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Earth Week Exclusive Interview with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer | Our Daily Planet

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer challenged Republicans to come up with a climate plan last month. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Senate Minority Leader Schumer has made it clear this Congress that climate change must be part of the agenda, insisting that big plans like infrastructure are untenable if they do not address the issue. For Earth Week we asked the Senator how Senate Democrats can still lead on the climate crisis even if the Republican majority refuses to pass climate legislation or even have a robust conversation. A big thanks to Senator Schumer for taking the time to sit down with us!

ODP: You told the NYT in March that Democrats are going “on offense” on the climate change crisis and you set up a committee of Democrats to work on it.  What do you hope they can accomplish this Congress?

CS: We created the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis because we need to do everything we can to keep a spotlight on the climate crisis, and Leader McConnell refused to allow a vote on my bill to set up a bipartisan special committee like our colleagues in the House. Our Democratic caucus is determined to address this crisis, so I wanted to provide a platform for these members to speak about the costs of inaction, and the opportunities for taking action. This committee will soon begin holding public hearings and will issue a comprehensive report on the need for climate action by next summer.

Separate from our committee, I think we can make a significant down payment on climate action even in this Congress. The Republican Leader isn’t likely to put a comprehensive climate bill on the Senate floor in this Congress, but I plan to make climate a top-tier issue in the budget negotiations, tax extenders, any infrastructure bill, and other legislation where there may be an opportunity to make progress combatting this crisis. We will push at every opportunity for big investments in electric vehicle, clean energy, and energy efficiency deployment.

ODP: Why have climate change, and environmental issues more generally, now been elevated to a top tier issue for Democrats? What has changed? 

CS: With each new UNFCCC report, the science tells us that the climate crisis is becoming increasingly dire, and we’re running out of time to avoid the worst impacts. The youth in our country, and across the globe, are growing more and more frustrated with my generation for failing to act boldly and urgently—and they should be!  They will face the brunt of the climate crisis, and they want to see their elected officials take this issue seriously. The energy in the youth movement on climate is powerful, and Democrats really feel like it has put wind in the sails of climate action here in Congress. 

ODP: Senator McConnell believes that the Green New Deal is a “destructive socialist daydream.”  Conservative Democrats are concerned about that label. What is the best way to respond?

CS: The idea behind the Green New Deal is that we need to act boldly and urgently to confront the climate crisis and match the urgency of the challenge through large scale investments in clean energy, clean transportation, and in communities.  The bottom line is that all Democrats agree that the climate crisis is a serious issue and that Congress needs to act boldly to address it.  Republicans have no comprehensive plan to address climate change, and many of them deny the overwhelming scientific agreement that human activity causes climate change. So we’re going to keep calling Republicans out until they come forward with a serious plan.  But our efforts are working – last month, we were able to put enough pressure on Senate Republicans that many of them admitted climate change is happening, it’s caused by humans, and Congress needs to take action. Even Leader McConnell admitted for the first time ever that climate change is happening and it’s caused by humans. So we need to keep up the pressure. 

ODP: In a time of increasingly destructive extreme weather likely related to climate change, did you ever imagine that an American President would advocate denying disaster relief to some Americans whose lives have been devastated or play politics with emergency funding? 

CS: It’s disgusting. Thousands of lives were completely upended by the recent hurricanes, flooding, and other natural disasters, and the president would rather play politics than provide relief to all American citizens. After the destruction that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York, I worked in a bipartisan way to secure a $60 billion recovery package. In that legislation, we put a priority on climate resiliency and mitigation for the first time. Instead of working to divide us, the president should be following this model and helping every community build back better and stronger. We don’t have time to waste in the face of the climate crisis. 

ODP: It’s Earth Week — what gives you hope for the future of our planet?

CS: Youth. They are energized, they are demanding bold action, and they aren’t going to give up until they get it. And neither am I. 

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