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Democrats link race, jobs, climate in election-year resolution

The party aims to frame global warming as an opportunity to create jobs and tackle long-festering racial strife in the U.S.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is among the resolution's co-sponsors.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is among the resolution's co-sponsors. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats unveiled a bicameral resolution on climate change, racial justice and economic recovery on Thursday, the latest election-year push from the party to frame global warming as an opportunity to create jobs and tackle long-festering racial strife in the United States.

Released during what scientists say may be the hottest year recorded, the resolution calls for the federal government to recognize its “duty” to tackle a series of overlapping crises: large-scale unemployment, climate change, “racial injustice” and the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 190,000 people in the U.S. and about 900,000 worldwide.

At least 79 members of Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, are original sponsors of the resolution. No Republicans appear to have signed on, and a complete list of co-sponsors was not immediately available.

When Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, released the panel’s exhaustive report in June, she and Speaker Nancy Pelosi emphasized its focus on environmental justice.

[Pandemic, inequality helped shape Democrats’ climate plan]

“To the young Black mother who is afraid to allow her children to play outside because their asthma is getting worse, we are going to start in your neighborhood,” Castor said broadly of the proposal to decarbonize the economy. “Your children come first.”

In a separate, smaller-scale climate plan released Aug. 25, Senate Democrats said federal policies “must ensure improvements in public health for low-income and environmental justice communities and co-optimize both health and climate benefits.”

Political calculation

Democrats on Capitol Hill also placed climate change as central to their $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, which passed the House in July, and the party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, is betting that voters would support a multitrillion-dollar plan to arrest climate change.

“If we can’t deal with the public health crisis, we can’t deal with the economic crisis,” Biden said in July, “and we can’t deal with the climate crisis that could cast an even darker and more permanent shadow over our country and the world.”

The resolution unveiled Thursday reads like a political campaign agenda and lists a series of priorities and far-reaching goals without specifying how to achieve them, much like the Green New Deal resolutions of the House and Senate.

In part, it calls for the creation of millions of jobs in public works, health care, retrofitting of houses, land restoration, climate-resilient agriculture and low-carbon energy production.

The authors also demand investment in “Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities to build power and counteract racial and gender injustice”; efforts to fight “environmental injustice,” including by focusing on neighborhoods exposed disproportionately to air pollution; and “averting climate and environmental catastrophe” by keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels, a threshold past which climate scientists say environmental damage accelerates.

“Indigenous peoples know that everything in life is connected and related,” said Tom B.K. Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, an advocacy group. “This is also the case with the issues humanity are facing today.”

Organizers said more than 150 outside organizations contributed to the agenda, including unions like the American Federation of Teachers, Communications Workers of America and the Service Employees International Union, environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Sunrise Movement and racial justice groups like the Movement for Black Lives.

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