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Bernie Sanders’ ‘Green New Deal’ looks like a trillion bucks (OK, 16 trillion)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee vacated the role of “climate candidate” in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary when he dropped out of the race Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, it appeared Bernie Sanders was poised to fill it.

The Vermont senator unveiled a plan to spend more than $16 trillion in federal dollars on “a ten-year, nationwide mobilization centered around justice and equity” to forestall the climate crisis. He’s calling it — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — the “Green New Deal.”

Yep, Sanders told the New York Times that he’s putting “meat on the bones” of the resolution, introduced in February by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, which called for a “10-year national mobilization” to essentially remake the U.S. into a clean-energy economy. The Ocasio-Cortez and Markey version of the Green New Deal (a.k.a. GND original flavor) is currently being constructed by the think tank New Consensus.

Sanders’ version calls for creating 20 million union jobs he says are necessary for averting climate disaster, phasing out fossil fuels by midcentury, providing $200 billion to the United Nations to aid developing countries in slashing emissions, and spearheading new projects in solar, wind, and geothermal energy. According to the senator’s campaign, the plan will pay for itself in 15 years, in part by levying massive taxes on the income of corporate polluters and increasing penalties for fossil-fuel company pollution. And Sanders said he would declare climate change a national emergency, a step that even Inslee was not ready to commit to. Last month, Sanders proposed a congressional resolution to do just that.

The language in Sanders’s plan indicates he’s ready to tussle with Big Oil: He says he would direct his Department of Justice to go after fossil fuel companies for both civil and criminal penalties. So far, cases winding through the state court systems have not been successful at holding the fossil fuel industry accountable.

“They have evaded taxes, desecrated tribal lands, exploited workers, and poisoned communities,” the proposal reads. “President Bernie Sanders will ensure that his Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigate these companies and bring suits — both criminal and civil — for any wrongdoing, just as the federal government did with the tobacco industry in the 1980s.”

The 77-year-old presidential-hopeful also plans to ensure a “fair” and “just transition” for fossil fuel workers. Under Sanders’ Green New Deal, the federal government would provide five years of unemployment insurance, a wage guarantee, housing assistance, and job training to “any displaced worker” who loses their job during the transition to a clean-energy economy.

Moreover, Sanders’ plan pitches a ban on hydraulic fracturing — a.k.a. fracking — and mountaintop coal mining. He also plans on establishing a $40 billion Climate Justice Resiliency Fund specifically to help communities of color prepare for climate impacts.

While the Green New Deal of Ocasio-Cortez and Markey calls for transitioning to 100-percent zero-emission energy generation and slashing emissions from transportation “as much as is technologically feasible” within 10 years, Sanders’ plan ups the ante a bit. He calls for eliminating all emissions from the transportation sector by 2030. And while the original resolution doesn’t exclude the use of nuclear power or developing technologies like carbon capture, Sanders’ proposal prohibits so-called “false solutions,” specifically naming nuclear, carbon sequestration, and geoengineering among them.

But while the Green New Deal (original) and its effect in shifting the conversation on climate in politics has been up to this point most closely identified with Ocasio-Cortez, today’s announcement could essentially transfer the concept to Sanders. So if at the next round of debates, fellow candidate and Senator Kamala Harris utters her support for a “Green New Deal”, as she has in the previous two, she’ll essentially be saying she supports Sanders’ plan. It’s his now — both its transformative allure, as well as its heavy price tag.

But at least, according to Sanders’ estimates, he can get the job done for less than 20 percent of what the Republicans say a Green New Deal will cost.

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Bernie Sanders’ ‘Green New Deal’ looks like a trillion bucks (OK, 16 trillion)

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The latest House climate hearing went about as well as you’d expect

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John Kerry deserves some kind of award (in addition to his Purple Hearts) for responding to a slew of truly dumb questions on Tuesday with his signature composure.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held its first climate hearing on Tuesday and, hoo boy, it was a doozy. The former secretary of state, alongside former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagle, fielded questions from Republican and Democratic representatives — ostensibly on the subject of climate change and national security — for a good four hours. I know what you’re thinking: “Four hours of testimony? Count me out.” But this wasn’t your typical congressional snoozefest, I promise.

