WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont called for a political revolution on Monday night as he and other speakers urged approval of the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan to address climate change.
Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, called for an end to all tax breaks and subsidies for the oil and gas industry as the first step.
Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, said Republicans who denounce the Green New Deal as socialism ignore more than a century of tax breaks for the oil industry.
Referring to wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources, Markey said, “Give us some of that socialism that the oil industry has been enjoying for 100 years.”
Sanders, Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York headlined “The Road to the Green New Deal Tour” rally at Howard University that also featured Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, the group behind the Green New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez was last to speak.
The Green New Deal has been blocked in the Senate, and Democratic House leaders refuse to take it up, but activists and politicians who back the plan are pushing to make it a top issue in the 2020 campaign.
The rally comes as Sanders and others seeking the Democratic presidential nomination criticize former Vice President Joe Biden over his yet-to-be-released climate plan. Published reports suggest Biden is seeking “middle ground” on climate, a phrase that drew loud boos at Monday night’s rally, along with the mention of Biden’s name.
“There is no ‘middle ground’ when it comes to climate policy,” Sanders tweeted Friday. “If we don’t commit to fully transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, we will doom future generations.”
Ocasio-Cortez, the chief House author of the Green New Deal, called Biden’s reported approach “a dealbreaker” in a tweet and said there can be no “middle ground” on climate.
“We’re not going to solve the climate crisis w/ this lack of leadership,” she wrote. “Our kids’ lives are at stake.”
For his part, Biden chafed at reports that he’s considering a less ambitious approach to climate change than many of his rivals have endorsed, but he also expressed skepticism at the Green New Deal.
“We do need to finish this green revolution in a way that is rational, that we can do it, afford it and get it done now,” he said Monday in New Hampshire. “There’s so much we can do.”
Biden said he would be making a “major speech” to detail his environmental policy by the end of the month.
The Green New Deal, introduced by Markey and Ocasio-Cortez, calls for shifting the U.S. away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replacing them with renewable sources such as wind and solar power.
The plan calls for virtual elimination by 2030 of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming and meeting 100 percent of U.S. power demand through renewable and zero-emission energy sources, including nuclear power. The proposal has broad support among Democratic activists and 2020 presidential contenders, putting it at the forefront of the party’s sprawling presidential primary.
Republicans say the plan would devastate the economy and lead to a huge tax increase. They call it more evidence of the creep of “socialism” in the Democratic Party, along with “Medicare for All” and a sweeping elections reform package that would allow public financing of congressional campaigns.
Senators including Markey and Sanders unanimously shunned a chance to take up the Green New Deal in March. Democrats called the vote scheduled by GOP leaders a political stunt, since Republicans widely oppose the plan, and declined to support a procedural motion to consider the nonbinding resolution.
The vote carried its own political risk for Republicans by appearing to mock climate change, an issue that a growing number of Americans care deeply about.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, has rejected calls to schedule a vote on the plan and has given no timetable for when or if it will reach the House floor.
About 1,500 people attended Monday night’s rally, which featured remarks by author Naomi Klein; Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats; and activist Rhiana Gunn-Wright.
Organizers promise a nationwide campaign to make the 2020 election a referendum on the Green New Deal, with a “major demonstration” planned at a Democratic presidential debate in Detroit in July.
Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Hampton, N.H., contributed to this report.