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Harris Brings Record on Climate Action, Environmental Justice to Biden Presidential Ticket

Less than 24 hours after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden chose Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate in this fall’s election, the climate news wires were buzzing with recaps of her position on climate action, her record on environmental justice, and the likely outcome after the Biden-Harris campaign pushes the Trump administration out of office in November.

“During her own 2019 run for president, Harris released a major climate plan that focused heavily on environmental justice,” Politico Morning Energy writes. “That plan called for US$10 trillion in investments from public and private sources to decarbonize the economy, including investments in low-income communities that suffer the most from pollution and climate change. And last week, Harris and progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the Climate Equity Act to boost the influence of minority and low-income communities.”

“In choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden put a spotlight on two key elements of his climate policy: environmental justice for minority communities and accountability for the oil and gas industry,” InsideClimate News adds. “During her presidential run, Harris also frequently advocated for the federal government to take legal action against fossil fuel companies for their legacy of climate pollution. It’s another stance that resonates with many climate-focused voters, even though, as California’s attorney general, she did not go as far as other state law enforcers in pursuing litigation against the industry.”

But “notably,” Politico writes, Harris has “said she would seek to end the Senate’s filibuster rules, if necessary, in order to pass a Green New Deal—something Biden has signaled he might support. A fact sheet sent to reporters from the Biden campaign on Tuesday also pointed to Harris’ actions to defend the Obama-Biden Clean Power Plan and New Source Standards while she was California attorney general, as well as her suits against big oil corporations like Chevron and BP.”

Much of the coverage focused on Harris’ potential role in building unity around the Biden-Harris ticket and drawing in a younger constituency of first-time voters who are seen as essential to a Democratic win. Early indications had those voters largely supporting Biden’s pick for VP.

Throughout the Democratic presidential primaries, Harris “showed her responsiveness to activist and movement pressure to make climate a top priority, and demonstrated her willingness to be held accountable,” said Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash. “She took our No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, ran on the Green New Deal as a core part of her platform, and mentioned it more in the Presidential debates than almost any other candidate.” She’s also “consistently shown a strong record on ensuring environmental justice for Black, Brown, and poor communities, and has worked with front-line communities, environmental justice organizations, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez” to ensure that Green New Deal investments prioritize disenfranchised communities.

“This ticket shows just how committed Joe Biden is to making real and lasting climate progress and stands in stark contrast to Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s efforts to implement a polluter-first agenda,” said EDF Action President Joe Bonfiglio.

“Senator Harris’ commitment to environmental justice and her desire to hold corporate polluters financially and criminally accountable for their destructive behavior is a welcome sign,” added Friends of the Earth Action President Erich Pica. “We hope her inclusion on the ticket provides another opportunity for Vice President Biden to increase the ambition of his climate plan and cements climate justice and climate equity as a priority for their administration.”

InsideClimate News has a recap of Harris’ record as California attorney-general. Mother Jones sees her bringing racial justice to the centre of Biden’s climate agenda, while Grist says her record on justice is getting “better and better”, even if she “isn’t quite a climate activist’s dream”. InsideClimate News Dan Gearino interprets Democrats’ broad support for climate action as evidence that “net zero is now mainstream”, driven largely by plummeting costs for renewable energy.

In the lead-up to what’s been hailed as an historic VP selection—Harris is the first Black woman and first person of Indian-American descent ever named to a U.S. presidential ticket—news coverage focused on Biden’s $2-trillion climate and energy plan, as well as his promise to cancel the controversial, climate-busting, and increasingly anachronistic Keystone XL pipeline. Last week, Bloomberg said a contract between Calgary-based pipeliner TC Energy and four U.S. labour unions “could amplify political pressure on Joe Biden, who has threatened to rip up permits for the project even as he courts blue collar workers.” And the president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association claimed that “any plan that seeks to undermine the oil and gas industry will set back climate progress and put workers out of jobs,” industry newsletter Rigzone reported.

“The oil and natural gas industry is leading the way on environmental progress, implementing real solutions to address climate concerns while providing affordable and reliable energy that benefits every family,” Todd Staples said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle said fossil executives were “writing cheques to…Donald Trump with greater zeal than they did four years ago, as Biden campaigns on a climate plan that seeks to eliminate carbon emissions by mid-century.”

Elsewhere, Politico Morning Energy detailed the “tightrope” Biden has been walking on whether to ban fracking, Huffington Post singled out Obama-era interior secretary Ken Salazar as a successful “oil champion” now embedded as a Biden campaign advisor, and climate campaigners raised similar concerns about ex-Obama energy secretary Ernest Moniz and senior environmental aide Heather Zichal, both now associated with fossil companies. The Washington Post published a detailed account of how Biden’s “surprisingly ambitious climate plan” took shape.