MANHATTAN (CN) – Democratic governors gathered in New York on Tuesday to discuss the steps they’ve taken in their states to address the climate crisis during what they say is an absence in federal leadership on the issue.
The six panelists are members of the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition of 25 governors formed after President Donald Trump’s announcement he would withdraw the country from the Paris climate agreement. The United Nations General Assembly is in New York this week and held a Climate Action Summit yesterday, which Trump skipped to instead host a meeting on religious freedom.
In response to a question about whether the Trump administration had been able to stifle the efforts of the alliance – for example, through the president’s recent blocking of California’s ability to set its own auto emissions standards – California Governor Gavin Newsom was unequivocal.
“No, they haven’t,” he said to applause. “They’re losing. States are winning.” Newsom added the action of local governments has been remarkable as well.
Later in the panel, Washington Governor Jay Inslee noted Trump’s lowest approval ratings are on climate and environmental issues.
Michelle Lujan Grisham, governor of New Mexico, added that states have unique power to lead the way.
“The federal government sets the floor,” she said. “It’s our job as states to reach the ceiling and beyond…There is no disconnect between solid economic security, energy, sustainability, in the measures that we’re taking.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam echoed this sentiment, saying renewable energy is good for business in his state.
“It’s what’s driving the economy,” he said.
The governors also discussed the controversial issues of fracking and nuclear energy. New Mexico still uses fracking, Grisham said, because its geology is different than in other states that can’t support the practice as well. But she said she wants all the equipment used at fracking sites to be electric, a practice known as e-fracking.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said that if his state couldn’t use nuclear energy during its green transition, it would revert to fossil fuels, so nuclear energy is a preferable middle step. He promised to make sure the existing nuclear plants are run safely.
“It’s a bridge for us,” he said.
Multiple panelists noted the importance of focusing on land use, such as “walkability” and fixing transportation systems.
“You want to reduce carbon emissions, reduce the distance [people] have to travel to work,” said Inslee.
Inslee dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last month, but noted Tuesday he had helped bring climate change to the table. Two-thirds of the Democratic candidates now have specific plans to address the issue, he said.
“You don’t skate where the puck is, you skate where the puck’s going to be,” he said, quoting hockey star Wayne Gretzky.
After 2020, the fate of the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance is uncertain, the panelists said.
If a Democrat is elected president, said Murphy, the group will have served as an “invaluable bridge to sanity.”
If a Republican is elected, said Newsom, “I don’t even know that this is a prediction — it’s a future fact. You’re going to see more governors join the alliance.”