WASHINGTON — Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz is at the forefront of Democrats’ push to make climate change a top priority in American politics should his party retake power in Washington after the November elections.
On Tuesday, Schatz joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and several of their Democratic colleagues to unveil a 263-page report outlining their legislative agenda to reduce carbon emissions, spur job growth in renewable energy and expose the corporate interests that for years have downplayed the climate crisis and controlled the counter narrative by spreading false and misleading information.
The proposal seeks to achieve net-zero global emissions by 2050, spur economic growth by increasing annual federal spending on climate initiatives to 2% of gross domestic product and create at least 10 million new jobs.
The report comes from the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, which was created last year specifically to address the social, environmental and economic threats caused by a rise in global temperatures.
Schatz, who has made climate change a centerpiece of his political persona, is the chairman of the committee.
“We have come up short in terms of federal action on climate and it’s not because we didn’t have our facts straight, it’s not because the bills weren’t good enough, it’s because we didn’t do the political work of stitching together a political coalition across demographic, geographic and ideological boundaries,” Schatz said during a press conference.
“We are going to be ready to roll if we are in charge of the United States Senate to pass big, bold climate legislation.”
The report released Tuesday is the culmination of a year’s worth of hearings that brought together big city mayors, professional athletes from a range of sports including hockey, skiing and snowboarding, and a handful of handpicked Republicans who support conservation efforts to combat climate change.
“Our caucus from one end to the other is committed to strong and bold action on climate.” — Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Some of the topics tackled by the committee included the influence of dark money to shape and obfuscate the debate surrounding human impacts to global warming, the effect climate change is having on military readiness and national security and the ways low-income communities of color are disproportionately disadvantaged by rising temperatures and contaminated air, land and water.
One of the main goals of the committee report is to highlight not what climate change is “doing to us,” but what it can “do for us” in terms of job creation, energy independence and economic prosperity.
The plan comes on the heels of sweeping proposals put forth by House Democrats in June and former Vice President Joe Biden, who won the party’s nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November.
While the details of the various proposals don’t match up precisely, Schatz downplayed the differences saying that the intent is clear — Democrats have a plan when it comes to taking on climate change.
“They’re not the same, but they rhyme,” Schatz said of the varying proposals. “I think we’re all describing the same big, bold enterprise in different ways.”
The obvious hurdle is Republican control of Washington. President Donald Trump is still in the White House and the Senate is the firm grip of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Even if former vice president Joe Biden wins in November and Democrats win back the Senate they likely won’t have the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster and pass meaningful legislation. When Schumer was asked whether he would consider getting rid of the filibuster if he became majority leader he said that all options were on the table.
“Our caucus from one end to the other is committed to strong and bold action on climate,” Schumer said. “It’s vital for the country, it’s vital for the globe, it’s vital for the world, and so we are going to get that done.”
Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse didn’t preclude a bipartisan approach to addressing climate change, noting that many Republicans in the past once considered it a legitimate threat to the planet.
If Democrats can shed more light on the dark money that has manipulated the political discourse in Washington — something that is highlighted specifically in the report — he said it might free up some of his Republican colleagues to vote their conscience rather than remain beholden to the fossil fuel industry.
“You give short shrift to the real problem when you say that it’s the Republicans,” Whitehouse said. “If we can be effective at taking on the fossil fuel disinformation and political muscle campaign, there will be willing Republicans once they’re free to move without threat of political retaliation.”
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