By Mark Schlosberg
Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act) last week. This visionary bill comes as the nation bears witness to the devastation being brought by the climate change-super charged storm Harvey to Texas and Louisiana and braces for Irma's impacts. Storms like this and other extreme weather events will become all the more frequent and intense unless bold action is taken. Gabbard's bill—the strongest yet introduced in Congress—will put us on a path towards avoiding increased climate chaos: It will place a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects and move the country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, with a focus on a rapid transition in the next ten years. The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Nanette Barragan (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
This legislation could not be more needed. While the impacts of Harvey are readily apparent to all, it is not an isolated occurrence. Evidence continues to build of the severity and urgency of the climate crisis. And while Trump flew to Texas and talked about helping communities there, he and fossil fuel-funded members of Congress continue to put the planet on a collision course with climate chaos. They deny climate change and are suppressing our government's ability to address it; they are moving to increase drilling and fracking on public lands and off our coasts; they are promoting development of more pipelines; and they are exporting more oil and gas abroad while wrecking the environment here at home.
In this dysfunctional political environment, a broad movement has grown to resist Trump's foolish and dangerous agenda. Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the streets in DC and across the country. Thousands more have called members of Congress, written letters, and gone to town halls and community meetings opposing this destructive agenda. This is heartening and powerful, but we must do more.
To win on climate—to really move off of fossil fuels and transition our economy to 100 percent renewable energy on a time frame that will actually prevent even greater climate catastrophe—we must continue to resist Trump's agenda, but we need to do more than that: We need to propel a bold agenda for addressing the crisis—one that will protect our communities while creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs in the renewables and energy efficiency sectors. This agenda must center racial and economic justice and cannot rely on false market solutions like carbon trading and taxing programs, which are simply corporate pay-to-pollute schemes. What we need is nothing short of a World War II-scale mobilization of our economy around a quick and just transition off fossil fuels and onto 100 percent renewable energy now.
Rep. Gabbard's OFF Act is a critical step towards that mobilization. It requires 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 (and 80 percent by 2027), places a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, bans the export of oil and gas, and also moves our automobile and rail systems to 100 percent renewable energy. Additionally, it provides for a truly just transition for environmental justice communities and those working in the fossil fuel industry. The bill requires that people in impacted communities have a leading role in the development and implementation of clean energy plans and regulations, and establishes an equitable transition fund and workforce development center, paid for by closing an offshore tax loophole and repealing federal tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.
Now we must mobilize to build support for this bill. Though the prospects of passing anything in Congress right now are grim, moving members of Congress to support the OFF Act and elevating its profile are important for three reasons:
1. Create Political Consensus for Rapid Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy
Six years ago, when Food & Water Watch followed the lead of our grassroots partners to become the first national organization to call for a ban on fracking, conventional wisdom dictated that fracked gas was an environmentally friendly "bridge fuel." There was lots of support for stronger regulations on fracking, but little serious talk about actually banning it. Yet hundreds of organizations and thousands of people all over the country organized around the issue and held their elected officials accountable.
New York and Maryland have since banned fracking. Rep. Mark Pocan introduced legislation to ban fracking on federal lands. Banning fracking became a top issue raised by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race, and a majority of Americans now support a ban. It took lots of hard work, but the political consensus has shifted. We must do the same thing with the urgent need to act on climate, by building support for the OFF Act.
2. Make OFF a Top Issue Now
Even though Congress is controlled by pro-fossil fuel ideologues, it is still critical that we work to get members to sponsor this bill now. If we organize to get large numbers of co-sponsors on the OFF Act, it will become a top issue that representatives will need to respond to. Even as it has just been introduced, the OFF Act already enjoys support from more than 100 organizations including a wide range of major national groups like National Nurses United, Progressive Democrats of America, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and People's Action.
3. Make Space for State and Local Action
At the same time we are working to build support for the OFF Act, there are also campaigns across the country working to move cities, counties and states to 100 percent renewable energy now. Organizing around these local efforts can and should dovetail with efforts to pressure members of Congress to co-sponsor federal legislation. Passing local measures, or getting state and local elected officials to sign the OFF Pledge, will help build the political power needed to push Congress to support the federal legislation. Similarly, getting more co-sponsors on federal legislation to stop fossil fuel projects will open up more space for state and local action. These efforts work together.
Winning the fight to move off fossil fuels will not be easy, as the thousands of people who are working to stop pipelines, ban fracking and build renewable energy projects can tell you. But these are also fights that we can—and must—win if we are to protect people and the planet and avoid the very worst of climate chaos. The OFF Act is a critical first step in what must be a major national mobilization to restructure our energy system now.
Visit OFF Fossil Fuels to get involved in your community and join our grassroots team. Let's make this happen.