Green New Deal not backed by most Michigan Dems, Republicans in Congress

By: - April 23, 2019 2:46 pm

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. Seven CEOs of the country’s largest banks were called to testify a decade after the global financial crisis. | Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Michigan’s congressional Democrats all agree that something needs to be done about climate change. But most are not voicing support for the much-discussed Green New Deal from U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), stand alone as the only two Michigan co-sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution.

In a Michigan Advance survey of the 16-member delegation, fewer than half responded with their position on the non-binding House resolution. That group included five U.S. House members and both of Michigan’s U.S. senators.

The offices of U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), John Moolenaar (R-Midland), Justin Amash (R-Cascade Twp.) and Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden) did not return calls or emails to the Advance.

Most Democrats who responded avoided taking a firm position on the resolution.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) instead stressed to the Advance the importance of introducing concrete policy with the force of law — i.e. legislation, rather than resolutions.

While many Republicans have bashed the Green New Deal, only U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) weighed in to the Advance with his strong opposition.

What is the Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal is a catch-all, progressive wish list of big environmental and socio-economic changes.

It’s a wide-ranging infrastructure and economic plan meant to provide a framework for discussions about creating jobs and fixing the environment by shifting the U.S. to a new green economy, according to its supporters.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (R) arrives with Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) (L) at a House Democratic Caucus meeting | Alex Wong, Getty Images

It’s a proposal that has been roundly rejected by Republicans. But it has shaped the national discussion on climate change in recent months.

Five key goals are listed in the Green New Deal resolution, which argues that the country is facing both an economic and an environmental crisis.

It establishes the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and meeting “100 percent of our power demand through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” according to the resolution.

It specifically calls for a 40 to 60 percent reduction, from 2010 levels, of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and “net-zero global emissions by 2050.”

It also states that “because the United States has historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions,” it “must take a leading role in reducing emissions through economic transformation.”

On the economic side, “a four-decade trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization and anti-labor policies” have led to hourly wage stagnation, the resolution states.

An anti-Trump protestor in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

That’s also resulted in “the third-worst level of socioeconomic mobility in the developed world before the Great Recession, the erosion of the earning and bargaining power of workers in the United States” and “the top 1 percent of earners accruing 91 percent of gains in the first few years of economic recovery after the Great Recession.”

The resolution, in other words, attempts to marry a progressive economic appeal with climate action ideals.

GOP opposition

Many national Republicans aren’t buying it — and neither is GOP U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg.

GOP lawmakers have claimed the resolution would cost $93 trillion, a number that has been called “bogus” by Politico. Walberg cited the criticism of one of the biggest unions, the AFL-CIO.

“As the AFL-CIO pointed out, the Green New Deal would have a crushing impact on Michigan’s economy and our state’s hardworking men and women,” Walberg said in a statement to the Advance. “It is an entirely unworkable proposal that dictates more taxation, regulation, and government control.

Tim Walberg

“Let’s focus instead on solutions that promote innovation, not raising energy bills and jeopardizing people’s jobs and livelihoods.”

Other Michigan Republicans have signalled opposition as well, but did not return emails to the Advance seeking comment.

As former chair of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, GOP U.S. Rep. Fred Upton in 2011 said he didn’t believe that climate change was driven by humans.

Now he says it must be addressed “in ways that focus on American prosperity and technological capabilities while maintaining America’s leadership in clean and renewable energy innovation.” That’s from an article he wrote with U.S. Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

Upton was part of a 2018 bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus. He told reporters in February that “everyone on our side would say that the Green New Deal is a little bit much,” Politico reported.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga said in a statement posted to his website that the Green New Deal’s call for 100 percent renewable energy “is likely technologically impossible.”

Rep. John Moolenaar
John Moolenaar

According to FiveThirtyEight, GOP U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, meanwhile, has opposed a carbon tax and supported repealing a rule requiring energy companies to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.

In February, Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell shared a Bloomberg article on social media claiming the resolution would cost up to $93 trillion.

Senators’ stances

Presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) touted the Green New Deal during a swing last month through Southeast Michigan.

While Michigan’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, say they’re excited by the enthusiasm for the resolution, they are focused on more narrowly defined policy.

