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'As World Teeters on Brink of Climate Catastrophe,' 600+ Groups Demand Congress Back Visionary Green New Deal

"We need action on climate that ends our dependence on dirty energy, puts power in the hands of communities, and provides good jobs."

On behalf of their millions of members and supporters, 626 environmental organizations on Thursday demanded that U.S. policymakers "pursue visionary and affirmative legislative action" such as a Green New Deal to combat the "urgent threat" of the global climate crisis.

"As the world teeters on the brink of climate catastrophe, we're calling on Congress to take large-scale action," said Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which signed the letter (pdf) to lawmakers. "Americans want a livable future for their children, and that requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground while greening the economy on a wartime footing."

Angela Adrar of Climate Justice Alliance, another signatory, emphasized that "such a new, green economy needs to be guided by the leadership and knowledge of those most burdened by pollution, poverty, and other forms of institutional violence waged by the corporations causing this global ecological crisis."

To achieve a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 or sooner, according to the letter, federal lawmakers must:

1. Halt all fossil fuel leasing, phase out all fossil fuel extraction, and end fossil fuel and other dirty energy subsidies;

2. Transition power generation to 100 percent renewable energy;

3. Expand public transportation and phase out fossil fuel vehicles;

4. Harness the full power of the Clean Air Act;

5. Ensure a just transition led by impacted communities and workers; and

6. Uphold Indigenous rights.

"The disproportionate impacts of climate change and dirty energy development in the traditional territories and lands of American Indian and Alaska Natives must be taken into account, to ensure the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples are fully recognized in the just transition to a new green economy," asserted Tom BK Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN).

Specifically, the letter pushes lawmakers to abide by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) along with other treaties and international law regarding any proposed policies or projects that would impact "lands, territories, and/or natural resources, cultural properties and heritage, and other interests" of native communities.

Additionally, the groups "vigorously oppose" any efforts to slash existing environmental and public health protections, prevent dirty energy polluters from liability, or promote "corporate schemes that place profits over community burdens and benefits." Their letter further charges that "fossil fuel companies should pay their fair share for damages caused by climate change, rather than shifting those costs to taxpayers."

Pointing to recent warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about the necessity of rapid and aggressive climate action, it also notes the growing popularity of a Green New Deal—backed by the Sunrise Movement and other organizations as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and several other Democratic lawmakers—that would couple bold climate policies with efforts to create a more just economy.

As Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter concluded, "The excitement around the Green New Deal should energize Congress to take bold, transformative action on climate change."

Friends of the Earth's Nicole Ghio added: "We cannot stop climate change and rising inequality with the half-solutions of the past. We need action on climate that ends our dependence on dirty energy, puts power in the hands of communities and provides good jobs. If candidates and elected officials say they are committed to climate solutions, this is the litmus test."

Despite growing momentum for a Green New Deal and other initiatives, as David Turnbull of Oil Change USA pointed out, "at precisely the time that we need our energy policy to swiftly move us into a managed decline of fossil fuel production, the Trump administration is working with the fossil fuel industry to tear down policies and dangerously expand our fossil fuel extraction."

As President Donald Trump and his appointees work to dismantle various climate and environmental regulations, these hundreds of groups want members of Congress to fight back and work to curb the global crisis. Organizations that signed on to the letter include Greenpeace, Amazon Watch, CODEPINK, Credo Action, Indivisible, the Organic Consumers Association, People's Action, Public Citizen, and several chapters of 350.org.

Read the full letter:

Dear Representative:

On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we are writing today to urge you to consider the following principles as the 116th Congress debates climate change legislation and momentum around the country builds for a Green New Deal. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned, if we are to keep global warming below 1.5°C, we must act aggressively and quickly. At a minimum, reaching that target requires visionary and affirmative legislative action in the following areas:

Halt all fossil fuel leasing, phase out all fossil fuel extraction, and end fossil fuel and other dirty energy subsidies.

