Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke unveiled his environmental agenda in California’s Yosemite Valley Monday, declaring it “the most ambitious climate plan in the history of the United States” — only to have the proposal immediately assailed by environmentalists who said it does not go far enough.
Under the plan — which would includes $1.5 trillion investment intended to “mobilize” an additional $5 trillion over 10 years — O’Rourke says the United States can achieve net zero emissions by 2050. It includes broad promises to rejoin the Paris agreement, cut pollution, and protect communities impacted by fires, floods, droughts and hurricanes.
“We have one last chance to unleash the ingenuity and political will of hundreds of millions of Americans to meet this moment before it’s too late,” O’Rourke said Monday.
But the former Texas congressman had barely wiped the Yosemite Falls mist from his brow when the Sunrise Movement, the youth-led grassroots organization that has helped propel the Green New Deal into the popular consciousness, ripped what it saw as an incrementalist approach.
Earlier this month in Iowa, O’Rourke told students he wanted to achieve net zero by 2030; under the plan he announced today, the U.S. would only get half way to that goal in the same period. Sunrise’s executive director Varshini Prakash characterized the change as a walk-back. (The O’Rourke campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
“Beto claims to support the Green New Deal, but his plan is out of line with the timeline it lays out and the scale of action that scientists say is necessary to take here in the United States to give our generation a livable future,” Prakash said in a statement.
Sunrise Movement has been the major force behind the Green New Deal resolution, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, and embraced by many of the Democrats running in 2020. Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand have all signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. (O’Rourke, who was no longer in Congress when the bill was introduced, has said of the Green New Deal, “I haven’t seen anything better that addresses this singular crisis that we face — a crisis that could, at its worst, lead to extinction.”)
Prakash added a parting shot at O’Rourke for breaking a commitment made during his 2018 senate race not to accept money from fossil fuel PACs and executives. “If [O’Rourke] wants to earn the support of young people he needs to show he’s ready to stand up to the oil and gas lobby and push for the scale and speed of action we need through a Green New Deal and by signing the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge,” Prakash said.
The speed at which Sunrise Movement drenched in cold water a proposal O’Rourke team was already touting as “bold” and “ambitious” may be a signal of how aggressive the organization, which has gained notoriety for its viral confrontations with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will try to frame the climate debate in 2020. Another sign? The group has plans underway to bring 10,000 supporters to the first Democratic debates in Miami in June, as Sunrise co-founder Victoria Fernandez recently told Rolling Stone, part of an effort “to give the climate change the attention it deserves in the debates.
There should be no ambiguity about Sunrise’s position, Fernandez said. “Any presidential candidate who wants to be taken seriously on climate and [wants] the support of the young people needs to support the Ocasio-Cortez and Markey resolution.”