Despite some off-the-wall questions, Kerry only lost his cool (read: appeared vaguely exasperated) a few times. Exhibit A: when Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie asked a series of increasingly inane questions that culminated in: “Did geology stop when we got on the planet?”

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Rather than taking the time to explain that geological change is, in fact, ongoing, Kerry responded: “This is just not a serious conversation.” Zing!

Not to be outdone, Paul Gosar of Arizona — the same Republican representative who suggested that photosynthesis discredits climate change — asked Kerry whether he supports a ban on plastic straws. An important national security question!

“It would be great to provide a way to move to a biodegradable straw, frankly,” Kerry replied, bemused. Then, Gosar picked up a dark gray ball of what he described as “rare earth … from the Mojave Desert” as a prop to demonstrate his point that the U.S. needs to be more aggressive about mining rare earth metals if it wants to develop renewable technology.

Kerry described the stunt as “a five-minute presentation on all the reasons we can’t do this or that without any legitimate question or dialogue.” Another zinger!

On the Democratic side, representatives Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York focused on the need for swift action, promoting the progressive climate proposal called the Green New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez asked the bipartisan committee to read the contents of the 14-page resolution, which she co-introduced in February, in full. “We don’t need CliffsNotes,” she quipped.

Now that Democrats are back in control of the House, there have been more and more climate change hearings happening. But after four hours of questioning on Tuesday, the committee didn’t have much to work with. That’s a hard pill to swallow, even with the aid of a biodegradable straw.

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The latest House climate hearing went about as well as you’d expect

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Nathaniel Rich’s ‘Losing Earth’ tells lost history of our current climate predicament

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Nathaniel Rich published his 30,000-word account of the years between 1979 and 1989 — the decade humanity missed its chance to fix climate change — in the New York Times Magazine last August. The response to the piece was so staggering that Rich put aside his other projects and started turning it into a book the very next week. Losing Earth: A Recent History is out on the shelves April 9, just eight months after the magazine version hit newsstands.

Our near-constant companion throughout the whole sordid tale is an environmental lobbyist by the name of Rafe Pomerance. In 1979, when the story begins, Pomerance happened upon a report warning that continued use of fossil fuels would cause “significant and damaging” changes to the planet’s atmosphere in the span of a few decades. Alarmed, Pomerance, with the aid of a geophysicist named Gordon MacDonald, decided to try to bring the issue to the attention of the U.S. government.

At first, serious progress appeared to be underway. The Carter administration commissioned a report to ascertain whether the issue was really as dire as some scientists were saying. (It was.) But when a team of scientists, policy experts, and government officials convened at a hotel in Florida to craft a framework for addressing the problem, they couldn’t even agree on what the opening paragraph of their statement should say. Thus began an excruciating decade of indecision, delay, and obstruction.

Pan Macmillan, 2019

If you finished the marathon task of reading the original magazine article, you’ll find the plotline more or less familiar, though there are some new chapters. And this time around, Rich addresses something many readers, including this one, were left wondering: What do we make of this history?

“We can realize that all this talk about the fate of Earth has nothing to do with the planet’s tolerance for higher temperatures and everything to do with our species’ tolerance for self-delusion,” he writes in the afterword. “And we can understand that when we speak about things like fuel efficiency standards or gasoline taxes or methane flaring, we are speaking about nothing less than all we love and all we are.”

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Grist caught up with Rich to talk about his new book and what we can make of the agonizing history he unearthed. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q.Did you plan to turn your article into a book?

A.As soon as the piece was published, I realized there were some very large questions that arose from the history. I felt some obligation to try to answer those questions more explicitly than I was able to do in the article. I wrote a new afterword that’s essentially a stand-alone essay. I also wanted to go into a little more depth and bring the story up to date from 1989 to the present. Despite the length of the magazine piece, there was actually a lot I had to leave out. And so I was excited for the opportunity to publish a definitive version of the story that I think is fuller, more comprehensive, and more complete as a work of writing.

Q.I’m curious about some of the criticism your article received. Robinson Meyer of the Atlantic wrote that you let “fossil-fuel interests off the hook entirely,” and Naomi Klein argued that you overlooked the role capitalism played in dooming us all. How did you respond to that?

