Green groups press Biden for bolder plans after Sanders exits

Aaron Schwartz

Environmental groups are pushing former Vice President Joe Biden to adopt a more aggressive platform on climate change after losing a big champion for their cause with the departure of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Climate change is emerging as a significant issue within the Democratic Party, pitting progressives like Sanders who have called for more aggressive environmental policies such as a total ban on fracking against others like Biden, who instead opposes new fracking on public lands.

Although some environmental advocates have said they will now support Biden, others were more reticent, putting pressure on Biden to accommodate some of their proposed policies.

Climate change has emerged as a particularly salient issue for younger Democrats — a group that Biden has struggled to win over during the course of the campaign.

Sunrise Movement, a youth group advocating for environmental issues that has grown in influence, issued a statement after Sanders dropped out on Wednesday urging Biden to adopt a more aggressive climate policy framework. 

“We’re not going to sugarcoat it: our hearts are heavy,” Sunrise spokesperson Aracely Jimenez said in a statement. “The ball’s now in Joe Biden’s court. To avoid a repeat of 2016, he needs to show young people that he’s going to stand up for them by embracing policies like an ambitious Green New Deal that led young voters to flock to Bernie. If he doesn’t do this, our work turning out our generation to defeat Trump this fall becomes a lot harder.”

Biden’s campaign has been stressing that the former vice president has already been engaging with groups that supported Sanders and will continue to do so. 

Biden’s environmental plan calls for a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050, with milestone targets by 2025.

He also already has the support of some environmental groups, including the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund, which endorsed Biden even while Sanders was still in the race. The group cited Biden’s “collaborative, science-based leadership” in its decisionmaking.

But other environmental groups say they expect more. 

Greenpeace, which does not endorse a candidate, gave an “A+” score to Sanders and a “B+” to Biden on their platforms. Nonetheless, the group called on the former vice president to be bolder.

“We’ve seen Joe Biden recognize more and more the urgency of this crisis,” said Greenpeace climate campaigner Charlie Jiang. “But we still think that there is a lot more that Biden should do.” 

Jiang said he’d like to see Biden commit to banning exports of crude oil and rejecting new permits for fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines and coal and liquified natural gas terminals.

Meanwhile, Erich Pica, the president of Friends of the Earth Action, told The Hill that he’d like to see changes in Biden’s environmental justice platform and how quickly he aims to achieve net-zero emissions. 

“There’s a whole slew of items that we’d like to see improvements on in his platform,” Pica said. 

Sunrise joined a coalition of youth-led groups in a separate statement asking Biden to “make specific commitments around achieving a just transition to 100% Clean Energy by 2030 for electricity, buildings, and transportation” and to “restart the economy by committing to mobilizing $10 trillion in green stimulus and infrastructure investments over 10 years.”

Still, how far these advocacy groups will go in standing by their demands remains uncertain in light of how unpopular President Trump remains among environmentalists, who have been dismayed by actions from the administration including significant rollbacks of Obama-era environmental regulations and its encouragement of fossil fuel production. 

Many Democrats are still scarred from 2016, when Sanders soldiered on almost until the convention, sparking perceptions he hurt Hillary Clinton in the general election.

In his exit speech on Wednesday, Sanders said he would remain on the ballots of the remaining primary contests in a bid to gain leverage during Democrats’ convention in August. But strategists say Sanders will need to be careful about which progressive policies he adopts without risking creating fissures within the party. 

Sanders’s speech mentioned the importance of the environment, but it was pointedly focused on the damaging economic impact caused by the coronavirus, advocating for “Medicare for All” and helping struggling Americans. 

A spokesperson for Sunrise told The Hill in a text message the group is “committed to doing everything in our power to defeat Donald Trump.”

Biden campaign officials stress that the former vice president has already been focused on unifying the party and wooing progressives ever since building a nearly insurmountable lead in the nomination race following a string of primary victories in March.

For example, Biden addressed Sanders supporters directly after his primary victories in Florida and Illinois on March 17.

“Let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Sen. Sanders: I hear you. I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do,” Biden said in his speech. 

And Biden campaign officials stress that senior advisers have been engaging with progressive groups for a few weeks in the hopes of identifying common ground.

The former vice president faces the challenge of unifying the party, with strategists calling on him to make some concessions but without going too far to the left and undermining his centrist platform. 

“As we engage with these progressive leaders and these groups, including climate justice groups, we are continuously evaluating and considering additional policies that can build upon the ones Vice President Biden has already introduced,” said campaign spokesman Matt Hill. 

At the end, some environmental advocates have said they will inevitably rally around Biden now that he’s the nominee, despite the immediate disappointment from Sanders’s exit.

“We will now focus our attention on working with Joe Biden’s campaign to ensure the Democratic Party Platform this summer includes bold solutions to address the climate crisis,” said a statement from Sanders surrogate Michelle Regalado Deatrick, who chairs the Democratic National Committee Environment and Climate Crisis Council. 

Tags 2020 presidential race Bernie Sanders Biden campaign climate Democratic platform Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden

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