Harris climate agenda stresses need for justice

Harris climate agenda stresses need for justice
© Greg Nash

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act What Kamala Harris' VP nomination means to us Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' MORE (D-Calif.) made waves during the campaign not with the specifics of her climate plan, but rather with her focus on rectifying environmental wrongs often centered in vulnerable communities.

Harris, now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Joe Biden should enact critical government reforms if he wins MORE’s running mate, rejoins the race as a national reckoning on racial inequality has heightened the focus on the poor and minority communities that so frequently lie in the shadow of the nation’s polluting industries.

Some of Harris’s earliest climate plans — and her most recent legislation — demonstrate an interest in protecting those communities both from the impact of climate change and being overburdened with a disproportionate share of pollution.


“The environment we live in cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives, and it is more important than ever that we work toward a more just and equitable future,” Harris said in a release last week during the official introduction of the Climate Equity Act, sponsored alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezWill Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline McCarthy says there will be a peaceful transition if Biden wins MORE (D-N.Y.) and marketed as one of the three pillars of the Green New Deal.

“As we combat the climate crisis and build a clean economy; we must put justice and equity first.”

During the campaign, Harris, like Biden, rolled out climate plans that were overshadowed by more ambitious efforts from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Sanders tells Maher 'there will be a number of plans' to remove Trump if he loses Sirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters MORE (I-Vt.) and Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBarr asked prosecutors to explore charging Seattle mayor over protest zone: report Bottom line Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' MORE (D).

Still, her plan scored a B+ in Greenpeace’s climate rankings, putting her just ahead of where Biden, who has continued to develop his plan, stands today on their scorecard.

Her $10 trillion plan was in many ways standard boilerplate: It called for a transition to a clean energy economy by 2045, rejoining the Paris climate accord, protecting 30 percent of the U.S.’s lands and oceans by 2030 and halting all new fossil fuel leases on public lands.


But the plan received some criticism for being light on details for how to achieve some of its targets.

What set her apart was a working draft for the Climate Equity Act, presented as part of her climate platform when it was rolled out in July of last year.

"She began the race with very, very little to show on climate but made one of the biggest improvements in our rankings as she released additional plans and introduced legislation in the Senate like the Climate Equity Act," said Ryan Schleeter, a spokesperson for Greenpeace, which reviewed each candidate’s plan.

That plan was formally introduced as speculation over Biden’s choice for a running mate was reaching a crescendo, following a yearlong process of meeting with environmental justice groups to determine how to tweak the legislation.

The legislation would require the government to take stronger consideration of racial and economic inequalities in its environmental policies. One of its more unique components would require the Congressional Budget Office to assign legislation an “equity score” that would estimate the impact on what Harris calls front-line communities.

Biden’s plan also has a strong environmental justice component, something enhanced by the release of a new plan in July. That calls for establishing an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Justice Department and ensuring that disadvantaged communities receive 40 percent of spending for clean energy and energy efficiency deployment.

However, the justice component of Harris’s climate approach also raises questions about her own role within the system as a prosecutor and later as the attorney general of California.

Varshini Prakash, a co-founder of the youth climate group Sunrise Movement, highlighted the significance of seeing the first mixed-race Black and Indian woman on a presidential ticket.

“I’m also deeply aware of Senator Harris’ record as a prosecutor and the ways in which a number of her decisions harmed communities of color, which our movement has spoken out about in the past and will continue to. We hope that she has learned from her past mistakes and continues listening to the activists who have taken to the streets as she has joined alongside them,” she said in a statement, adding that she hopes to “hold her accountable in office — just like we will with Joe Biden.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE’s initial line of attack on Harris as Biden’s vice presidential pick didn’t focus much on her justice background, beyond calling her “nasty” to Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSenate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election Conservative groups unleash ad blitz in support of Barrett's nomination Two Judiciary Democrats say they will not meet with Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE during his confirmation hearing.

He did quickly jump on her climate credentials, however, saying at Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing that Harris was “against fracking.”

“I mean, how do you do that and go into Pennsylvania or Ohio or Oklahoma or the great state of Texas?” he said.

Harris’s initial climate plan mentions fracking only to say that oil companies should not be exempt from disclosing the chemicals used in the fluids needed for the drilling process.

The Biden team on Tuesday bragged about Harris’s environmental work as attorney general, including a 2016 suit against BP.

But Schleeter, whose organization Greenpeace advocates for a complete transition away from fossil fuels, noted that Harris failed to get an A rating from them in part due to her position on oil and gas, saying she could “benefit from increased detail and ambition for phasing out fossil fuels.”