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‘Climate change’ sparks tension among Dems – Ocasio-Cortez: ‘We don’t have time to sit on our hands as our planet burns’

‘Climate change’ sparks tension among Dems…

WASHINGTON – House Democrats have spent the past two years slamming Republicans for inaction, if not obstruction, of policies aimed at addressing climate change. But now, the question of what to about one of the great issues facing mankind is dividing Democrats as they prepare to take control of the House for the first time in eight years.

The rising political star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York congresswoman-elect, shook up the party last month when she proposed what she calls a Green New Deal. Modeled on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1930’s era public works program, Cortez says the federal government should spend upwards of $1 trillion over the next decade to build wind and solar farms, charging stations for electric cars and other projects that cut the production of greenhouse gases.

Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, which gained the support of 40 other House Democrats, was shot down this week by the presumptive Speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, and other leaders, who instead said they would revive a select committee on climate change that was disbanded by Republicans in 2011. Ocasio-Cortez responded: “We don’t have time to sit on our hands as our planet burns.”

The intra-party tensions follow a series of warnings from scientists that climate change is accelerating, including a report from the United Nations that if warming is left unchecked, the world could suffer devastating food shortages, wildfires, flooded coastlines, and the mass destruction of coral reefs as soon as 2040. The only way to avoid that scenario, the UN said, is to cut carbon emissions nearly in half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050.

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Massive shift

To accomplish such a feat in the United States would likely entail shifting the power grid almost completely away from coal and eventually natural gas while replacing most of the nation’s more than 276 million vehicles, almost all of which run on gasoline or diesel, with electric models. It would require government intervention on a scale arguably not seen in U.S. history and inevitably force Congress to raise taxes on energy.

The conundrum facing Democratic leaders is how to address climate change without alienating U.S. industry and workers that benefit from low energy costs while somehow satisfying the progressive wing of their party, which sees climate change as an existential threat that demands a full-scale response. Finding a way to pay for massive clean energy investments would not come easily; even in the Democratic stronghold of Washington state, voters in November decisively rejected a carbon fee to support clean energy development and other efforts to address climate change.

“Progressives want a carbon tax, but that’s not what people want,” said Frank Maisano, a Washington energy consultant and partner at the law firm Bracewell. “Cortez doesn’t have to worry about her seat. But there’s a whole lot of Democratic members in Republican areas that do have to worry.”

While Ocasio-Cortez might have lost the battle, it’s far from clear thate she has lost the war. Since winning election in November, the political newcomer inspired more than 1,000 environmental activists to storm Democratic leaders’ offices on Capitol Hill demanding they support the Green New Deal, while also attracting a sizable block of representatives expected to wield power in the new Congress.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, who after 26 years representing Texas refining and petrochemical interests in Washington is stepping down, said Cortez’s faction was inevitably going to push the party further to the left on clean energy. “It happens every time when you get the majority, you want to be responsive your new members,” he said.

Meanwhile, more Americans are demanding action on climate change. A recent survey by Yale University and George Mason University found that more than 80 percent of registered voters supported the policies of the Green New Deal, including 64 percent of Republicans. In the November election, Democratic gubernatorial candidates running on clean energy platforms beat Republican incumbents in six states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Illinois.