Looming departures usher in new leaders on environment

Looming departures usher in new leaders on environment
© Greg Nash

Environmental advocates are optimistic about Democrats who are taking leading positions in the fight to counter climate change, even as their most powerful long-term allies are heading out the door.

The beginning of 2017 will see President Obama, Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems wonder if Sherrod Brown could be their magic man Nevada New Members 2019 Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFox's Ingraham transitioning longtime radio show to podcast Former Dem aide makes first court appearance on charges of posting GOP senators' info online Ex-House intern charged with 'doxing' GOP senators during Kavanaugh hearing MORE (D-Calif.) all leaving their positions, just two years after environmental stalwart Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) left Capitol Hill.

In their place come newer arrivals like Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems sue to block Whitaker from serving as attorney general Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill 3 ways House Dems can fight climate change when sweeping policy is off the table MORE (D-R.I.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Health Care: Top Trump refugee official taking new HHS job | Tom Price joins new Georgia governor's transition | FDA tobacco crackdown draws ire from the right Privacy legislation could provide common ground for the newly divided Congress Bipartisan Senate bill would penalize illegal robocalls MORE (D-Mass.).

When those senators led their colleagues with events like last year’s all-night debate for climate change and organizing non-binding votes to recognize climate change, they demonstrated that they’re capable of environmental leadership, greens said.

“You are seeing this new breed and generation of young Senate leaders like Schatz and Whitehouse, who shook things up last year when they did the all-nighter and rallied their young cohorts to essentially stage a filibuster on the need to act on climate,” said Melinda Pierce, the top lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

Pierce sees senators like Schatz and Whitehouse as the face of a Democratic caucus that is more unified than it has ever been before behind support for climate policies like Obama’s carbon rules for power plants.

“I do think you’ll see them taking on greater leadership,” Pierce said. “And we couldn’t be more delighted.”

RL Miller, co-founder of the super PAC Climate Hawks Vote, said Schatz and Whitehouse are at the top of her radar in terms of what she calls “climate hawks.”

“We’ve got two very, very strong voices who show no signs of leaving the Senate anytime soon,” Miller said, adding to the list Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Energy: EPA official steps down after indictment on ethics charges | Sanders to hold town hall on climate | Zinke slams 'environmental radicals' for fires Sanders to host town hall on climate change Sanders on 2020 White House bid: 'We're looking at it' MORE (I-Vt.), who has said he may run for president in 2016.

To Miller, Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators return to Washington intent on action against Saudis Howard Dean: Democratic Party getting younger as GOP gets ‘older and whiter’ We need a bipartisan issue to unite us. Saudi Arabia is that issue MORE (D-Conn.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDems wonder if Sherrod Brown could be their magic man Heinrich wins reelection to Senate in New Mexico Hillicon Valley: Official warns midterm influence could trigger sanctions | UK, Canada call on Zuckerberg to testify | Google exec resigns after harassment allegations | Gab CEO defends platform | T-Mobile, Sprint tailor merger pitch for Trump MORE (D-N.M.) are also on the list of relative newcomers who score well on the Climate Hawks scorecard, which takes into account votes, speeches, statements and other actions to identify the most climate-friendly lawmakers.

“While I’m very sad to see Harry Reid in particular go, he has done extraordinary things on behalf of his state, on behalf of national climate leadership … there is another generation, and I’m excited for that new generation,” Miller said.

Greens are also hopeful that former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation Questions grow about FBI vetting of Christopher Steele’s Russia expertise MORE, the top contender for the Democratic nomination for president, could be elected and carry on Obama’s policies.

“No reason to believe she will not continue her record when she was in the Senate of being a strong environmental vote,” said Pierce. “We obviously have high hopes and would be delighted to see Hillary Clinton at the helm.”

But while newer Democrats could carry the environmental mantle, departures of long-time green allies leave a definite leadership void.

Among the new leaders will be Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFacebook reeling after damning NYT report Schumer warns Trump to stay out of government funding negotiations Schumer predicts Nelson will 'continue being senator' if 'every vote counted' MORE (D-N.Y.), likely to take over from Reid as minority leader, and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOn The Money: Senate banking panel showcases 2020 Dems | Koch groups urge Congress not to renew tax breaks | Dow down nearly 400 | Cuomo defends Amazon HQ2 deal Election Countdown: Florida fight ends with Scott, DeSantis wins | Dems see Sunbelt in play for 2020 | Trump to campaign in Mississippi ahead of runoff | GOP wipeout in Orange County | Ortiz Jones concedes in Texas House race Sanders on 2020 White House bid: 'We're looking at it' MORE (D-Mass.), who was brought onto the leadership team in a new position created just for her: strategic policy adviser for the Democratic Policy and Communications Center.

“Obviously, Reid’s shoes are big and will be hard to fill, and it will be interesting to work with a leader like Schumer, should that transpire,” said Pierce, who added that Warren has a “strong” record on environmental voting.