Ed Markey on the Green New Deal

Ed Markey

When we were drafting the resolution, we looked to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address, which he delivered in the form of one of his fireside chats. He laid out his plan to guarantee the third unalienable right: the pursuit of happiness. He said that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security.

So, because of the millions of veterans who were going to be returning after we finished winning World War II, he proposed the Second Bill of Rights, under which a new basis for security and prosperity can be established for all, regardless of station, race, or creed.

Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House, delivering a national radio address on January 11, 1944.
Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House, delivering a national radio address on January 11, 1944.
 Wikimedia Commons

And he went through [the rights]. If they sound familiar, it’s because they’re in the Green New Deal: the right to a work in a job that pays enough to support a family, the right to earn enough to provide food and clothing and recreation, the right to a decent home, the right to medical care, the right to a good education, the right to do business in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition. He concluded by saying that all these rights spell security.

So that’s what we did [in the Green New Deal] — without saying Medicare-for-all, because that’s not in there; without saying free college for everyone, because that’s not in there. None of that’s in there.

David Roberts

What about the job guarantee? That seems pretty specific.

Ed Markey

We also have a guarantee for access to clean water. A jobs guarantee is in there in the same way a clean water access guarantee is in there, just saying: This should be something every American is entitled to.

The goal is to create these jobs by unleashing an incredible revolution. But we need to bring the full might of the federal government to bear in transforming our economy. We have to lift up all of our workers and protect those communities who have been most harmed by our fossil fuel addiction. That is why we mention frontline communities, why we mention minority communities.

When we reshape our energy system and our economy, we reshape our democracy, housing, health care, and jobs. These are not new principles. These are the Democratic Party’s core values, going back to FDR. Every president has used them in their acceptance speech, at every convention since 1944.

When you make a fundamental transformation in an economy, the big guys are going to do all right. It’s the job of the government to make sure that the little guys also get opportunities and protections. That’s the essence of the Green New Deal.

And if you don’t mind, they’ve now called a vote, and I have to run over …

[20 minutes later, Markey calls back]

I just went over and voted on another bad judge.

David Roberts

Fair enough. Your name was on the Waxman-Markey climate bill, which was famously an inside-out effort, targeted at business and political elites, including moderate Republicans. The Green New Deal represents the opposite political strategy. What brought you from that strategy to this one?

Ed Markey and Henry Waxman, back in the day.
 Ryan Kelly/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Ed Markey

Henry Waxman and I were the two most powerful environmental legislators in Congress. We had waited a generation to move on climate change. A moment arrived in January 2009 and we vowed that we would move on climate change, and do so in an expeditious, telescoped time frame.

There was no massive movement on the outside, but we had power on the inside, and we used it. The bill passed 219-212 on the House floor on June 26, 2009. [The bill then moved to the Senate, where it shed support and eventually died without ever receiving a vote.]

Today, the science is demanding that we be bold. The movement is demanding that we be bold. The marketplace is demanding that we be bold. And the Green New Deal has to be bold. We need to mobilize the outside to pressure the inside to move. I have the same goal I had in 2009, but the means to the end have to change to meet the political challenge of this era.

We need a movement to rise up to demand that the system — top to bottom, federal, state, local government, private sector — respond. We need a response equal to the magnitude of the crisis. That is what we are trying to create with the Green New Deal.

And the response is now manifesting itself in the polling in Iowa, in the polling the League of Conservation Voters did in the five earliest primary states, in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll of three weeks ago, where 63 percent of voters think Republicans are out of the mainstream on the issue of climate change. Voters actually think Republicans are more out of the mainstream on climate than on the issues of immigration, health care, and abortion.

That’s why now you’re seeing Republicans feel like they can no longer simply hide on climateat the behest of their fossil fuel backers. That’s what we saw on the Senate floor. When asked, each of these Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, say, “Yes, the planet is warming, and yes, it’s human activity causing it.”

Well, that’s all new in the last seven weeks! [laughs] And it’s in response to the incredible national conversation that has erupted since the day we introduced the Green New Deal. It’s only going to continue.

Polling on the Green New Deal from Data For Progress.
Polling on the Green New Deal from Data For Progress.
 Data for Progress

David Roberts

Since the Green New Deal resolution was introduced, a flood of “moderates” have scolded it and thrown cold water on it from op-ed pages. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi took a jab at it. [California Sen. Dianne] Feinstein attempted her alternate resolution. The center-left establishment seems almost as defensive and dismissive as Republicans. What do you make of your own colleagues’ reaction?

Ed Markey

All issues go through three phases: political education, political activation, political implementation. The Green New Deal is educating the whole country on what has already happened and what is technologically feasible and implementable if we put the right policies in place. So from my perspective, I think it’s a healthy process that we are going through.

Ultimately, the question isn’t whether every Democrat supports every aspect of the Green New Deal. It’s whether any Republican supports any action that’s meaningful on climate. That’s the real question.

David Roberts

The resolution lays out a broad set of goals and principles. What is the process of translating those goals and principles into an actual legislative package? Who’s doing it? Who’s in charge? How’s it going to work?

Ed Markey

Already, across Capitol Hill, proposals are being developed. Ron Wyden, the lead Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, came to the rollout of the Green New Deal with Alexandria and me. He made it quite clear that his top priority is to begin repeal of fossil fuel tax breaks and to substitute clean energy tax breaks. That would go a long way toward changing our energy future.

We’ve also made it quite clear that if there is an infrastructure bill, we’re going to make it a green energy bill. We’re going to be submitting amendments that ensure that bill has aggressive renewable energy resource and energy efficiency standards, and that there are higher and stronger standards for federal renewable energy procurement. The federal government plays a big role, the Defense Department plays a big role, and they should be purchasing much higher percentages of electricity from renewable sources.

And in the appropriations process, in each one of the individual areas of concern, we are going to have amendments that ensure that Republicans are put on record on this issue. It’s going to happen in the House; it’s going to happen in the Senate.

David Roberts

What is the role of New Consensus [the think tank, spun off from the group that recruited Ocasio-Cortez, that is now developing GND policy]? Are you working with them? How do they fit into the picture?

Ed Markey

Ideas are going to come in from all sorts of places, including New Consensus. All of it is going to be there for public debate as to which of the ideas are best to advance the Green New Deal agenda. We welcome ideas from every sector.

The beauty of what’s happened is that there are now people everywhere who are talking about how we can meet these goals: Professors from MIT and Harvard are calling in, private sector companies are calling in. Examples in Europe and other countries that we might be able to adapt for our own purposes are finally being heard in our country. It’s just a very exciting time, and New Consensus is part of it.

Again, every issue goes through the same education, activation, and implementation. You can’t short-circuit any part of it.

But I think the era of incrementalism on climate change is over. We are now in the era of the Green New Deal. It’s not going away. It is creating an incentive for governors to do more, for mayors to do more, for companies to do more. The polling says it has political legs that will drive it right into the election of 2020, and when that cycle is done, I think we’re going to see a much greater capacity for us to take the kind of action that we need.