What Does Clean Energy Actually Mean?

Orange County progressive Mike Ortega had his first child this week– Michael Maximilliano Ortega– so Mike has been thinking about the future of a world beset by Climate Change even more than usual. This morning he told me that “The communities of CA-46 have already felt the effects of climate change, and they know what’s at stake: our water supply, increasingly deadly wildfires, and the air our children breathe. Our people are fighting on the ground to demand action from our elected representative, Lou Correa– who has responded with silence. When I’m in Washington, I will not equivocate on the fight for a Green New Deal and a Civilian Climate Corps. Until then we will be advocating for a No Gas commitment for the Clean Energy Standard in the reconciliation bill this month.”

Wondering about what Mike referred to as the “No Gas commitment for the Clean Energy Standard?” Sunrise Movement and other groups– Blue America included– are pushing for a “transformative reconciliation package to the tune of $10 trillion to begin transitioning every sector of the economy at the scale necessary. One piece of that package is the Clean Energy Standard (CES) that Mike referred to. He knows it’s not the silver bullet solution, but a critical component that is currently moving in Congress right now. Organizations like Sunrise and Greenpeace and Indivisible along with members of Congress like Mondaire Jones, Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman and candidates like Mike most of the other Blue America-backed progressives are working to make sure the CES prioritizes renewable energy and excludes gas. Prolonging the life of fossil fuels are not part of the solution and, despite Joe Manchin’s demands, must be kept out of the package for the good of the world– and for newborns like Michael Maximilliano Ortega, age 3 (days). When we– the candidates we have endorsed for the House and the Senate— say “clean energy,” we mean clean. No gas. No oil. No coal. Period. As Sunrise says, “We need a Clean Energy Standard that centers the health of the planet, communities, and people. We cannot continue using harmful energy sources, like gas, that pollute our air, water, and human health.”

Jason Call is a peace, justice and climate activist in northwest Washington state, running for a congressional seat held by corporate Democrat New Dem Rick Larsen. “Climate change,” said Jason today, “is clearly the most pressing issue affecting the global community. With reports from scientific agencies that show polar ice melt now affecting the ocean currents and even the movement of the earth’s crust, to the recent IPCC report that identifies the reduction in emissions that must take place for us to avoid the tipping point of +1.5C temperature change that will lead to even more irreversible climate-based catastrophe, we are way past time for serious action on climate policy. Action that the incumbent in WA-02 has absolutely no intention of supporting. This is a representative steeped in fossil fuel money, whose voting record speaks clearly about his intent to continue supporting his corporate donors’ profits. He’s even said in public ‘the Green New Deal is not an important resolution.’ His legislative opposition to climate action is exposed here, as well as a full accounting of his fossil fuel funding, and as a career member of both the Armed Services Committee and Transportation Committee he’s in a position to demand changes to the industries that use fossil fuels– but again, those industries fund his re-election campaigns. More exposure of his record here. He routinely votes against cuts to fossil fuel subsidies and investments in renewable energy research. Recently, my local Sunrise group in Bellingham (a group I meet with regularly), took action to urge Larsen to support the creation of the Civilian Climate Corps. But naturally, crickets. Rick has no interest in engaging with activists who oppose his policies; he historically avoids them, belittles them, and has even had them arrested. This district, this nation, and the world deserves better than an industry lackey like Larsen.”

Shervin Aazami (also, like Mike Ortega, a new, first time father), is the progressive in the San Fernando Valley election to replace another corporate Dem, Brad Sherman, and, like Call, is already working on this even before getting elected.

“We are so far past the point of incremental solutions when it comes to climate change,” he told me yesterday. “The IPCC report could not have put our crisis in starker terms– we have a small window of time to act with vigor to avoid catastrophic climate change. That means we need to divest from fossil fuel production now, not ten years from now. A Clean Energy Standard (CES) that allows for natural gas extraction would be disastrous for our San Fernando Valley district (CA-30), which is still suffering from the largest natural gas blowout in U.S. history. There is simply no room for fossil fuels if we want a livable planet. As a new father, and as a candidate running in a district beset by numerous climate disasters, this issue is very personal. Progressives must push for the inclusion of a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in the reconciliation package. We cannot afford to attenuate our response to climate change.

