has three minutes to just freely address you.
JOHN DELANEY: Thank you. Good evening, everyone! How’s everyone doing tonight?
So, I agree with everything Senator Booker just said, including the points he made about hair being an overstated virtue in modern American politics. So, as he got off the stage, we talked about the solidarity we have on that issue. Some of you, I know, agree with me on this point.
But, anyway, I want to thank you for having me. I want to thank this great university for convening this important discussion, because it really is an important discussion. It is a topic that has not come up nearly enough in this presidential debate. I want to thank the journalist and moderators of the panel tonight. I want to thank everyone who’s been involved. It’s a real privilege to be here.
So, the reason it is important to have this conversation is because we’re at an important kind of pivot moment in the environmental movement. We have seen, for generations, how industrial pollution in the United States of America has unfolded in a way that is terribly unjust, where communities of color and low-income communities have disproportionally shouldered the burden of the industrial pollution that this country has produced across at least the last hundred years. The point is, while our country has remained segregated, pollution has also been segregated. There’s a million kids in our country who have lead poisoning; a disproportionate share of them are children of color. There’s 100,000 citizens die every year in our country because of the quality of air that they breathe; a disproportionate amount of them are citizens of color. If you draw a two-mile radius around the most significant polluting facilities in the United States of America, 60% of the citizens in that two-mile radius are citizens of color. There has been tremendous injustice with respect to how industrial pollution has been built in this country, and we all know how it happened. It was by design. It was because of zoning. It was because of segregation. It was because of Jim Crow. It was because of all of those factors.
And now we have this existential threat of climate change. And the risk exists that that could play out exactly the same way, unless we address it. In 2100, unless we address climate change, the city of Boston is projected to be underwater. But we all know that won’t happen. Why won’t that happen? Because Boston is a wealthy place, and they’ll build sea walls, and they’ll create pumps that none of us could ever imagine. But other communities in our country will not be so fortunate. They will not have the resources. They will not have the workarounds that other communities have. And the low country here in South Carolina, in particular, that is true for. So this is why we have to think about climate change policy.
And I’ll talk about my policies during our Q&A, my carbon tax and dividend, what I want to do around innovation, how I want to create a whole new industry around direct air capture, how I want to lead the world — globally, because this is a global issue — and how I want to deal with infrastructure, because we need to make massive investments in sustainable infrastructure.
But I’ll close, before we go to our great conversation, by saying what I’m committed to. I am committed that every law and every regulation we make in this country will be viewed through the lens of environmental justice, because that has to be how we think about policymaking going forward. And we have to deal with the problems of the past. And we have to position ourselves so that it doesn’t happen with the next wave of pollution that we’re now coming into sharp focus on, which is climate change. So, I think I’m going to join you over here now. So, thank you very much.
MUSTAFA ALI: Thank you. Thank you. And thank you for highlighting some of those public health impacts that are happening in our most vulnerable communities. Hazel Johnson, who was the mother of the environmental justice movement, used to talk about the toxic donut that she lived in, there in the South Side of Chicago. They were surrounded by 17 polluting facilities. Some of them were permitted. Can you talk about how you would address the cumulative impacts that happen in many of our communities?
JOHN DELANEY: So, the — first of all, again, thank you for having me. The cumulative impacts in these communities have been devastating. If you look at all the public health statistics — I named some of them, you’re referencing others. We could talk about asthma. We could talk through all these things. So, the first thing we have to do is make sure these polluters don’t exist. So we need policies to stop the pollution going forward, or to the extent there is pollution, that polluters pay.
The second thing we have to do is part of building a universal healthcare system in our country, which is something I’m for. Giving every American healthcare is a basic human right. We have to ensure, in particular, that that universal healthcare system covers some of the unique conditions that these citizens are living with because of their exposure to pollution, which, in my judgment, was installed in their communities in a discriminatory manner.
And the third thing we have to do is we have to look at what kind of damages have occurred to them, not only as a matter of health, but as a matter of economic opportunity, because, clearly, when you’re living near a polluter and you’re exposed to pollution, it has an effect on your kids. It has an effect on what’s going on in public education. Right? It has an effect on your economic opportunities. And I think those need to be addressed.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your opposition to the Green New Deal?