A.I was very surprised at some of those criticisms. As you said, there was this accusation, and usually it was expressed very viciously, that I had downplayed the oil and gas industry’s role in blocking climate policy during that decade. At first I was worried. I thought maybe — in my two-year survey and my interviews with like 100 people — maybe I did miss something.

The [oil and gas] industry wasn’t helping matters, as I write about in detail. Of course, they were aware of the science, just like the government, just like anybody who was following the issue, and made little effort to publicize it or anything else. They made no efforts to pass laws to limit emissions — that would be sort of a ridiculous expectation.

No one is disputing what happened since 1988 and ’89, but the suggestion was that there was a coordinated effort to stop climate policy earlier than that, and nobody in their attacks on the piece was able to come up with a single example.

Q.Why did you choose to tell the story this way, through the lens of a single decade in American history?

A.I felt that the story from 1989 to the present has been extraordinarily well told, and exhaustively told. And I didn’t feel like I had much to add to the story of industry involvement, the corruption of politicians, the corruption of scientists, the Republican Party’s embrace of, first, disinformation propaganda fed to it by oil and gas industry, and then the metastasizing of that into the full-fledged fantasy world of denialism.

What I felt was not understood very well, including by me when I first started researching it, was how we got to that point: the pre-history of our current paralysis. Paralysis not only in the political process but in some sense the dialogue, the public conversation about the subject. It’s been relatively unchanged since the 1990s. So there was this opportunity to tell the story of exactly a decade, from the establishment of scientific consensus about the nature of the problem and the birth of this movement to try to bring about a solution. That was the story that I feel like has been forgotten, including by a lot of people who are on the front lines of the climate change conversation.

A lot of activists and advocates are still under the impression that the problem started with James Hansen speaking before Congress in 1988. Even New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the other day was giving an extraordinarily passionate, eloquent speech on the floor of the House about how we need to take action on climate, and she said that the government has known about this since 1989. I don’t mean to single her out, but even people on the leading edge of this are still essentially taking for granted the industry talking point that this is a new problem, something that has just come to light as recently as the 1980s. Of course, the government knew about it in the 1950s. And scientists knew about it decades before that. The amount of public amnesia around the issue is staggering.

Q.A few times throughout the decade you focus on in your book, the United States was on the precipice of real climate action. It never materialized. Now, it feels like parts of the public are mobilizing toward action again. Could this time be different?

A.What’s changed really in recent months in the public conversation is that the young leaders are now bringing new momentum to the issue. They’re saying things like, “our lives are at stake, you people in positions of power are robbing our future from us.” They’re also making very emphatic connections in the way they talk about how the climate crisis is inextricable from almost every issue of social injustice in the U.S. and globally. When you hear Ocasio-Cortez or Greta Thunberg talk about it, they’re making a moral argument that I think is frankly stronger and more profound, and ultimately more politically effective, than making only the logical argument. There’s a moral tenor to the way they’re talking about it that I don’t think was present and couldn’t have been present in the 1980s.

It’s a transformation of the dialogue that I think was inevitable, but it’s heartening to see it happening now. It’s extremely powerful and it will only become more so. I also think it’s a more honest way of speaking about the problem, as something that is a threat to our very humanity and the way we view ourselves. That’s why I went back to this period [between 1979 and 1989] because I think it’s a way of writing about this story in human terms, before the poisoning of the dialogue.

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Nathaniel Rich’s ‘Losing Earth’ tells lost history of our current climate predicament

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Can hamburgers survive the Green New Deal? The facts behind Trump and Ocasio-Cortez’s latest beef

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There’s been an awful lot of talk about cow farts and the Green New Deal, despite the fact that the resolution for a Green New Deal never mentions the word cow, nor fart (more’s the pity). It was President Donald Trump who made that connection.

The resolution’s co-sponsor, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, recently clarified the point on Showtime’s Desus & Mero show: “It’s not to say you get rid of agriculture. It’s not to say we’re gonna force everybody to go vegan or anything crazy like that,” she said. “But it’s to say, ‘Listen, we gotta address factory farming. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Politically, it makes sense to tell people that they can keep something popular, like eating (just a little less) beef, while promising to crack down on something unpopular like factory farms. But if you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s a bit backwards. Get rid of factory farms, and we’d have to cut way, way back on the hamburgers.

