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Extractivism is Winning and the Green New Deal is the Perfect Distraction

Wrong Kind of Green

February 6, 2019

By Michael Swifte

 

 

A Game of Cosponsors

There are 4 cosponsors of the Green New Deal resolution (H.Res 109) in the minority member list of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. They are Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Ed Markey. [Source]

There are, at the time of writing, 7 Democrat cosponsors of the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act (S. 383). They are Sheldon Whitehouse, Tammy Duckworth, Tina Smith, Thomas Carper, Brian Shatz and Chris Van Hollen. [Source]

On Wednesday February 27, 2019 the Environment and Public Works committee met to discuss the USE IT Act and hear testimony from 3 guest panellists from energy companies and NGOs.

The three panellists were Paul Sukut – General Manager & CEO, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Steve Oldham – CEO, Carbon Engineering, and Kurt Waltzer – Managing Director, Clean Air Task Force. The Clean Air Task Force are part of the Carbon Capture Coalition which was formerly called the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative. Video is available of the committee proceedings. [Source]

While Republican and Democrat cosponsors asked questions of the invited guests, no questions were forthcoming from the 4 cosponsors of the Green New Deal. Indeed, having not seen an attendance list I can’t say for certain they were even there at the meeting.

Committee Chair John Barrasso issued a transcript of his comments at the February 27, EPW meeting. Among the comments he points out that in the previous congress the EPW committee had “voice” voted the now reintroduced USE IT Act “unanimously”. This would mean that if the 4 GND cosponsors were also in attendance at the “voice vote” they supported the USE IT Act through the committee stage after it’s first introduction. Again, I can’t say they were there for certain at the first “voice vote”. [Source]

A Significant Act

In my previous blog post for Wrong Kind of Green I provided some legislative, labor, and philanthropic context for understanding what the Green New Deal is designed to allow to pass while it becomes a distraction from real legislative efforts. It follows from my 2016 piece on “clean energy’ in which I argued that there will be little change to the ‘all of the above’ strategy hidden behind Obama’s Clean Power Plan. My consistent focus has been on the expression of political will made clear by many largely ignored processes. [Source]

The USE IT Act is significant because it follows up on the 45Q tax credit expansions included in the FUTURE Act 2018, but passed into law through the Bipartisan Budget Bill 2018 (Sec. 41119). 45Q tax credits reward coal and gas burners for scrubbing their CO2 emissions and transporting them to depleted oil fields where the liquefied CO2 is used in a process called miscible flooding to plump up the hard to extract remnant oil. Companies extracting oil from depleted fields are rewarded when they can show that CO2 has been incorporated into the rock matrix in place of the extracted oil. CO2 enhanced oil recovery with geological storage represents a qualitative shift in extractivist codependence providing a response to oil industry demand for giant scale CO2 sources. [Source]

Below are some of Senator Barrasso’s remarks from the February 27, 2019 EPW committee meeting.

The FUTURE Act extended and expanded the tax credit for using and storing carbon dioxide.

 

The Clean Air Task Force called the FUTURE Act ‘one of the most important bills for reducing global warming pollution in the last two decades.

 

The extension and expansion of the so-called 45Q tax credit through the FUTURE Act has expanded public interest about how we capture and use carbon dioxide.

 

This Congress, I have continued to focus on ways to expedite and expand the use of carbon capture.

 

That begins with the USE IT Act.

 

Last Congress, we unanimously reported the legislation out of Committee by voice vote.

 

This Congress we want it signed into law.

 

America should reduce emissions through innovation, not punishing government regulations.

 

The USE IT Act advances that goal. [Source]

The comments and responses to questions by the panellists in attendance at the EPW committee showed the significance of the passing of 45Q expansions through the Bipartisan Budget Bill 2018. The video of the committee meeting is well worth watching. [Source]

“Frontline and Vulnerable Communities” are Forgotten

The Green New Deal resolution emphasises the importance of “justice and equity” for “frontline and vulnerable communities”. The focus for GND authors is often on foreseen climate impacts, but consideration should be given to existing vulnerable communities and the known destructive effects of fossil fuel extraction, transport, refining, and burning. By remaining silent on actual legislation like the USE IT Act, by not attending or staying silent at key committee meetings, by ignoring the stated outcomes supported by unions and other Labor organisations working in mining, pipeline building, refining, and transport, and by ignoring the stated object of the Carbon Capture Coalition, the 4 cosponsors of the Green New Deal and their friends in the Sunrise Movement, Justice Democrats PAC, Brand New Congress PAC, Data for Progress think tank, and New Consensus think tank are abrogating their stated responsibility to “frontline and vulnerable communities”. How can an extended life for fossil fuels be goods in any way? How can a plan that that continues our rampant consumer culture founded on the creation of externalities in the global south, ensures the continued destruction of aquifers, the poisoning of rivers, the removal of mountain tops, the capture of vast quantities of water for extraction, and all the other ways we already know that fossil fuels destroy life and health be a good thing?