JOHN DELANEY: So, my opposition to the Green New Deal as a specific proposal is that I don’t think it’s a feasible way forward. And what I mean by that, when I think about climate change, I think it’s a very, very different issue compared to all the other issues we face as a country, meaning we have an infrastructure problem in this country. We spend 2% of our economy on infrastructure; we used to spend 5%. China spends 8%. We clearly should be spending more. But if we wait five years to do that, it’s a missed opportunity, but it doesn’t get exponentially worse, whereas climate change is actually something where the clock is ticking. We are actually running out of time, and we have to get to net zero by 2050, in my judgment.
And so, one of the problems I had with the Green New Deal architecture was that it linked progress on climate to creating a universal healthcare system, which is something I’m 100% for, and it linked progress on climate to other things like universal basic income or a guaranteed jobs program. So, when I initially saw that, I said, “That makes it harder to have action on climate.” If the Green New Deal becomes part of a larger social compact, and any action on climate is conditioned upon making progress on these other important issues, by definition, we’re making it harder to have action on climate. So that was my first issue with it.
My second with — issue with it is I didn’t see a practical way to hit the goal that they laid out, which is net zero in 10 or 12 years. That, to me, is impossible. Right? Eighty percent of the energy in our country comes from fossil fuels. That’s terrible, but that’s what it is. That’s what it was five years ago. We don’t have alternative energy sources at this point in time to replace that in 10 or 12 years. And I’ve always believed when you put forth unrealistic goals, people don’t even try to achieve them. In other words, when President Kennedy said we should go to the moon by the end of the century, it was an incredible — kind of incredibly bold goal. But he talked to scientists, and he talked to physicists, and it was doing doable. If he would have said we should go to Jupiter, no one would have taken it seriously. So, what I’ve laid out is a very specific plan to get us to net zero by 2050, which I believe is the goal. That’s what the U.N. climate commission believed was the goal.
So, my biggest issues were — around it were three things. The first is that it tied action on climate to all these other things, and that seemed to me it made it harder. The second thing is the goal was not realistic, and I didn’t think anyone was going to take it seriously. And the third part about it, it was — there was no specific plans.
I mean, I introduced the only bipartisan bill on climate change in the whole Congress of the United States. It was my legislation. It had Democrats and Republicans in equal numbers. It put a tax on carbon. It took all that money, and it gave it back to the American people in the form of a dividend. I believe I can get that bill passed in my first year as president. Columbia University modeled that that bill would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040. That’s an actionable step forward, where I see a very specific path as to how you can get it done. I’m all about getting stuff done. I think there’s a huge cost associated with doing nothing. And we’ve paid it most significantly on climate. And I want to make sure the plan I put forward is actionable, and I can tell the American people how I’m going to get it done.
MUSTAFA ALI: I think we would have to admit, though, that the Green New Deal and some of the other youth-led movements have brought a huge amount of attention to these issues, where for decades folks were not moving forward. Let’s talk a little bit about your plan. And how does that sync up with the National Climate Assessment’s reports and the IPCC reports, that has us 11 years before we hit the tipping point? Can you just talk a little bit about how you —
JOHN DELANEY: My plan is completely in sync with the IPCC report. And so, the thing we’ve got to — you know, these years get a little confusing, right? Because some people say 10 years, 12 years, 11 years. If you actually talk to the scientists, like at the IPCC, they will say that we have to get to net zero by 2050. Now, to get to net zero by 2050, we have to be somewhere in five years, somewhere in 10 years, somewhere in 15 years. You know, you’ve got to be hitting benchmarks along the way. So my plan gets us to net zero by 2050. And let me tell you how we do it.
We put a price on carbon, a carbon tax, take all the money, give it back to the American people in a dividend. Your average American will get a dividend larger than the increases in their energy costs associated with the carbon tax. That will largely get the electric grid to net zero by 2050.
Then I call for a fivefold increase in Department of Energy research spending, because right now we spent about $6 billion on basic research. I think we should spend 30, a year. So I’m calling for a moonshot around research, because we don’t have the battery and transmission technologies — they don’t exist right now — that can get us to net zero by 2050. We’re going to have to start inventing some of this stuff.
