Harris, Biden’s VP Pick, at Odds with Western Candidates on Energy Policy
By picking U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D, Cal.) as his vice-presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden is setting up a fight over fracking and the Green New Deal with western lawmakers.
Members for Congress from several western states were quick to point out Harris’s anti-development record and to realize the implications of a Biden-Harris administration for domestic energy production. Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R) and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R) both said the Harris pick would hurt energy producers in the West.
“Kamala Harris is as liberal as they come, and, as a top fundraiser and ally of Steve Bullock’s, if they’re elected in November they’ll be leading the charge for a radical, job-killing agenda,” Daines said in a statement.
“Kamala Harris wants to destroy over 230,000 jobs in Colorado,” Gardner tweeted, linking to a video where Harris called for a fracking ban.
His sentiment was shared by Texas Rep. Dan Cranshaw who retweeted a similar clip and spoke of the job losses that a fracking ban would cause.
“The United States is a world leader in emissions reductions precisely because of the fracking Kamala Harris wants to eliminate,” he tweeted. “Their policy means less jobs, higher energy prices, and higher global emissions. This is the “pragmatic moderate” on the Democrat ticket everyone.”
Biden’s announcement signaled that his administration would not be friendly to fossil fuel development. From Sacramento to the Senate, to her own short-lived bid for the presidency, Harris has taken an adversarial approach to the energy industry, supporting increased regulation and even punitive litigation.
On Capitol Hill, Harris has worked with other lawmakers on major environmental legislation, including the Green New Deal. At the end of July, she introduced comprehensive environmental justice legislation with Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D, Ill.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D, N.J.).
“Confronting generations of systemic racism to achieve true justice will require us to recognize the role environmental racism has played and redress that by investing in long-term, sustainable environmental justice solutions to center and empower communities that have for far too long been excluded,” said Harris last month.
Along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, N.Y.), Harris announced a “Climate Equity Act” last summer. The act would establish a social justice framework for the Green New Deal by requiring the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate how environmental regulation would impact low-income communities.
She also called for the reinstatement of the Social Cost of Carbon Taskforce begun under Obama, while targeting the oil and gas industry. The bill includes a large section dedicated to transitioning fossil fuel workers and communities into different industries through subsidies for retraining programs and other economic incentives, regardless of what workers might want.
Studies released in July by the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), a coalition of labor groups, shows that energy workers overwhelmingly prefer work in the oil and gas fields to renewable energy projects.
In announcing the legislation, she signaled her support for efforts to make energy companies pay for presumed harms from climate change.
“The fossil fuel industry must be held to account for knowingly damaging our environment and endangering public health,” Harris said, using language that echoes what is used by supporters of climate liability lawsuits like the one filed in Colorado.
(Three Colorado communities filed suit against energy producers including Suncor and ExxonMobil in 2018 seeking to force the companies to pay for harms resulting from climate change. The case is still being argued.)
As a candidate, Harris supported a national fracking ban, telling a CNN town hall that there was “no question” about her position. She has also boasted about suing ExxonMobil, a favorite target of environmental activists. To that end, Harris opened an investigation against the company in 2016, but had not filed charges by the time she was elected to the Senate in 2017.
Harris’s positions as a senator and candidate have won her the support of leading environmental activist groups, who praised her commitment to the Green New Deal and her responsiveness to activist pressure. Despite this, Harris never secured support in her presidential bid.
As a presidential candidate, she struggled to win the support of voters. Before Harris dropped out of the primary race on December 3rd, a HarrisX poll placed her support among Democratic voters at 2 percent.
Nevertheless, environmental groups were quick to tout her anti-fossil fuel credentials as they jumped in to support the nomination.
“Throughout the course of her campaign for president, Senator Kamala 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 in a statement. “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.”
The importance of climate change in the minds of Americans is dropping, however. According to a recent Harris poll climate change ranked second to last among 12 issues surveyed, only ahead of overpopulation. The same survey last December ranked climate change first, but the economic crisis that’s occurred in that time has shifted voter priorities.
Prakash went on to urge activists to support the ticket “to make a Biden-Harris administration lay the groundwork for a Green New Deal.”
Other green groups agree with her assessment, seeing the Harris selection as a sign that a Biden administration would be open to comprehensive climate action.
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Action President Joe Bonfiglio said, “Senator Harris campaigned fiercely for climate action in the past, and in the Senate, is a leader for environmental justice. 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.”