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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Democrats Launch Climate Change Task Force

Air Date: Week of

Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2020 Presidential election. (Photo: Carter Marks/Royals Media, NSPCA & ACP, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Former Democratic presidential rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have jointly chosen progressive and moderate members of a climate task force as part of a party unification effort. Moderate former Vice President Biden is the presumptive nominee and hopes to prevent acrimony with the more progressive supporters of Senator Sanders. Marianne Lavelle, a reporter from InsideClimate News, joins Bobby Bascomb for an overview of the climate task force and its potential impact on the Democratic Party platform.


BASCOMB: From PRX and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bobby Bascomb. In for Steve Curwood.

Former Vice President and moderate Democrat Joe Biden emerged as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee after left leaning Independent Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in early April. And now the two are working together to coalesce support for Mr. Biden in the fall election. Among other steps they’ve formed a unity task force on the climate crisis with members pulled from both the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party. For more I’m joined now by Marianne Lavelle. She is a reporter for Inside Climate News. Marianne, welcome back to Living on Earth!

LAVELLE: Glad to be here.

BASCOMB: So first of all, what is the stated goal of the climate change taskforce?

LAVELLE: Their goal is to write up recommendations for the Democratic National Committee platform. And for Joe Biden himself. He already has a very detailed climate plan. But, I think that the real goal of this task force goes beyond just the details of putting together a plan, but it is to show that Joe Biden is reaching out to every portion of the Democratic Party and wants to get everyone on the same side.

BASCOMB: And that seems to be demonstrated by the people that are on the task force. Can you give us a quick roll call. Who has been named to this taskforce by Vice President Biden and who was named by Senator Sanders?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is a Green New Deal advocate and one of the co-chairs of the Democratic climate task force, representing the more progressive wing of the Democratic party. (Photo: Franmarie Metzler, U.S. House Office of Photography, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

LAVELLE: Right, so the co-chairs are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Representative from New York, who kind of rode into Congress based on her support of the Green New Deal. And the other co-chair is John Kerry, the former Secretary of State who really presided over the negotiations that led to the Paris Climate Accord. So, right there in the two co-chairs you have AOC, as she's called, is a protege of Bernie Sanders. And John Kerry represents the moderate core of the Democratic Party. So, there's a real effort there to bring the progressives together with the moderates.

BASCOMB: And how likely do you think it will be for them to unify the party on this issue of climate change?

LAVELLE: I would say that it is absolutely essential to do that. Not only for Biden to be victorious in November, but in the long run. Many of the analysts who have looked at this say it is really important for Biden to energize every portion of the Democratic Party. He cannot go into November with all the folks who are Bernie Sanders supporters sitting on the sidelines. There's just too great of a structural advantage for Donald Trump. Joe Biden can't go into that election without, for example, young people in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in State College, Pennsylvania. Those folks are in key states and they are key voters and they care about climate change, and they want to see bold action. They're really energized by the idea of a Green New Deal. So Joe Biden can't go into November just saying we're going to restore everything that Obama did, we're going to go back to four years ago, because that's really not going to be enough for those voters.

BASCOMB: Right. Senator Sanders' climate plan was quite a lot more ambitious than Vice President Biden's. How likely is it, do you think, that the nominees to the task force will be able to pull Biden's climate policy to the left a bit?

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who was key architect of the Paris Climate Agreement, is one of the co-chairs of the climate task force, representing the more moderate wing of the Democratic party. (Photo: United States Department of State, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

LAVELLE: I think that they will be able to do that because, in a way, the elements of Bernie Sanders' climate plan that Biden did not embrace were things like jobs and universal health care federally paid. Right now, we're in a situation where the economy, ravaged by the coronavirus, is going to demand a very strong federal helping hand on healthcare and on jobs. And I think that that is going to be a part of Joe Biden's platform, no matter what. I think the problem for Biden is going to be addressing things in places like western Pennsylvania, where fracking has been a large part of the economy. How does he maintain those moderate Democratic voters while embracing a bold climate policy? I will tell you that it is a very different situation now than it was even in the middle of the Democratic primary, and that is because the oil industry is really on its knees right now. And in a way, this works to the advantage of both Biden and those who oppose fracking, because they have the argument that this is a business that has always been volatile. And do we really want to build our economic future on the oil and natural gas business? Or do we want to build it on cleaner energy, where the jobs are going to be more stable and more predictable?

BASCOMB: Well, the Democratic National Convention is coming up in August. Who knows what that will look like this year with the coronavirus, but it's typically a time when the party meets together to sort of hash out the party platform on, you know, just about every issue. But how might this task force influence the party platform on the issue of climate change, do you think?

LAVELLE: Well, I think that the array of folks that Biden has brought into this task force will be bringing just a whole range of ideas that really will have to be part of any climate platform. For example, He brought Gina McCarthy, who was the EPA Administrator under Obama into the task force. She knows the ins and outs of regulation, the challenges that the EPA faces, and she's watched very closely as Trump has dismantled the EPA. It's going to be very important to have somebody who has a really detailed knowledge of those arcane sort of regulatory issues. It is going to be very important for making policy that there's a real deep understanding in a Biden administration of what is going to be necessary to rebuild the federal government's infrastructure. And then the other thing that Joe Biden has done is brought in experts on environmental justice issues who have looked at this issue from both, you know, rural Alabama and kind of the more urban centers and the environmental justice issues that those neighborhoods are facing. This is going to be important for energizing those in the African American community, and really making a convincing case that Joe Biden's climate policy is a climate justice policy, and that will be important for progressive and young voters as well.

Marianne Lavelle is a reporter for InsideClimate News. (Photo: Courtesy of Marianne Lavelle)

BASCOMB: And if you had to guess, what policies do you think might actually make it onto the Democratic party platform in August at the convention?

LAVELLE: Joe Biden has talked a lot about electrification of vehicles, and a pretty bold policy on EVs, and I think you're going to see something very bold on electric vehicles, because that really is an effort to say to voters in Michigan and Detroit, that we're going to re-energize the auto industry. And so I think that that's going to be a part of his policy. I also think restoring a look at community impacts when you are weighing things like new oil pipelines. I understand that Biden already has said he will take away the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, maybe back to a ban on offshore drilling. I think those are really going to be important issues for important groups of voters and definitely for those who care about climate change.

BASCOMB: Marianne Lavelle is a reporter with Inside Climate News. Marianne, thank you so much for taking this time with me today.

LAVELLE: Thank you. Glad to be here.



InsideClimate News | “Biden Names Ocasio-Cortez, Kerry to Lead His Climate Task Force, Bridging Democrats’ Divide”

InsideClimate News | “Joe Biden Must Convince Climate Voters He’s a True Believer”

More about Marianne Lavelle


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