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We Need Real Solutions to the Intersecting Crises of Climate Change and Inequity: We Cannot Settle for Half Measures

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This article was co-authored by Jon Sokolow with Karen Campblin and Lee Williams, Co-Directors of Green New Deal Virginia. You can learn more about the Green New Deal Virginia coalition at greennewdealva.com.

In November, voters across the Commonwealth of Virginia made their voices heard, resulting in a historic shift in power in the State House in Richmond. As a result, Virginia has the opportunity to make meaningful progress addressing the intersecting crises of climate change and inequity.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continues to warn that we have less than eleven years to avoid the most severe consequences of global warming. Greta Thunberg and the school strike movement have reiterated the message that we are in a climate emergency and we need to act like it. The most urgent and pressing consequences that we face disproportionately burden communities of color, Indigenous peoples, low-income and other marginalized communities. They must be at the table in any effort to address these crises.

On December 9, Delegate Sam Rasoul introduced the Green New Deal Act, HB 77. The Green New Deal Act is part of a suite of bills developed by Green New Deal Virginia’s broad coalition of more than 60 grassroots organizations. Together, they embody a comprehensive plan with solutions equal in scale to the problems that we face.

The Green New Deal Act not only sets bold targets for the transition to a green economy, but proposes real and practical solutions that will have meaningful impacts on the lives of everyday Virginians. It establishes a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects, including fracked methane gas pipelines. It includes development of robust job training programs to transition workers from the fossil fuel industry, including the development of trade programs in high schools and community colleges. It also includes strong labor protections for workers in the clean energy sector, including mandatory project labor agreements, prevailing wage guarantees, protecting the right to organize a union, transitional assistance and retirement benefits.

Of crucial importance, the Green New Deal Act includes energy equity and environmental justice protections for communities that historically have borne the brunt of environmental hazards.

In this context, we understand that after signing Executive Order 43, Governor Northam began working on an energy bill for the 2020 Legislative Session. While few details are known beyond the Commonwealth’s goal to reach 30% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050, it is likely that this bill, while a step forward, will fail to provide the urgent solutions that are truly equal to the scale of the crises we face, both to our climate and our communities.

In particular, the Northam Administration has approved, within the past two years, permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, which together represent more than $15 billion in new investment in fracked methane infrastructure that will emit more than 70 million tons of polluting greenhouse gases annually. Methane is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and these two pipelines alone would more than double Virginia’s production of greenhouse gases from stationary sources. This past Friday at 5:00 pm, Dominion Energy filed an application for a $600 million investment in a new fracked methane power plant that if approved, will leave customers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in stranded costs, in addition to destroying the air quality in surrounding communities, all while generating a generous return for shareholders.

While we welcome all efforts to deal with the climate emergency and inequity, we need to measure any proposed solutions against the yardstick of the enormous crises that are happening right now — and the cost of our failure to respond proportionally to the scale of the problems. And for that, we need to ask some basic questions:

· Does the bill deal with the threat posed by fracked methane gas production and distribution? Failure to address current proposals to invest billions in new methane sources — thus increasing Virginia’s production of greenhouse gases — would be a classic case of saying one thing and doing another. It would make any proposed targeted reductions in greenhouse gases impossible to achieve. Let us be clear, climate champions don’t build pipelines and/or peaker plants.

· Is the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities of color being addressed in a fundamental way and are solutions being proposed that truly impact those communities in a positive way?

· Does the bill provide meaningful advancements for social and economic justice?

· Does the bill recognize that a strong, vibrant and growing organized labor movement is essential to any progress?

· Does the bill provide bedrock protections for unions and working people, including protecting the right to organize, worker protection provisions and transitional assistance for those who work in the fossil fuel industry?

Whether these questions are addressed or not will tell us a lot about whether any proposed bill is a serious attempt to deal with the climate emergency in a way that addresses its disproportionate burden on communities that have suffered too much, for too long.

The Green New Deal Act is a serious attempt to deal with the intersectionality of the crises we face. There may be other worthwhile approaches as well, and we should be open to all proposed solutions. But the generations that follow us will not be forgiving if we fail to provide solutions that are truly equal to the scale of the problems we face. We don’t need talking points or half measures. The clock is running out.

What we need is for all social and economic justice, community and environmental organizations to stand together and forcefully demand comprehensive solutions that are up to the challenges of our times. The problems we face are intersectional. The solutions must be intersectional as well.

The time to act is now. We must act boldly. We don’t have time for incremental proposals. We will not settle for half measures.

Forward Together!