Markey and Ocasio-Cortez Team Up on Green New Deal

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at Harvard University. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the brightest star in the Democratic firmament, came to Washington championing fast and bold solutions for climate change. She wanted to see more “environmental hardliners” on the job in Congress. Now the New York Democrat is in a prime spot to steer a Green New Deal.

On Wednesday, Axios reported that Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, have joined forces to lay the groundwork for legislation to jumpstart a transition from a fossil-fuel dependent economy to one that relies on renewable energy sources like wind and solar to stave off the most pernicious effects of climate change. A Green New Deal would likely also have strong economic and environmental justice components to help at-risk communities navigate the transition. The legislation could be unveiled as early as next week. 

Republican control of the White House and the Senate means the chances of passing in the 116th Congress this transformative “Marshall Plan for renewable energy,” as Ocasio-Cortez called the plan on the campaign trail, are nonexistent. But the announcement will likely kick off a public debate over the climate crisis and remedies (which really didn’t happen in 2009), one that is likely to preoccupy the Democratic Party through 2020. As it stands, three Democratic candidates, Senators Kristen Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren have come out in support of the Green New Deal, with Gillibrand backing investments in “green jobs” programs.

The AOC-Markey alliance is a stark reminder that a decade ago, Markey was the one in the House, buoyed by a seismic shift in the climate debate. Barack Obama was in the White House, embracing a cap-and-trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Markey eventually co-sponsored cap-and-trade legislation with Democratic Representative Henry Waxman of California that narrowly passed the House.

The bill never made to the floor of the Senate. In the eyes of liberal environmentalists, the plan was undone by the machinations of corporate lobbyists and conservative opponents who called the bill an energy tax, with a deceptive but easy-to-remember moniker: “cap and tax.” Even worse, the legislation was pockmarked with carve outs for Big Coal and other industries. 

The problem for Markey and cap-and-trade supporters was that the public and the political momentum in the Senate was with health-care reform and passing the Affordable Care Act. Liberal environmentalists were just as happy to see the 2009 cap-and-trade plan die rather than have it watered down with concessions to industry. Environmental advocates will no doubt rely on Ocasio-Cortez to assure that the corporate fingerprints that doomed Markey’s earlier efforts do not sully this piece of legislation.

That debate may produce another benefit: smoothing out the Young Turk tensions in the Democratic Party. While some younger politicians went for the jugular in a bid to topple Nancy Pelosi, they failed to understand that the veterans still had plenty of fight in them (that’s Speaker Nancy Pelosi to you, Seth Moulton). Just as Pelosi’s move to elevate the younger, newly-elected progressives to the key House Oversight and Financial Services Committees stemmed some of the rancor from the leadership fight, so, too may AOC’s elevation in Green New Deal deliberations quiet the grumbling over other climate strategizing by the leadership.

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