President Joe Biden’s honeymoon with climate activists looks set to end Friday as Green New Deal activists descended on the White House to demand that the administration abandon plans to water down its landmark infrastructure proposal.
On Friday morning, a few dozen Sunrise Movement volunteers and staffers rallied outside the White House to protest the Biden administration’s move to prioritize Republican support for his spending package over funding programs activists say are needed to transition the United States to a safer climate future.
At one point, they marched over to the entrance to the White House grounds and sat and blocked the area.
The demonstration comes nearly three years after Sunrise Movement volunteers occupied then-incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in a bid to persuade Democratic Party leaders to champion major new federal interventions in the economy to curb climate change and boost the working class. Dubbed the Green New Deal, that concept quickly gained traction and reshaped the way Democratic candidates, including Biden, talked about climate policy during the 2020 campaign, shifting away from wonky debates over carbon pricing and toward populist visions of federal job programs and generous green investments.
Biden’s climate concerto seemed to crescendo at the end of March, when he unveiled a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package that included billions upon billions of dollars for renewable energy, public transit and electric vehicles. It marked the most significant federal climate investment in history, but the proposal fell far short of the dollar figure that even conservative modelers say would be needed to slash U.S. emissions enough to avert climate disaster.
Things grew worse from there. The administration outraged environmental groups last week when it defended a massive fossil-fuel drilling project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. The so-called Willow Project, led by ConocoPhillips, is slated to produce 590 million barrels of oil over its 30-year lifespan ― the kind of development that seems wildly misaligned with Biden’s pledge to transition the U.S. away from planet-warming fossil fuels.
Ahead of Friday’s event, Sunrise Movement previewed what seemed to be a scattershot list of demands. Rather than press the administration to up the spending on its climate proposals overall, the group zeroed in on Biden’s plan to establish a Civilian Climate Corps modeled on a similarly named New Deal-era conservation program. The White House’s initial pitch included $10 billion for a job program to revive wetlands, bolster renewables and restore America’s public lands. Sunrise Movement wants the program to have a much larger budget.
The nonprofit is also demanding Biden prioritize meeting one-on-one with its leaders over Republican lawmakers whose counterproposal to the infrastructure package sought to strip out most of the climate provisions.
“It’s time to meet with us, the young organizers that elected him, instead,” Prakash said in the press release. “This moment demands an infrastructure package that will stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process, and we won’t stop until he delivers.”