In August of this year, our campaign held a climate justice rally where we heard directly from advocacy organizations in our district that have been leading the fight to permanently shut down the Aliso Canyon methane storage facility. Aliso was the location of a monumental blowout in 2015. Over 109,000 metric tons of methane were dumped into the air during that explosion, polluting nearby communities with plumes of toxic smoke for months leading to asthma, skin infections, migraines, and countless other health conditions. What’s alarming is not only has the site not been shut down, but methane storage has INCREASED by billions of cubic feet since 2018. It infuriates me that the incumbent, Brad Sherman, has not introduced a single bill pushing for closure of Aliso Canyon, has not supported any legislation to phase out fossil fuels extraction or even better regulate the industry, and has been deafeningly silent on the blowout for years.

Being the location of the largest natural gas explosion in U.S. history means our district is on the frontlines of the climate crisis. We have the worst ozone pollution in the country, and severely lack public transit infrastructure. We deserve a bold climate hawk fighting for a Renewable Energy Standard (RES), for a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps, for an end to fossil fuel production, and for investments in renewable energy technology and implementation that actually meet the scale of this crisis. There is no alternative for immediate and comprehensive action.

Jessica Mason— not Greg Abbott– is the face of modern Texas. She’s running for a congressional seat in Dallas held by a Democrat who has long since stopped being part of any solutions. “Pollution,” Jessica told me last night, “has devastated communities like my own in South Dallas. The disastrous effects of that the neighborhoods most impacted by toxic air and water pollution are usually majority Black and Brown neighborhoods. People are literally dying due to unsafe environmental conditions caused by gas mining. A Clean Energy Standard should be exactly that– Clean in every way. It’s time for our elected leaders to step up and speak out for what’s right. Future generations are depending on us to fight so that they can thrive in a habitable planet where they don’t have to worry about whether their zip code will put them at higher risk for respiratory diseases or other illnesses caused by air and water pollution.”

Goal ThermometerChris Preece, a chemistry teacher, is running for Congress to represent a sprawling Kentucky district against a right-wing Climate Change-denier, Andy Barr, Chris grew up in the coal fields of eastern Kentucky. Today he told me that he has a long line of coal miners in his family. “I know the culture that coal companies built and Republicans like Andy Barr pander to those miners and that culture, but it’s mere pandering because we must face the challenges of climate change. I have experienced too many 100 year floods to know that climate change is here and we have to take action. Coal, gas, and other fossil fuels must be phased out, while developing a plan to create jobs in place of those losing them. Coal miners aren’t worried coal will go away, they are worried their livelihood and ability to take care of their family will go away. The new energy technologies must invest in these communities, like where I grew up, that have put their lungs, back, and lives on the line to power this country by building their factories there to provide middle-class jobs with fewer health risks. Let us transition from coal culture to a renewable energy culture that will create a sustainable future.”

Northern Virginia progressive Ally Dalsimer isn’t new to this fight. She told me that “After 30 years working as a leader and professional in the environmental policy world, I am all too familiar with the line between rhetoric and action. Lots of people say they care about the environment, but turn around and either do nothing or worse, actively harm the fight to protect our planet. Take my opponent for example- Congressman Connolly has long said he’s a champion of climate and cares about our planet, yet he has voted to increase the Defense budget every year since he was elected. Why does that make him anti-environment? The Defense Department is by far our nation’s largest federal polluter and user of fossil fuels, and this problem only increases when you continue to overfund them so they pay to produce new weapons and machinery that consumes large amounts of fossil fuels to operate. He’s also funded by Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest oil and gas company. I’m glad to see this partnership amongst bold groups who care about protecting our planet, and wholeheartedly support their efforts to prohibit Gas in the Clean Energy Standard. We need a partnership of outside groups and elected officials who are ready to take action on such important issues, and I look forward to being one such Congressperson when elected.”

Unlike the House candidates above, Alan Grayson is a former member of the House and is now running for the Florida Senate seat held by Marco Rubio, one of the Republicans standing in the way of aggressive climate action. “Congress,” said Grayson today, “sits at the nexus between problems and solutions. The problem is climate destruction. The solution is cutting, and then eliminating, carbon pollution. The Committee is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the time is now. Pollution lobbyists will be there, for sure. We need to be there, too.”

UPDATE From Erica Smith

“Clean coal is a myth. Clean oil is a myth. Clean gas is a myth. We are in the midst of a climate crisis and teetering on the verge of climate catastrophe, meanwhile politicians are parroting Big Oil talking points and utterly and entirely failing to meet this moment.

“The science is clear, gas is not clean. The only reason this is even a debate is because of the number of politicians who are on the payroll of Big Oil. These corrupt politicians are literally willing to put people’s lives at risk and destroy our planet just to protect their relationships with the very corporations that are responsible for the storms and floods that are claiming lives and livelihoods across our state and all over the country. Our survival depends on bold action, not more gaslighting.”


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