The third thing, I continue and expand the renewable tax credits. I’ve got a massive investment in sustainable infrastructure as part of my infrastructure plan. I launch something called the Climate Corps as part of national service, which will be young people going around the country helping communities build sustainable infrastructure. And then I do something very unique. I create a whole new industry in this country called the direct air capture industry. And this is, again, based on the U.N. report, because they recommend, like I do, that we will not get to net zero by 2050 unless we remove 20% of the CO2 from the atmosphere. Literally, like a vacuum, we’ve got to suck it out of the atmosphere.
And the reason for that is pretty straightforward, I think, which is, if you think about where greenhouse gases come from, they come from the production of electricity. We can get that to net zero. They come from cars. We can get that to net zero. But then it also comes from airplanes, big ships, farming and manufacturing. And I don’t even mean the energy in manufacturing, actually the manufacturing process. All of those things produce greenhouse gases. And there are no plans for any of those things at this point. We don’t have electric planes. We don’t have electric ships. We’re still going to do farming, and we’re still going to do manufacturing. Those things collectively constitute 20% of our emissions.
So I believe right now we have to launch, effectively, an industry to start removing the CO2 from the atmosphere. I’m not talking about capture at coal plants. I’m talking about machines that exist. They are proven. The science works. The problem is, they’re too expensive, and they’re subscale. So what I want to do is create a market for them, just like we did for wind and solar. I want to take the $50 billion a year in tax credits we give to the fossil fuel industry, and I want to allocate those for the government to actually purchase carbon at the lowest price, using a market-based system similar to what we did in wind and solar, to unleash a whole industry to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. So, those are the — that’s the specific kind of features of my plan.
MUSTAFA ALI: And just to anchor this in what this forum is focused on, our most vulnerable communities, in many instances, market mechanisms are contributors to hotspots. So, how would you address the hotspots that exist throughout our country — and the hotspots are our most vulnerable communities — with the plan that you have?
JOHN DELANEY: Well, so, let me tell you how I think about market-based mechanisms. I think about market-based mechanisms the same way I kind of think about our country, which is, we’re having a — in some ways, a pointless debate about socialism versus capitalism. I don’t think we’re either of those things. We’re a free market economy that has strong social programs. What does that mean? You have a free market, but you put your thumb on the scale every once in a while to make sure you get outcomes that you want. At least that’s what we used to do. We stopped doing that a couple of decades ago, and that’s what we’ve got to get back to.
So, when I think about this, the first thing you need to do is have remediation in disadvantaged or vulnerable communities that have already been negatively affected by pollution. The second thing you have to do is you need to ensure that if you’re building any kind of a new industrial complex around renewables, that it’s not disproportionately located in communities where it could produce a negative impact. Right? The third thing we’ve got to do is got to make sure we’re investing in these communities so that they have opportunities, because if we’re removing a lot of the polluting industries from these communities, we’ve got to get new jobs back in these communities. Right? Because that’s one of the big issues associated about fixing the disparities. You’ve got to replace the jobs that exist, because a lot of people work in these industries, that are in these communities, that are hurting them. So those are some of the things that I get at. And as I said in my opening remark, every decision has to be made through the lens of environmental justice, every regulation and every law that you pass.
AMY GOODMAN: Our last question goes to a student, Brandon Galloway.
BRANDON GALLOWAY: Thank you. Thank you, Representative Delaney, for being here. My name is Brandon Galloway, and I am a graduating senior in civil engineering with a minor in environmental science. And I also am the founder of our Environmental Action Club here at the South Carolina State University. So, a few of the questions that were already asked were related to my question, so I would like to make my question a little bit more specific for you. So, you highlighted the fact that — the fact of the matter that the global climate crisis we have simply is a waste management problem, and the fact that minority communities, a.k.a. people indigenous to the lands, are the least contributing to pollution, yet we are the most affected by the impacts of climate change. Dr. Robert Bullard, the father of environmental justice, says “wrong complexion for protection.” We are the most displaced and the last to be taken care of, after these man-made disasters and these natural disasters that have been intensified by the effects of climate change. “Wrong complexion for protection.” My question for you tonight, Representative Delaney, is: What kind of actions would you take to implement policies that would combat, protect, serve and repair those communities affected the most, ultimately making them more resilient to natural and man-made disasters?
AMY GOODMAN: And we just have one minute for that answer.