Silence on Labor and CCUS

Sheldon Whitehouse is the Democrat’s strongest champion of the USE IT Act. In his comments at the February 27 EPW meeting he made a point of mentioning that the AFL-CIO are supportive of the USE IT Act and the 45Q tax credit expansions. The AFL-CIO are yet to make a public statement on the Green New Deal, but 4 of their fellow labor organisations from the Carbon Capture Coalition were enjoined on a February 12 letter authored by the international presidents of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Mine Workers of America. In the letter titled ‘Preliminary Labor Positions on Climate Change Legislation’ the position of the labor component of the Carbon Capture Coalition in regard to the Green New Deal is made very clear.

We also have grave concerns about unrealistic solutions such as those advocated in the “Green New Deal” and by proponents of the “Keep It in the Ground” ideology. Any legislation addressing the complex issues of carbon emission reduction must recognize and address: a) the tremendous impact such legislation will have on millions of fossil fuel-reliant jobs across America; and b) the costs and full recompense required to mitigate the effects of the loss of those jobs on workers, families and communities.[Source]

The 4 Green New Deal cosponsors and everyone else for that matter have had every opportunity to attend to the issue of Labor’s response to the Green New Deal, but as you will notice in Rachel M Cohen’s recent piece titled ‘Labor Unions Are Skeptical of the Green New Deal, And They Want Activists To Hear Them Out’ many of the Green New Deal cohort (Sunrise Movement, Justice Democrats PAC, Brand New Congress PAC, Data for Progress think tank, and New Consensus think tank) are not willing to be drawn on the details of the carbon capture utilization and storage issue as it relates to energy futures designed to deliver on the Green New Deal. [Source]

Framing the Resolution

To understand how the Green New Deal resolution language was framed we have to look at the primary authors and researchers who developed early contributions at the behest of the leading proponents of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement. Cory Morningstar and Forrest Palmer identified the primary authors of  the Green New Deal blueprint as researchers recruited from the World Resources Institute to the purpose built think tank Data for Progress. [Source]

The terms “clean energy” and “net zero emissions” echo the language in the Green New Deal Report, and no commitment to phase out fossil fuels appears in the Green New Deal resolution. [Source]

Dallas Goldtooth from Indigenous Environment Network has expressed concerns about the resolution.

While we applaud its intentions, we feel that [the resolution] falls short in protecting indigenous communities,[ ]Explicitly talking about keeping fossil fuels in the ground, that’s a critical issue. [Source]

Julian NoiseCat, a policy director with 350 dot org was surprisingly candid about that fact that the Green New Deal resolution does not shut the door on fossil fuel extraction.  

The language I read was clean, renewable, zero emissions — which is that ‘keep the door open’ approach,

NoiseCat described the drafting process for the Green New Deal as inclusive noting that it included the AFL-CIO and three other unions.

It was an inclusive drafting process that included stakeholders from environmental, labor and more traditional environmental organizations, [Source]

The fact that the process was inclusive and no commitment to a fossil fuel phase out was included in the Green New Deal resolution to the disappointment of key climate justice spokespeople the question needs be asked: Did leaving the “door open” to carbon capture utilization and storage require framing out a commitment to phasing out fossil fuel extraction and burning?

A Little Help?

Naomi Wolf (@naomirwolf on Twitter) has built a common sense platform called Daily Clout which supports BillCam. She has rightly identified the need for collective effort in analysing and monitoring legislative activity in the US. Now I’m just an Australian researcher and anti-fossil fuel activist who knows that whatever takes hold in the US and Canada will be exported to countries like mine which happens to have a massive target painted on it and a sign that says “Dig Here”. The reason I ended up being so fascinated by North American fossil fuel development is because Canada and the US are a proving ground for new fossil fuel frontiers. [Source]

So I’m left with a burning question about the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It’s a question I might be able to answer with an exhaustive search, but I thought I’d put it out to the Daily Clout audience: Is there an attendance record for each senate committee meeting, and were Senators Sanders, Booker, Gillibrand and Markey present for either the unanimous voice vote on the USE IT Act in the 115th Congress or the February 27, 2018 meeting of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works?

 

 

[Michael Swifte is an Australian activist and a member of the Wrong Kind of Green critical thinking collective.]