Green New Deal Drives a Wedge at House Energy Hearing

WASHINGTON (CN) – Coinciding with the recent Green New Deal push by rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, House lawmakers dug in Tuesday on a strategy to transition U.S. energy away from fossil fuels.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, stands next to Zephyr Teachout, after endorsing her candidacy for New York attorney general during a July 12, 2018, news conference in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

“There must be changes in how we use and produce energy in this country,” Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., said Tuesday. “There is no doubt that a transition away from fossil fuels to zero-emission energy sources is essential if we are to leave a recognizable world for our children and great grandchildren.”

Achieving net zero emissions is a key staple of the Green New Deal, a resolution that has gained gradual momentum on Capitol Hill amid some criticism and backlash.

So far, the proposal has won over more than 60 lawmakers in the House, while also inspiring a companion bill from Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

The resolution’s proposal to achieve net zero emissions through broad investment in green jobs, sustainable infrastructure and climate resiliency planning – to the tune of nearly $1 trillion per year for 10 years, according to some analysts – has set lawmakers at odds.

Republicans call it a “socialist fairytale,” a position that Rep. Paul Gosar, R.-Ariz., summed up at Tuesday’s hearing.

“Conventional energy sources have played an overwhelmingly positive role,” Gosar said, adding that the greatest reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions have been the result of free-market innovation.

President Donald Trump offered similar criticism a night earlier during a rally in El Paso, Texas, where he likened the resolution to a “high school term paper that probably got a low mark.”

But on Tuesday morning, Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, said naysayers have little response to the “inescapable” impact of climate change.

Case also made the point today that any action focused on the environment and public health must take into account economic fallout in coal-reliant communities.

“If the majority of Congress enacts policies that are purposefully designed to move us toward renewable energy at the expense of coal, and there is a tremendous consequence to those businesses and communities, the question is, how do we best transition them,” Case asked.

Brandon Dennison, CEO of Coalfield Development Corp., of Wayne, West Virginia, offered a few solutions.

“The void by coal’s collapse is making new room for entrepreneurial spurts to grow and they can be a vital contributor to the fight against climate change,” said Dennison, whose company has trained more than 800 former coal industry employees.

A transition task force, a national program supporting coal communities transitioning to renewable energy and even federal legislation improving conditions for former coal workers in distressed Appalachian communities are just some of the key priorities Congress could undertake to soften the blow on those laborers intimately tied to fossil fuels.

Peter Hille, president of Kentucky’s Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, told lawmakers coal mining in the region simply hasn’t created long-standing prosperity in Kentucky for decades.

“You load 16 tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt,” Hille said, quoting “Sixteen Tons,” a 1955 song performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford about the life of poor miners in Kentucky.

Coal production has swung up and down over the last 50 years in the state, but, when natural gas became cheaper than coal in 2012, Kentucky lost 10,000 jobs.

“The old economy isn’t coming back,” Hille said.

Reinvesting in communities by pushing for energy efficiency means utility rates come down and make cost of living more affordable, he added.

Sarah Shrader, who designs outdoor adventure courses in Colorado, told lawmakers imaginative solutions are key to helping communities escape volatile “boom-and-bust” cycles that accompany markets driven by oil, gas and uranium development.

The cycle creates “a sense of hopelessness” for laborers in rural communities, she said, but solutions above ground could revitalize local economies and help the environment.

Consider the “powerhouse” outdoor recreation industry, she said.  

Half a million Coloradans work in the outdoor industry, and those sustainable economies could help states invest in renewable energy markets.

Colorado alone saw $300 million in revenue from the industry last year, she noted.

Bill Bissett, a guest of Republican lawmakers on the committee who represents West Virginia’s Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, urged the committee to remain open to “all forms” of energy production.

“We simply don’t have to sacrifice one industry to create new opportunities,” Bissett said.

In fact, the chamber of commerce supports Coalfield Development Corporation’s renewable energy-based programs.

Appalachia needs more than a coal-based economy to thrive but there must be a way to mine coal and have a “new” economy, he said.

Though they may disagree on that premise, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., agreed with Bissett that at the very least an open mind must exist when discussing the future of energy markets.  

But that open mind must also be rooted in reality, Huffman said shortly after, following a tense exchange with Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who slammed the idea of turning away from coal.

Blasting what she perceives as faults of the Green New Deal, Cheney claimed inaccurately that the resolution would ban the use of cars, ban travel by plane and eventually “get rid of the military.”

The Republican lawmaker drew immediate fire from Huffman, a co-sponsor of the bill.  

“There comes a point where this type of questioning is so disingenuous … that there ought to be a mechanism to strike it from the record,” Rep. Huffman said.

Cheney’s presumptions were “absolutely crazy,” Huffman added.

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