JOHN DELANEY: Got it. Well, Brendan, that’s a — that’s a great question. And I admire your background. It sounds like you’re exactly the kind of person we need unleashed in the world to help solve this problem. So congratulation on the success of all your studies.
So, what it comes down to is we’ve got to just think differently about everything. You know, you know how the storm Dorian hit the Bahamas, and there was this amazing kind of picture where they juxtaposed this very wealthy community, where all the homes were built in a very sturdy, hurricane-proof manner, and pretty much all of them stood. They lost some roof tiles, they lost some trees, but they were kind of fine. Right across the bay was a historic community that had been on the islands for a long time. And it was just leveled. You couldn’t even see any resemblance of any structure. And that’s because those structures weren’t built up to high standards, and people hadn’t invested in those communities. And it was such a juxtaposition about the issue we’re going to have with climate, because a majority of people who live in poverty around the world live at or below sea level. Most of them are going to be the most negatively affected by these changes.
I believe, not only here in our country, but as a global community, we need to allocate resources to building sustainable infrastructure —
AMY GOODMAN: Twenty seconds.
JOHN DELANEY: — so that these communities can withstand the impact, to investing and upgrading their physical structures, so that they actually live in homes that aren’t decimated every time a storm comes through, and that it gets to how we actually allocate capital, not only here and around the world. And we have to basically invest in these communities, because, as you said, they generally did nothing to cause this problem, and they are in fact the most vulnerable. And the only way to address that is to actually invest in the infrastructure that will protect them, and in giving them the opportunity to effectively rebuild their communities so that they can withstand what is likely to be a much more difficult next several decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Congressman John Delaney, thank you so much.
JOHN DELANEY: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MUSTAFA ALI: Thank you, sir.
JOHN DELANEY: Thank you. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Next up, as we come to this last half-hour of this first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice, is former Congressman Joe Sestak, who has three minutes to come out on the stage and make his opening statement. We are broadcasting from South Carolina State University here in Orangeburg. Yes.
JOE SESTAK: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you for having me here this evening.
I’m Joe Sestak. I was fortunate to wear the cloth of our country for 31 years, in peace and in war. But when I came back from the war after those 31 years, my then-4-year-old daughter was wheeled out of surgery with brain cancer that they couldn’t get at the military hospital, the same as John McCain had, glioblastoma, and she was given 90 days. But you gave us a healthcare plan in the military that I could take her to other hospitals. So my payback toward my country was to become a Democrat and run in a nearly two-to-one Republican district, where I grew up, to become the second Democrat since the Civil War. And then, with a 100% voting record, by Sierra Club and Penn Environment called the most pro-environmentally friendly congressman in Pennsylvania, and with an F from the NRA, I was re-elected by 20 points but didn’t have to spend a dime to get re-elected, on any campaign ad. When I left Congress, I decided to teach at Cheyney University, the oldest historical black university in America. That’s why this is a little bit like coming home. And I didn’t take a lobbying job. I decided to also work in a new nonprofit that’s focused on the districts in Philadelphia where the infant mortality rate is worse than it is in Syria.
And so, two points I’d like to make before I sit down for the questions, believing in environmental security. The two are that whether it’s climate change and its impact upon environmental justice, no matter what we do here at home, it will not matter, unless somehow we take America’s greatest strength, our power to convene the world, where 194 of 196 nations have not met their — including us, our Paris climate change commitment, and where the tropics, 8% of them have air conditioning today, but 50% will have it at least by 2050, which will be equivalent, if they just go to Sears and buy a normal air conditioning, of deforesting two-thirds of the Amazon. It is all of the world doing this, or nothing.
Second, in the military you learn, expect what you inspect. And we set up a wonderful inspector for environmental justice back in 1992 in the Clinton administration. That’s our warrior to make sure damage isn’t being done, injustice in environment, in our inner cities and elsewhere. And yet, what it does do, it’s basically toothless. It does very good work in the EPA in this one office for making sure that we cooperate, we collaborate, we integrate, we advise. But it has no power. And the money it has is decimal dust, a million dollars a year in grants. If you are to use our government, which you must, to ensure that there is not environmental injustice, that office must be given teeth. And it has a wonderful model in it called the geographic assessment environmental justice model, which could even tell you which communities are unable to even have the ability to help and work with decision makers, and where the health costs will be, like up in Nicetown in Philadelphia, where they’re about to, in a poor and lower-income community, put another power-generating plant. And when they assess it, they do nothing. That’s the first step to begin to enforce environmental justice. Thank you.