As you can see in the graph below, the biggest climate problem with beef isn’t farting cows, it’s the space that grass-fed beef takes up.

World Resources Institute

Because feedlots, or “factory farming,” minimizes land use and shortens the time cattle need to grow to full size, feedlot beef often has a lower greenhouse gas footprint than pasture-raised variety. There are exceptions: A few studies have shown that, with the right management and conditions, pastures can suck up more carbon than the cattle belch out (yes, it’s mostly belching, not farting).

To be sure, there are other thorny issues surrounding cattle on feedlots, but none of them are clear cut. Whether you are talking about the environment, health, or animal welfare, it’s all complicated. One way or another, those champion carnivores known as Americans are going to have to eat a lot less beef if we want to reverse climate change.

It’s no surprise that Trump tweeted that the Green New Deal would “permanently eliminate” cows, and no surprise that Ocasio-Cortez attempted to deflect the criticism to factory farms. It’s the perfect provocation. Food isn’t just fuel, it’s the stuff of sensory memories, families gathering around the table. It’s a tool by which culture is transmitted through generations. Mess with someone’s food traditions and you are messing with their identity.

As the Chinese writer Lin Yutang asked: “What is patriotism but the love of food one ate as a child?”


Can hamburgers survive the Green New Deal? The facts behind Trump and Ocasio-Cortez’s latest beef

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We’re getting close to a bill for the Green New Deal. Here’s what we (kinda) know.

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The Green New Deal, that bold proposal to avoid catastrophic climate change, has been heralded as exactly the sort of large-scale action such an existential threat demands. But what’s in it? As New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey prepare to unveil their bill in the coming days, details about what’s actually in the plan are, well, fuzzy.

The draft framework for the bill, championed by Ocasio-Cortez and an activist group called the Sunrise Movement, and originally posted on AOC’s website, promised a bounty of liberal delights: universal healthcare, a federal green jobs guarantee, a transition to local-scale agriculture, carbon-neutral by 2045, and more. But a lot can change in a month. An ambitious Green New Deal strode into Washington, D.C., at the start of the new Congress last month; a different version could soon emerge.

Most of the negotiation around what is and isn’t in the soon-to-be-released bill is being hammered out behind closed doors, between the two representatives presenting the draft and various justice and environment groups. Some of that haggling has wound up on Twitter.

Here’s a snapshot of where things stand so far: First, a Politico reporter noted that two of the most ambitious tenets of the bill, a federal jobs guarantee and universal healthcare, were on the chopping block. AOC’s Chief of Staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, immediately responded to the rumors, saying those elements are still in play.

Then, bans on nuclear power and carbon capture, and the call for an end to oil, gas, and coal development (a distressing development for some activists) were reportedly axed as well. At a Sunrise Movement watch party on Tuesday night in New York City, representatives of the organization said those bans are still part of the proposal. Bloomberg, on the other hand, is still reporting that the early version of the plan “doesn’t explicitly include the ban on fossil fuels.”

Clarity should come next week, when twin resolutions from AOC and Markey are expected to be introduced, according to representatives from Sunrise. But it’s no surprise that AOC and Markey’s legislation has changed during its gestation in D.C.; it will likely continue to evolve as it moves through the Washington meat grinder.

Democratic candidates for president have been proclaiming their support for the “idea” or the “concept” of a Green New Deal. Why the vague language? It might have something to do with the risk involved in backing a proposal that could require $7 trillion, and a commitment to universal healthcare and a ban on fossil fuels. So, if the bill does drop the more ambitious elements of the original draft, it could encourage more candidates to dream up their own versions that could still garner stamps of approval from progressive politicians.

The hard truth is that any Green New Deal bill, even with a number of concessions, has a zero percent chance of making it through the Senate. And, if by some miracle Congress managed to pass the bill, it would surely perish upon reaching Trump’s desk. But the effort could answer an important question: Is 2019 the year the House rallies behind climate legislation?

Grist staff writer Justine Calma contributed reporting to this article from New York City.


We’re getting close to a bill for the Green New Deal. Here’s what we (kinda) know.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes tech companies to task for conference promoting climate denial

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This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a Democrat from New York) and Representative Chellie Pingree (a Democrat from Maine) sent a letter to three of the nation’s biggest tech companies on Monday decrying their sponsorship of a conference this month that promoted climate change denial.

