The Climate & Georgia Senate Showdown
Air Date: Week of November 27, 2020
Democratic challenger Jon Osoff supports a major infrastructure program that includes renewable energy, sustainability, and coastal community adaptation. (Photo: John Ramspott, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
The Georgia runoff elections in January will determine which party controls the US Senate, and thus the scope of climate legislation during the Biden Administration. James Bruggers, a reporter at InsideClimate News, speaks with Steve Curwood about where the candidates stand on climate and the environment.
CURWOOD: From PRX and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
With the announcement that John Kerry will be the special Presidential climate envoy for the Biden Administration, it’s clear America is headed back into climate action. Mr. Kerry is a former Secretary of State and one of the architects of the Paris Climate Agreement. And he will undoubtedly shepherd a host of executive orders and rules to advance climate action and reverse the anti-climate policies of the Trump administration. Scoring major gains will also depend on the US Senate, where the Republican majority has mostly blocked climate actions. But winning the two runoff elections in Georgia could give control of the Senate to the Democrats. Republican Senator David Perdue is looking for another six year term, and is facing Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist. Republican Kelly Loeffler was sworn in this year to temporarily fill Georgia’s other Senate seat, but to keep for the next two years she has to beat Reverend Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and pastor at the same church once led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. James Bruggers writes for InsideClimate News and has been following these twin races and how environmental voters could tip the balance. James, welcome back to Living on Earth.
BRUGGERS: Thank you appreciate it.
CURWOOD: In terms of Georgia, where do the Democratic and Republican candidates stand on climate?
BRUGGERS: As a general rule, they're not really talking about climate a lot. But just like Democrats and Republicans across the country, the Republican candidates don't have much to say about it at all, and in fact, seemed to have a fossil fuel agenda. And they both very much support President Donald Trump. And the two Democratic challengers have built climate change into their platforms. So even though it may not be a top tier issue that they're talking about all the time, it's definitely something that you can find on their campaign websites. And it's something that you'll hear them talk about from time to time.
CURWOOD: Before the presidential election we spoke with Jim about the Ossoff Perdue race and how each candidate views climate and the environment.
BRUGGERS: Senator Perdue, who's a former CEO of Dollar General, he generally avoids climate conversations except to praise Trump for exiting the Paris Climate Agreement, for example. And he excoriated the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which Trump's administration has, you know, killed. And he also voted against a sense of the Senate resolution that climate change is real and caused by people. Ossoff is like a lot of other Democrats in that he's addressing climate change through this lens of jobs and the coronavirus, he says that Georgia needs to rebuild from the wreckage, as he calls it, caused by the coronavirus pandemic. He's not endorsed the Green New Deal, but he's called for a major infrastructure program that includes clean energy and energy efficiency and also kind of preparing Georgia coastal communities to adapt.
CURWOOD: Turning to the other race, I asked Jim to talk to us about the record of Republican Kelly Loeffler when it comes to environment and energy.
BRUGGERS: It was kind of hard to find out really, it's not something that she's campaigning on at all. And she's never held any public office before. And so you can't really check and see, you know, how she voted on something in the past like you can with incumbent politician. And she's only been there for a year. She was the CEO of a business that did trading in energy credits at some point, but her whole thing has been that she supported Donald Trump 100% of the time.
CURWOOD: So Raphael Warnock is in favor of the Green New Deal, or not?
BRUGGERS: You know, neither of them, Warnock nor Ossoff, are campaigning on the Green New Deal. It's typical across the Southeast, what I saw Republicans were able to use the Green New Deal as a cudgel in many ways. And so what you'll find is they won't use that language. So Reverend Warnock, he will talk about how he's guided by his faith. He has described the Earth as the Lord's, he talks about how we must be stewards of the Earth that our children will inherit. He says rejoin the Paris Climate accords. He wants to reverse Trump's attacks on the EPA and environmental regulations. He talks about preparing Georgia's coastline for rising sea levels and the types of infrastructure investments that you need to do that adaptation. And he also believes that he wants to set goals for carbon reduction, and to have a clean energy economy by 2050. Many of the tenets that you'll find in the Green New Deal are there. It's just he doesn't describe it that way. He doesn't call it the Green New Deal.
CURWOOD: These two races are going to determine which party takes over the United States Senate. If the Democrats should happen to take both seats, they, with the vice presidency, presumably the Vice President Harris, they would have this very thin majority. So what are the stakes of control of the Senate in terms of the future of national climate legislation?
BRUGGERS: Generally speaking, Mitch McConnell has not had a climate agenda. His agenda has been a pro-coal, pro-fossil fuel agenda. And the democrats now have a climate agenda. And President-Elect Biden has a $2 trillion climate plan that he wants to get through Congress. So if he doesn't have his party in control, he has very little chance of having his plan make it through Congress. And so that ultimately, is what this all boils down to. However, there is this rule that we all know about in the Senate where you've got to get 60 votes. So you know, it's likely that whatever we see is going to be compromised. And of course, if we have compromise legislation that actually might be more durable, so that might be a good thing.
CURWOOD: James Bruggers is a reporter at InsideClimate News, who covers the US southeast. Thanks so much for taking the time with us, Jim.
BRUGGERS: Yeah, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
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