MUSTAFA ALI: First off, thank you for your service. Could you talk a little bit about the role that the military should be playing in addressing these environmental injustices that are happening in our community?
JOE SESTAK: It’s interesting. Your United States military, in their base — in the U.S. Navy alone, it has higher renewable standards on their bases than anywhere else in America, because we understand — and my wife actually works abroad as an international environmentalist but also has been consulted by the military, of how can you have more efficiency in operations, even with marines carrying their backsacks, so you don’t carry fuel in order to power your radio; how can you use a solar power panel, not just for energy, so they can, frankly, carry more bullets. So, you have, actually, until they’re closing it this year, which my wife worked for, environmental security office in the Pentagon and an operational efficiency office that works together.
When I joined up during the Vietnam era — and I did flunk my physical, but I went back — the issue was that we were throwing trash over into the ocean as soon as we were three miles away from land. Within a few years, we started getting to it, and nothing has ever dropped overboard. It’s compacted and brought to shore properly. We actually have in the U.S. Navy an F-18 green energy squadron. A lot of images are stereotyped about the military. And can it do better? You bet it can.
We should think about this. When I commanded an aircraft carrier battle group in the war, I was on the ground briefly, because I headed the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit, strategic anti-terrorism unit. I was on the ground in Afghanistan when the war began for a brief period, came out, commanded a carrier battle group. And as we were doing the strikes, my head would go down every night about 150 feet away from the core of a nuclear reactor. We make it sailor-proof. But we have something that we built back in the 1960s, a thorium plant, that the Chinese came over and copied about a decade ago. We made a decision not to go thorium, but rather to go uranium, because it gave you dual use — i.e. you can make weapons from it — and sitting around this nation because we cannot get rid of it, because Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where we were supposed to store it, was never permitted by the majority leader, who’s now retired, to let us put it in there safely. We have loose nukes laying around this nation. But we should go to thorium reactors, because they cannot be turned into weapons. We built one, and it eats up plutonium and uranium. So there’s a lot the military, our national security, can do towards this. But they are actually on the vanguard of much of what’s happening in this nation, because we can direct, and we don’t have to try to get a bipartisan piece of legislation.
AMY GOODMAN: We have a student who wants to ask you a question: Kurt Bennett.
KURT BENNETT: Good afternoon, Representative Sestak, my question is, for you, is: How would your administration assure that the Environmental Protection Agency, whose mission is supposed to protect the human health of the environment, does not continue to dismantle the environmental laws and policies that have been put in place just to do that, thereby becoming the Environmental Destruction Agency?
JOE SESTAK: I lost a little hearing in the Navy. Could I ask — come closer and ask you, to hear?
KURT BENNETT: Oh, I’m sorry. How would your administration assure that the Environmental Protection Agency, whose mission is supposed to protect the human health environment, does not continue to dismantle the environmental laws, policies that have been put in place just to do that, thereby become the Environmental Destruction Agency?
JOE SESTAK: Yes, thank you. Look, the EPA, as you know, is supposedly of Cabinet rank. It’s actually not. It’s one level down. It’s kind of sub-Cabinet. I think it needs to be — by legislation, needs to be made a Cabinet rank, by legislation.
The reason I bring that up is for the reason I gave that opening statement. Look, we have a government that could beat Japan and Germany in four years in World War II, but it couldn’t roll out a healthcare website for the Affordable Care Act in four years, which was the only reason I went to Congress. We need to make our government effective. And when you have the EPA have an office called the Office of Environmental Justice, and it doesn’t enforce environmental injustices, something’s wrong. EPA has regulatory abilities. And the fact that it is not doing it, that is the one horse we have to ride, because it is the one horse, despite all the great words of wanting this or doing this, but that’s the power that we have, is to have an office that has — like the civil rights office in the Justice Department, that does go in and inspect voting rights and other things. We must pivot and make that one, sir, that one, be the office, the horse that we ride most, as we stand up with frontline communities.
