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Green groups line up behind Markey ahead of looming Kennedy fight

Environmental advocacy groups are throwing their full support behind Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in his primary fight against Rep. Joe Kennedy as they look to protect the original sponsor of the Green New Deal in the upper chamber.

The activists say Markey’s leading role in issues such as overhauling the U.S. economy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions illustrates his longtime commitment to climate action, and they are ready to go to bat for him against all Democratic challengers — even those they admire.

{mosads}Groups like the Sierra Club and Environment America have already endorsed Markey in the primary fight, with some announcing their support even before Kennedy officially announced his run earlier this month.

Now, they plan to back him financially with donations and will enlist members to canvass for the senator, in what is expected to be one of the marquee Democratic primary fights of the 2020 campaign cycle.

“Joe Kennedy is a climate fighter, Joe Kennedy already co-sponsored the Green New Deal, so Joe Kennedy is someone we very much believe in and have endorsed in the past,” said Deb Pasternak, director of the Sierra Club Massachusetts.

“But it’s because of Markey’s particular leadership in authoring the Green New Deal and his decades in the House and in the Senate. It makes him such an important leader to the climate movement at this time.”

Markey will also have the support of Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group that has emerged as a powerful advocate for climate change action and that endorsed Markey even before Kennedy’s announcement.

Sunrise worked closely with Markey’s office in authoring the Green New Deal that was introduced early this year with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as the co-sponsor in the House.

“We wanted to make it clear that Sen. Markey has been a leader who stood with our movement in the fight for the Green New Deal. He has had our backs and we wanted to make sure we had his too,” said Evan Weber, national political director for The Sunrise Movement. 

The support of the environmental groups could be important in the primary fight being held in the blue state, according to strategists.

Veteran Massachusetts political operative Scott Ferson said leadership in the climate era is expected to be a critical issue both nationally and in Massachusetts. 

“It [climate change] has become front and center, and you could argue, the most critical issue in a Democratic primary,” Ferson said.

He said state voters have come to view Markey as a pioneer in the climate movement — much like how Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) has become known as one of the key early figures of the progressive movement.

“Bernie Sanders was always Bernie Sanders. He was talking about the things that he was talking about 40 years ago, and finally the times caught up with him and it matched,” Ferson said. “In the same way on climate change, it has done so with Markey.” 

On paper, both Democrats look like strong environmental advocates.

Kennedy sits on the House Energy and Commerce committee and Markey on the Senate’s committee on Environment and Public Works. Kennedy has a 95 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters while Markey has a 94 percent record. And both lawmakers have a 100 percent position ranking from Clean Water Action. 

{mossecondads}Yet green groups worry about the possibility of lost momentum for a slew of actions on environmental issues should Markey be unseated.

“This is really just about Sen. Markey being the climate champion. He’s the most important climate leader in the U.S. Senate,” said Sierra Club’s Pasternak.

Zach Pollett, campaigns director at advocacy group Environment Massachusetts told The Hill that their focus is on making sure local voters understand Markey’s lifetime commitment to climate change and environmental issues.

Markey served for more than 30 years in the House where he became known for his advocacy of environmental issues. He ascended to the Senate in a special election held in 2013 to replace former Sen. John Kerry, who became secretary of State, and then won a full term the following year.

“Ed Markey, certainly more than Joe Kennedy, and almost anybody else in Congress, thinks about the environment all the time. It is his number one focus,” Pollett said.

“We need to make sure that the voters of Massachusetts really know what Markey is doing everyday,” he added.

Sunrise’s Weber called Markey’s reelection “critical to the fight for the Green New Deal,” pointing to Markey’s strengths of convincing Senators to support the climate resolution.

In the past month both Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) signed onto the Green New Deal. Weber attributed that to Markey.

“We think his leadership will be critically important to ushering in an era of a Green New Deal,” Weber said.

He added that Sunrise also took issue with Kennedy’s determination to challenge Markey, which sets up a fight among two prominent Democrats.

“We are concerned with the motivations for Rep. Kennedy’s entrance into the race,” Weber said. “Certainly Rep. Kennedy would understand the impact that unseating Sen. Markey would have on advancing this issue, and we do have to wonder if he’s pushing his ambition and political career over the fate of our planet and our generation’s future.”

Kennedy’s campaign, however, strongly defended the environmental record of the four-term Congressman.

Kennedy is “extremely proud of his environmental record, particularly when it comes to fighting for Massachusetts climate priorities,” said a campaign spokesperson in a statement.

“He looks forward to continuing to engage on this and many other issues over the course of the campaign,” the statement continued.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Ed Markey Joe Kennedy John Kerry Martin Heinrich Tom Udall

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