The science is clear that fossil fuels must be kept in the ground. Pursuing new fossil fuel projects at this moment in history is folly. Most immediately, the federal government must stop selling off or leasing publicly owned lands, water, and mineral rights for development to fossil fuel producers. The government must also stop approving fossil fuel power plants and infrastructure projects. We must reverse recent legislation that ended the 40-year ban on the export of crude oil, end the export of all other fossil fuels, and overhaul relevant statutes that govern fossil fuel extraction in order to pursue a managed decline of fossil fuel production. Further, the federal government must immediately end the massive, irrational subsidies and other financial support that fossil fuel, and other dirty energy companies (such as nuclear, waste incineration and biomass energy) continue to receive both domestically and overseas.

Transition power generation to 100% renewable energy.

As the United States shifts away from fossil fuels, we must simultaneously ramp up energy efficiency and transition to clean, renewable energy to power the nation’s economy where, in addition to excluding fossil fuels, any definition of renewable energy must also exclude all combustion-based power generation, nuclear, biomass energy, large scale hydro and waste-to-energy technologies. To achieve this, the United States must shift to 100 percent renewable power generation by 2035 or earlier. This shift will necessitate upgrading our electricity grid to be smart, efficient, and decentralized, with the ability to incorporate battery storage and distributed energy systems that are democratically governed. In addition, Congress must bring the outdated regulation of electricity into the twenty-first century, encouraging public and community ownership over power infrastructure and electricity choice, as well as permitting distributed energy sources, including rooftop and community solar programs to supply the grid.

Expand public transportation and phase out fossil fuel vehicles.

As the transition away from fossil fuels occurs, our transportation system must also undergo 100 percent decarbonization. To accomplish a fossil-fuel-free reality, Congress must require and fund greater investment in renewable-energy-powered public transportation that serves the people who need it most. The United States must also phase out the sale of automobiles and trucks with internal fossil fuel combustion engines as quickly as possible and phase out all existing fossil fuel mobile sources by 2040 or earlier. Federal credits for electric vehicles must be expanded.

Harness the full power of the Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act provides powerful tools that have proven successful in protecting the air we breathe and reducing greenhouse pollution. It can also serve as an important backstop to ensure climate targets are met. Congress should harness the full power of the statute by setting strict deadlines and providing adequate funding for EPA to carry out all its duties under all applicable sections of the Act, including implementing greenhouse pollution reduction requirements for cars, trucks, aircraft, ships, smokestacks and other sources, as well as a science-based national pollution cap. The Act has successfully reduced many air pollutants and can do the same for greenhouse pollution.

Ensure a Just Transition led by impacted communities and workers.

In effectuating this energy transformation, it is critical to prioritize support for communities who have historically been harmed first and most by the dirty energy economy and workers in the energy sector and related industries. We support a comprehensive economic plan to drive job growth and invest in a new green economy that is designed, built and governed by communities and workers. Building new energy, waste, transportation and housing infrastructure, designed to serve climate resilience and human needs; retrofitting millions of buildings to conserve energy and other resources; and, actively restoring natural ecosystems to protect communities from climate change, are but a few ways to build a sustainable, low carbon economy where no one is left behind during this change.

Uphold Indigenous Rights

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) must be upheld and implemented, along with treaties, instruments and decisions of international law that recognize that Indigenous Peoples have the right to give or withhold “free, prior and informed consent” to legislation and development of their lands, territories and/or natural resources, cultural properties and heritage, and other interests, and to receive remedies of losses and damages of property taken without consent.

Further, we will vigorously oppose any legislation that: (1) rolls back existing environmental, health, and other protections, (2) protects fossil fuel and other dirty energy polluters from liability, or (3) promotes corporate schemes that place profits over community burdens and benefits, including market-based mechanisms and technology options such as carbon and emissions trading and offsets, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, waste-to-energy and biomass energy. Fossil fuel companies should pay their fair share for damages caused by climate change, rather than shifting those costs to taxpayers.

We look forward to working with you to address the gravest environmental crisis humanity has ever faced, to protect all present and future generations around the world, while centering the rights of those communities and workers most impacted.

Posted with permission from Common Dreams.

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