Could I end with one comment? And then I think I’m out of time, correct?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
JOE SESTAK: As John McCain used to call me, because he was a fellow Naval Academy grad, when I ran for Senate, used to say, “Joe, I saw you on television. You’re still too long. Keep it shorter.” However, if I could, very quickly, to the young man that just asked the question. I lived and I went to war with the youth of America, just like that young man. Five thousand sailors on an aircraft carrier, their average age 19-and-a-half. I not just went to war with them, I learned from them. And it has to do with what that gentleman just asked about.
When a pilot gets in a plane, they turn on their engine. They strap you to a catapult. They push a button, and that sling, that catapult, throws you into the air for the ride of your life. But suddenly, when they’re about to push the button, they say, “Stop. Unhook that, your engine. Stop and get out. They need a different plane. There’s been an ambush.” But no one unhooks the plane, 'til a young man and woman, such as that young man, walks out, unhooks the plane from the catapult. But the pilot can't see that. And that pilot doesn’t want to turn off their engines 'til they know they've been unhooked. Because you turn off your engine, and someone pushes that button, and you’re still hooked, you go off for the final ride of your life. And so, that young man or woman unhooks the plane, walks in front of the plane and gives a very simple signal, that says it all: “Go ahead, pilot. You can trust me, not for my word, but for my deed. And if I made a mistake, and you start heading overboard to your death when you turned off your engines, you’re going right through me. And I’m going overboard with you, to my own death.”
That is what we need in public office today, for there’s that EPA office I spoke about, to do accountability for the deed, not the word, or to have a president that does the same, above party, self, any special interest, for people.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Congressman Joe Sestak, thank you. Thank you. And our last candidate tonight is Marianne Williamson, who will come out and make her opening statement.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: Hello. During the Democratic debate, when I was on stage, I talked about Denmark, South Carolina. I talked about people telling me there about the contaminants in their water, the fact that their government, their state government, not only is not fixing the problem, but seems in many ways to be part of the cover-up. And I talked about Flint, Michigan. I talked about the water there. I talked about the fact that what happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe. I talked about the fact that this is a dirty underbelly of American society, the racism, the prejudice against people of color, disadvantaged communities. And I did that on the debate stage for the same reason that I’m running for president: because I want to help America look in the mirror.
Everything that we’re talking about here today, I agree with 99, probably 99.9%, of all of the solutions that have been discussed here today. But none of this is really going to change if we only address symptoms. We have to address cause. We have to address the deeper, virulent strain of capitalism that has corrupted our government over the last 40 years. We have to discuss the fact that we have a corrupt economic system, an amoral economic system, a corporate aristocracy that has so corrupted our government and has so hijacked the values system of this country, that if all we do is elect a Democrat, who will have better policies, we will always be vulnerable, because they’ll be back in two years, or they’ll be back in four years. I want to be president because I want to help initiate an awakening of the American people.
Martin Luther King Jr. said we need a qualitative change in our souls, as well as a quantitative change in our circumstances. And when the American people wake up to that dark underbelly of American society, to know that the functioning of our government is not worthy of the decency of our people, to recognize that this shift from vital democracy to corporate aristocracy cannot just be fixed in incremental ways, then we will have a spiritual and a moral revolution in this country. And then, and only then, will equality and liberty and justice be back. Thank you.
MUSTAFA ALI: Thank you for being with us.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: Thank you.
MUSTAFA ALI: And sort of building on what you just shared at the end about our spirituality, our humanity, we have 500,000 people in our country who are homeless. Many of those are people of color, and we know that they are being impacted from climate change. They’re being impacted in the sense that they are breathing more toxic air pollution than others. They often can’t find clean water to drink. What would you do to address some of the homelessness that is tied to these environmental impacts?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: Well, first of all, I want to mention that out of that 500,000, a hundred of those are children. We have 100,000 homeless children in the United States. We have 13 million hungry children in the United States. Remember, we have 93 million people in this country who live near poverty. And, of course, we have higher poverty rates among people of color, even more among Native Americans, etc. It’s interesting when we talk about it as a homelessness problem, or even as a housing problem, because what’s really happening is that it’s a poverty problem. It is an economic injustice problem.