Both voted “present” when the resolution came up for a vote last month in the Senate. Ocasio-Cortez supported the present vote as a strategy. Democrats dismissed the vote put up by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as a “stunt,” Politico and other outlets reported.

Debbie Stabenow at her Washington, D.C., office | Robin Bravender

“I’d rather focus on specific pieces of legislation that actually move us down the road, as opposed to resolutions,” Peters said before a Monday forum on climate change at Michigan State University.

The National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) hit Peters, who is up for reelection in 2020, on the Green New Deal this week.

“Michigan voters will remember that when given a chance to reject the job-killing Green New Deal, Peters was silent — standing with his party’s most radical members,” said NRSC spokesman Nathan Brand in a statement.

Peters, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said lawmakers need to “lean into” the discussion on climate change and slash carbon emissions as global temperatures rise. But he cited the more modest Vehicle Innovation Act — sponsored by he, Stabenow and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — as a better place to start.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) at Michigan State University climate conference | Michael Gerstein

“We need to move beyond resolutions,” Peters said. “We have to move to actual legislation that will impact the rise of carbon in our economy, and that’s why I’ve introduced the Vehicle Innovation Act, for example,” which Peters said would “immediately have an impact on reducing carbon in our environment.”

Peters released a report Monday detailing the “potentially devastating” effects of climate change on the U.S. economy and national security.

Congressional Democrats

Like many other Democrats nationally, U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee and Haley Stevens expressed the need to do something about climate change, but avoided taking a firm position on the Green New Deal in statements to the Advance.

“I am glad that the Green New Deal has brought national attention to the urgent need of addressing climate change,” Kildee said. “It is important for Congress not to just introduce ideas, but actually pass viable legislation that can become law to address climate change.”

Rep. Dan Kildee
Dan Kildee testifying at the U.S. House Oversight Committee, March 6, 2019 | House Democrats photo

Stevens echoed that sentiment, shared by many Democrats beyond just the Michigan delegation.

“For the first time in a decade, we have a Congress that believes the scientific community, is eager to address climate change, and takes the responsibility of environmental stewardship seriously,” Stevens said.

“I think the Green New Deal is a work in progress. We are looking to act on climate change and do it now. That’s why I’m more focused on pragmatic solutions that we can get started on today.”

Progressive support

U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Andy Levin stand apart from their Michigan colleagues and strongly back the Green New Deal.

In total, 92 of 435 House representatives — about 21 percent of the House — have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib, April 22, 2019 | Ken Coleman

No Republicans have backed it.

“Climate change is real; it’s a crisis, and we need bold action today to confront it,” Tlaib said in a statement.

“The Green New Deal isn’t one specific list of policies right now, despite what climate change deniers want the public to believe. Instead, it’s a framework for bold ideas about how we rapidly create a green economy and we need folks from every part of the country to be involved with crafting what that looks like. We need to approach this with a sense of urgency and scale, and actually devise solutions that heed the dire warnings of climate scientists.”

Tlaib continued, “We can fight climate change while righting the historic wrongs of environmental injustice and racism, create well-paying green jobs with our skilled labor force, and set our country and the world on a better course for generations to come.”

Like Tlaib, Levin also represents a Southeast Michigan district. Prior to joining Congress, he ran a green energy company.

Andy Levin

“Climate change is such a disaster on a scale of nothing we’ve ever confronted. We’ve caused it ourselves through our own behavior,” Levin said in an interview with the Advance. “So I’m not really concerned about the politics of it.

“Everybody under a certain age in this country knows we’ve got to get about the business of transforming everything about the way we live, work, play, move about. We can’t do it incrementally. We basically have to decarbonize the economy — our country by hopefully 2040, I would say, and worst case 2050.”

Levin continued: “I was so tickled after we introduced it at the wide range of people who came out and said, ‘Well, I don’t know about all the particulars, but thank God somebody’s acting like an American again, acting like the moon shot, acting like, yeah, we’ll beat [Adolf] Hitler,’” he continued. “Let’s go. I’m very excited about it and I’m not really concerned about the politics of it.”

Washington D.C. Bureau Chief Robin Bravender contributed to this report.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.