No Deal, Says Meeks

Congressman declines to sign onto Green New Deal

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Several organizations were represented at the meeting in Congressman Meeks' Arverne office to discuss the Green New Deal. Photos by Fionnuala O'Leary

Several organizations were represented at the meeting in Congressman Meeks’ Arverne office to discuss the Green New Deal. Photos by Fionnuala O’Leary

Congressman Gregory Meeks does not support forming a Select Committee For A Green New Deal because he doesn’t think it is the right political strategy.

The congressman said he did not support the formation of a new committee on Friday, Dec. 14 during a lengthy meeting with concerned Queens constituents and local activists, who met to discuss the proposal.

Rockaway Revolution, Rockaway Women for Progress, Rockaway Beach Civic Association and Belle Harbor Property Owners were some of the organisations represented at Meeks’ Arverne office.

The draft proposal, pioneered by Queens Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, entails moving to 100 percent renewable energy and going carbon neutral within 10 years. This would, in theory, create a myriad of renewable job training opportunities in underserved communities like Rockaway, as well as promoting economic and environmental justice and equality.

As part of the GND, a Select Committee of 15 representatives would be appointed by the House speaker (six of whom may be appointed on the recommendation of the Minority Leader) to develop a “detailed, national, industrial, economic mobilization plan.”

RBCA Co-Vice President Jeremy Jones also attended the meeting to discuss the Green New Deal.

RBCA Co-Vice President Jeremy Jones also attended the meeting to discuss the Green New Deal.

According to the proposal, this plan will be completed by Jan. 1, 2020 and the draft legislation will be finalized no later than March 1, 2020. This Select Committee would examine the emerging issues “that don’t fit clearly within existing standing committee jurisdictions or cut across jurisdictional boundaries.”

Although Meeks promised to keep an “open mind” next year, he said he wouldn’t support the formation of the GND committee right now because it would do “more harm than good for the purpose of drafting or advancing any legislation.”

Instead, Meeks is supporting Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s call to reinstate her committee addressing climate change through renewable energy which, he told attendees last Friday, isn’t “far off” their Green New Deal ideas.

Rockaway Women For Progress members Elda Vale and Jean Belford

Rockaway Women For Progress members Elda Vale and Jean Belford

“I support the core tenets of the Green New Deal, but not the strategy to implement it,” Meeks told The Wave on Wednesday, Dec. 19. “That is why I support the OFF Fossil Fuels Act to be on 100 percent renewable energy, and the percent infrastructure component of a Better Deal which would be the largest jobs initiative since the New Deal.”

Meeks said the aforementioned are “concrete bills” that were drafted and sent to their respective committees of jurisdiction.

“A separate legislative committee, as theorized by the GND, is not ideal for passing through legislation that will require the capacity and know-how of several committees working on all the various components of a bill of this size,” said Meeks. “The renewable energy portion should go through Energy & Commerce, the jobs component through Education & the Workforce, etc.”

Despite the Meeks’ misgivings, 40 members of Congress have already given their support as of Thursday, Dec. 19. Senator Ed Markey, who was the Co-Chair of The Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming from 2007 to 2010, has also endorsed Ocasio-Cortez’s Select Committee. Meeks pointed out that it takes 218 members of congress to sign on in order for the GND “to pass the floor,” however.

Nevertheless, over 300 local and state government officials from 40 states have signed an open letter supporting Ocasio-Cortez’s initiative. The letter, entitled ‘Empowering lawmakers to act boldly on climate,’ stated that “[d]ecades of denial, misinformation, and lobbying from the fossil fuel industry has delayed critical action to transition our society from its current dependence on fossil fuels.”

Kate Walls and Marva Schomburg Kerwin of Rockaway Revolution, a grassroots organization addressing racism, political transparency, and environmental sustainability, said the GND would guide the legislative process and provide a “comprehensive vision for the future.” Walls added that “reviving [Pelosi’s] committee is not sufficient for the scope of the threat that we currently face,” considering there were over 80 public hearings over 3.5 years and little action.

“We need to take huge change to our economic structure that our country really hasn’t done since WWII,” Walls told the Congressman. “We need to facilitate that change quickly so that Rockaway and the rest of NY-05 is not underwater or on fire.”

However, Walls and Schomburg Kerwin left the meeting feeling “frustrated” by the congressman’s stance.

“The old committee cannot act on these issues like ending mass poverty and creating a federal jobs guarantee—it literally is not within their scope of action,” Walls told The Wave. “Meeks is saying, ‘trust us- we will come up with something.’ But he couldn’t guarantee what parts, if any, of the GND will be in that new strategy, or what that strategy would be.

“The Free from Fossil Fuel Act is only focused on tax accreditation to polluters who switch to entirely renewable energy sources,” Walls continued, adding that democrats should have had a plan ready to go for when they regained legislative power.

“Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t been sworn in yet and she’s had this plan with measurable goals and specific guidelines for months,” she added.

“It’s unclear to us why the Congressman wouldn’t support a Select Committee for a GND if he is in support of these initiatives,” agreed Schomburg Kerwin. “The Congressman doesn’t agree on the GND strategy and that’s the only detail I walked away with. Quite frankly, I think Congressman Meeks’ lack of support for the GND speaks for itself.”

Likewise, Bright Dae-Jung Limm, a Queens constituent who attended the meeting, left feeling that Meeks was more focused on “strategizing” than implementing any concrete change.

“Right now he’s focused on acquiring leverage,” Limm told The Wave. “[W]e’re focused on increasing the chances that Congress as a body will take seriously the need to create a sustainable environment, millions of jobs, new infrastructure, and racial justice.”

Another attendee Jean Belford, the President of Rockaway Women for Progress, also urged Meeks to support the GND Select Committee because it’s an “important moment in time to be bold and look climate change in the face with a comprehensive, transformative plan.”

“[The GND] not only addresses our environment but also offers a complete job program to local communities,” Belford told The Wave. “There is a Democratic Congressional retreat [next year] and, instead of talking about the pros and cons of a Green New Deal, we believe this time would be much better served if it is used not to debate the efficacy of the Green New Deal but instead get to work on it.”

The Arverne meeting comes after the Sunrise Movement’s protest at Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office last week, where students demanded swift action for climate change. The young people involved are focused on making climate change an “urgent priority” across America.

On Dec. 16, Varshini Prakash, a spokesperson for Sunrise Movement, confirmed that Congressman Mark Takano of the CA 41st District was the 38th member of congress to sign on to the Green New Deal.

“To give our generation a livable future and save millions of lives from the devastation of climate change, we need massive government action, not just a continuation of the half-measure that got us into this crisis,” Prakash told The Wave.

“The proposals that Rep. Meeks and other Democratic leaders point to when criticizing the Green New Deal are simply not in line with what the latest science demands. The UN says we have 12 years to move off fossil fuels. New polling shows that the Green New Deal has majority support among both parties, including 92 percent of Democrats.”

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, who serves CD 7 and signed on to the GND, told The Wave that a new modus operandi was necessary at this point.

“While certainly the existing Committees of jurisdiction will continue to play a central role, climate change is such an existential threat to our planet that our new Democratic Majority should take a new approach in addressing this crisis,” Velázquez said. “What we can all agree on is that inaction simply is not an option.”

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