So, it’s one of the reasons I’m running. It’s very interesting — isn’t it? — that the same political establishment which we’re asking to solve the homelessness problem, to solve the housing problem, caused the homelessness problem and caused the housing problem because of the fact that they have become handmaidens to the corporate aristocracy, whereby for the last 40 years we have been engaged in a systematic transfer of wealth. It’s what my mother would have called a theft, a major transfer of wealth in this country into the hands of 1% of our people, 1% now owning more than 90%. The wealth inequality, that does not just speak to numbers, it speaks to deep human suffering. And this is what we need to address.
And this will not be addressed just because you have a president who goes to Washington to fight for you. We have to remember, the citizens of the United States are like the immune system. This situation, Donald Trump and all of the forces represented by the continuation of these injustices, they’re like an opportunistic infection, that would not have gotten a hold of us had there not been a weakened societal immune system. It is when we awaken to this — we awaken — really, on a certain level, won’t even matter what people in Washington do, because once we awaken enough, we will totally make sure that not only is the president fighting for you in Washington — I don’t want to fight for you. I want to co-create with you, because what needs to be addressed in Washington also needs to be addressed in Columbia, and it also needs to be addressed in Denmark, and it also needs to be addressed in Spartanburg, and it also needs to be addressed in Flint, and it also needs to be addressed in Newark. And it also needs to be addressed only in a way it will be addressed when the American people have simply had enough.
AMY GOODMAN: The Standing Rock Sioux are demanding the Dakota Access pipeline be shut down. They’re in court. They say a proper environmental impact statement wasn’t done, among other things. What do you think should be done with that pipeline — what would you do in your first day in office as president — and with the other pipelines in this country that so often cross or are next to indigenous land?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: They absolutely should be shut down. They should not exist. And as you just said, the environmental impact statement wasn’t even done. And particularly the fact, not only in the Dakotas, but also in Iowa, the fact that these things ever existed on Native lands, there’s not an accident there. These people have been treated unjustly, starting with genocide, continuing through cultural annihilation, unfair treaties, treaties that have been broken, the fact that the United States government, as it is now, is doing more to advocate for the corporate malfeasance and the corporate injustice towards Native Americans.
This is all — you know, the term that people use a lot these days is intersectionality: Everything’s connected to everything. Because what happens is, with this amoral economic system of trickle-down economics, you know, it’s interesting, because these forces, they know that we’re good and decent people. They actually — we are a good and decent people. The problem is not with the American people. So the way these forces operate is, give people the standard of living that they want, and whatever suffering is a result, make sure it’s on the other side of town or the other side of the world. And that’s why you have these factories. That’s why you have things like the pipelines, although you and others have brought the attention of the pipeline to the world, but if you hadn’t…
So, this has to be recognized as the deep level of immorality, the deep level of corruption, which we must not take our eyes from even for a moment, and which we should never allow ourselves to believe will be fixed once we handle — once we handle this environmental issue or once we handle that issue with a pipeline. My father used to say, “Don’t ever forget, little sister, the bastards are always at the door.”
MUSTAFA ALI: We want to make sure that one of the students has a question for you. So, Arian Gillespie, are you here? You ready?
AARON GOLSON: Good evening. Thank you all, again, for coming out here to South Carolina State University. And my name is Aaron Golson from Decatur, Georgia. I’m a graduate student here in agricultural business. My question for you is — many youth come from environmental justice communities, attend HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. What is your plan to better support the colleges to prepare the next generation of environmental justice champions?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: I wear hearing aids. Did he said what am I going to do to support education?
MUSTAFA ALI: HBCUs.
AARON GOLSON: What is your plan to better support these colleges to prepare the next generation for environmental justice champions?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: Did he say specifically historically black colleges, did you say?
MUSTAFA ALI: Yes.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: OK. One of the pillars of my campaign is a plan for reparations for slavery. Reparations for slavery, because whether you are a person or you’re a nation, you can’t have the future you want unless and until you’re willing to clean up the past.
The difference between a plan of reparations and a plan of race-based policies is that race-based policies, number one, leaves open the question of whose fault this gap was to begin with, and also it fails to bring forth moral force. Moral force comes with reparations, a sense of an acknowledgement, an inherent mea culpa, a recognition about wrong that was done, a debt that is owed, and the willingness on the part of people to pay it.
