Anti-fossil fuel candidates come out winners in party primaries

Democratic nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has one of the most ambitious climate plans.

Congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has outlined plans to transition the United States to a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2035. CREDIT: Scott Heins/Getty Images
Congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has outlined plans to transition the United States to a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2035. CREDIT: Scott Heins/Getty Images

An impressive list of anti-fossil fuel and pro-climate action candidates won party primaries on Tuesday night, indicating that environmental issues could receive greater attention in this fall’s general elections, especially as lawmakers devise plans to counteract the Trump administration’s anti-environment policies.

At least nine federal and statewide candidates who pledged to reject oil, gas, and coal contributions won their primaries. Among the strongest environmental voices who won Tuesday was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old community organizer who campaigned for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in his 2016 presidential bid and identifies as a democratic socialist.

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The success of the list of anti-fossil fuels candidates came two weeks after the Democratic National Committee adopted a ban on contributions from political action committees representing the fossil fuel industry. More than 200 candidates across the country that won primaries this year and made it through to this fall’s general election have taken a pledge not to accept fossil fuel money for their campaigns.

Almost 750 candidates and politicians, including those lawmakers not up for reelection, have signed the no fossil fuel pledge since it was launched in July 2017.

Aside from Ocasio-Cortez, other anti-fossil fuel pledge-takers who won their primaries on Tuesday were Perry Gershon, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in New York’s first congressional district; Liuba Grechen Shirley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in New York’s second district; Diane Mitsch Bush, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in Colorado’s third congressional district; James Singer, who won the Democratic nomination in Utah’s third district; and Ben Jealous, who won the Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland.

“Ben Jealous was one of the first signers of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, and his victory tonight shows the importance of a strong climate platform to consolidating the progressive base,” Brant Olson, program director at ClimateTruth.org Action, a group that fights for climate action, said Tuesday in a statement.

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Jealous, former president of the NAACP, said as governor he will set a deadline for turning Maryland into a 100 percent clean and renewable energy state. He also has pledged to integrate environmental justice policies to make sure no community in the state is disproportionately affected by pollution.

Jealous has received strong support from Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, and other prominent environmental activists. “If we want more elected officials who are ready to tackle the climate crisis next year, we need more candidates on the ballot this year who aren’t afraid of bold climate action,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, which officially endorsed Jealous for governor.

Jealous will face a tough opponent in the general election — he will be running against incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who won election four years ago in the Democratic-leaning state.

Ocasio-Cortez was the biggest story on Tuesday night, ousting incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley (D), who is relatively unknown outside Democratic establishment circles but was viewed as a potential candidate for Speaker of the House if the Democrats took control of the House this fall.

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Ocasio-Cortez is now considered a shoo-in to win the general election in New York’s overwhelmingly Democratic 14th congressional district, which encompasses parts of the Bronx and Queens.

If she does win the general election in November, Ocasio-Cortez will join Congress with one of the most ambitious climate plans of any current representative, HuffPost reported Wednesday morning. During her campaign, Ocasio-Cortez outlined plans to transition the United States to a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2035.

“Climate change is the single biggest national security threat for the United States and the single biggest threat to worldwide industrialized civilization, and the effects of warming can be hard to predict and self-reinforcing,” her campaign website says. “We need to avoid a worldwide refugee crisis by waging a war for climate justice through the mobilization of our population and our government. This starts with the United States being a leader on the actions we take both globally and locally.”

In 2017, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced a bill, known as the Off Fossil Fuels Act, that resembles Ocasio-Cortez’s plan. Along with replacing fossil-fueled electric generation with 100 percent clean energy by 2035, the legislation would eliminate tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry and would provide support to help workers transition out of the fossil fuel industry. Gabbard’s bill currently has 36 co-sponsors.

In an interview with Kate Aronoff at In These Times, Ocasio-Cortez said Puerto Rico could serve as an example of how to build a more resilient yet green electric grid. “If Congress really cared and if Congress actually had a vision, we could use Puerto Rico as an example for how we can approach the ravages of super storms and climate change moving forward,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

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Ocasio-Cortez is a third-generation New Yorker whose family has roots in Puerto Rico. “My family is there, and I worry because it’s now hurricane season,” she told In These Times.

For the island, Ocasio-Cortez believes the federal government needs to implement a Marshal Plan — the post-War World Two U.S. initiative to help rebuilt Western European economies and stop the spread of Soviet influence. Adopting a similar-scale effort would allow Puerto Rico to completely rebuild its infrastructure and switch to 100 percent renewables on the island she says. Ocasio-Cortez came out in support of a $146 billion relief package for Puerto Rico, introduced by Sen. Sanders last November.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, another candidate who signed the no fossil fuel pledge, is running for Congress in a state dominated by oil and gas interests. Last month, Sanchez won the Democratic nomination for the sixth congressional of Texas — a suburban district south of Dallas — the seat currently held by Rep. Joe Barton (R), one of the best friends of the oil and gas industry in Congress.

In 2010, Barton notoriously apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward during a congressional hearing about the way the U.S. government was treating the company after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Barton was not happy that the Obama administration and BP reached an agreement that would require the oil company to set up a $20 billion escrow fund to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill. Barton referred to the $20 billion as a “shakedown” of a private corporation by President Obama for loss claims.

After more than three decades in office, Barton announced last year that he would not seek reelection. Sanchez will be facing Ronald Wright (R), a former chief of staff to Barton, in November.

“We expect Wright to clone Barton’s platform — pro-Big Oil, pro-fossil fuels, anti-science, anti-reality,” RL Miller, co-founder of Climate Hawks Vote, grassroots-funded group that supports candidates and elected officials that it identifies as making climate change a top priority, said in a statement.

Sanchez, on the other hand, was the first candidate from Texas to publicly sign the pledge not to take any money for her campaign from the fossil fuel industry.

This article was updated at 4:20 p.m. ET on June 27, 2018 to report that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s renewable energy policy goal resembles a bill introduced in 2017 by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that would transition the U.S. away from fossil fuel-powered generation to clean energy by 2035.