Now, one of the plans of race-based policies is billions of dollars given to historically black colleges, which of course is important. But I feel that when you only have race-based policies, it’s still white America saying, “I messed with you, and I’ll tell you how I’m going to fix you.” It’s the same paternalism. Whereas with reparations, with my plan for reparations, black America will decide. If I owe you money, I don’t get to tell you how to spend it. And the stipulation on the part of the U.S. government is that the money, the $500 billion, that I have proposed to be dispersed over a period of 20 years, would be used for the purposes of economic and educational renewal.
And so, I want that as part of this reparations plan. But I also want — for every American, I want free college. For every American, I want a removal of the college loans. And I’ll tell you why. Money does not come from a bunch of corporate aristocrats who are dropping crumbs from the table in the form of job creation. Money, especially in this century, we must change the paradigm from an economic to a humanitarian bottom line. Money comes from the creativity and the productivity of the American people. Anything we do that helps you thrive will help America. And we also know, in terms of the black communities, it’s been established that if black families manifest as much wealth as white families, our economy would be $1.5 trillion larger.
So, for me, for you to be able to have the education that you want, so that you can become in all ways the man you want, in all ways manifesting your God-given potential, America will win. That’s an economic stimulus. Be as educated as you can. I want to remove your healthcare; I don’t want you to have to worry about healthcare. I don’t want you to have to worry about paying for college. I don’t want you to have to worry about college loans. And the quid pro quo is, you go be everything you can possibly be, as a man, as a father, as a lover, as a friend, as a husband, as a partner, as a creator, as a producer — America will be much better off.
AARON GOLSON: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, the head of the DNC, has said no to a climate crisis debate. Your response?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: The DNC has said no to a climate crisis debate?
AMY GOODMAN: Solely focused on the climate change.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: The DNC said no to me being around too much, either, so none of that surprises me.
AMY GOODMAN: And how has that affected your ability to get your message out as you continue to run? Is that also challenged, whether or not you’ll continue, that you’re being at this point excluded from the presidential debates?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: I have seen from this experience that the system is even more corrupt than I feared, but also that the people of the United States are even more wonderful than I knew. So, there’s that system that you just described, and then there’s this. This is where the magic is. This is where the heat is. This is where the buzz is, where people — you see, the American people are not the problem. This form of elitism, that’s all this is, is a form of elitism. The only situation that should be narrowing the field are the voters of South Carolina and the voters of Iowa and the voters of New Hampshire and the voters of of Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire. If I were to skulk away because the DNC basically said, “Get out, go away, and don’t raise a ruckus about it,” they don’t know who I am. And if the people — if the people of the United States in these primary states are deciding who to vote for, if you see me that scared off by the DNC, why would you ever think I have what it takes to take on Vladimir Putin?
MUSTAFA ALI: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: Thank you. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the most critical issue to take on when it comes to environmental justice and environmental racism?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: Well, the money in politics, obviously, is the — it’s the cancer underlying all the other cancers. So, we’re not going to be able to — given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, we’re not going to be overturning Citizens United anytime soon. But just as Elizabeth, when she was here, talked about anti-corruption laws, one of the first things I would do is submit legislation. We can establish public funding for federal campaigns. This is the snake — this is the head of the snake that we actually must — that we absolutely must bite off.
But also, as president, just as I did on the on the debate stage, I talked about Denmark, South Carolina, and I talked about Flint, because I knew that this was the kind of thing that would otherwise not be brought up. It’s inconvenient to the political system. The reason anyone would vote for me for president is so that I would be an inconvenience to the political system. We need a fundamental pattern disruption of the political, social and economic patterns that prevail within this country. What I’m doing already and why I’m in this race and why I’m staying —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: — in this race, I’m letting the cat out of the bag. And as president, I would let it out even further.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much, Marianne Williamson, 2020 presidential candidate.
And that does it for the first=ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice. Many thanks to my co-moderator, Mustafa Santiago Ali, to the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and to everyone here at South Carolina State University. I’m Amy Goodman. You can access and share the entire forum at democracynow.org. Share it with your friends. Thank you so much for joining us right now, with Santiago — with Mustafa Santiago Ali. This has been a joy to be a part of this presentation. And it shouldn’t have been the first-ever presidential debate or forum on environmental justice. Let’s do it again. Thanks so much.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: Thank you!