As Mother Jones reported last week, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft all sponsored LibertyCon, a libertarian student conference held in Washington, D.C. The event featured a group called the CO2 Coalition, which handed out brochures in the exhibit hall that said its goal is to “explain how our lives and our planet Earth will be improved by additional atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

One brochure claimed that “more carbon dioxide will help everyone, including future generations of our families” and that the “recent increase in CO2 levels has had a measurable, positive effect on plant life,” apparently because the greenhouse gas will make plants grow faster. The group also sponsored the conference and a talk titled: “Let’s Talk About Not Talking: Should There Be ‘No Debate’ that Industrial Carbon Dioxide is Causing Climate Catastrophe?”

Ocasio-Cortez and Pingree, who are both making climate change a priority in the new Congress, were not pleased by the news. On Monday, they sent a letter to the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft expressing their concern that the tech companies are contributing to the spread of misinformation about the reality of climate change despite their public commitment to reducing carbon emissions in their own operations.

Pingree says one of the reasons she and Ocasio-Cortez wrote this letter is that “climate change is clearly an all-hands-on-deck situation.” She adds, “Where I live in Maine, sea-level rise and warming is happening at a rate much faster than anyone ever anticipated.”

She says that the tech companies “claim by policy that they’re on board” with efforts to combat climate change, making their sponsorship of the conference all the more troubling. “The idea that they’re secretly working against it makes our job that much harder,” she says.

Pingree and Ocasio-Cortez wrote in their letter:

We understand that sponsorship of an event or conference is a common occurrence and that these sponsorships do not automatically indicate that the company endorses the variety of political viewpoints that may be presented at these events. However, given the magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis that we are now facing, we find it imperative to ensure that the climate-related views espoused at LibertyCon do not reflect the values of your companies going forward.

As you are well aware, the spreading of misinformation can be dangerous to our society. Today’s coordinated campaign to deny climate change, or to put a positive spin on its effects, is not unlike that of the tobacco companies which once sought to discredit their product’s link to cancer. Their propaganda kept the nation from addressing a public health crisis for years, leading to many preventable deaths. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again with climate change.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes tech companies to task for conference promoting climate denial

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Ocasio-Cortez: 70 percent tax on mega-rich could pay for Green New Deal

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New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a lot of big ideas, including the Green New Deal, an economy-wide green jobs initiative to combat climate change. But big ideas require big funding — and she has a new plan to make that happen.

In an interview with Anderson Cooper on Sunday’s 60 Minutes, Ocasio-Cortez floated the possibility of taxing the wealthiest tax brackets — people who make $10 million a year or more — up to 60 or 70 percent to fund the Green New Deal. “There’s an element where, yeah, people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes,” she said.

A 70 percent tax rate might seem astronomically high, but only if you have a short memory. “Under Eisenhower, the top earners paid a 91 percent marginal rate,” Vox’s Matthew Yglesias points out. Under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, that rate was closer to 70 percent, and now it’s around 37 percent.

Right now, someone who makes $10 million gets taxed at the same rate as a person who makes $550,000. Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive tax would basically ensure that there are more tax rate milestones between the wealthy and the ultra-wealthy. She’s suggesting a rate that rises as you make more money, with steeper percentages kicking in above certain benchmarks.

If that sounds radical to you, AOC is fine with that. “I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country,” she said.

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Ocasio-Cortez: 70 percent tax on mega-rich could pay for Green New Deal

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What were Ocasio-Cortez and 150 young activists doing in Nancy Pelosi’s office?

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Democrats successfully flipped the House last week, and they’ve set their priorities for January: reforming voting, government ethics, and campaign finance laws. Surprise! Climate change isn’t on the list. Not exactly a shocker considering that Democrats don’t even have an economy-wide plan to tackle climate change yet.

Guess who does? Young people and newly elected Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A group of 150 youth activists held an hour-long sit-in in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office in D.C. on Tuesday. Their goal was to get Democrats to embrace a sweeping plan called the Green New Deal, and they came prepared with a draft resolution.

The protestors are members of a climate group called the Sunrise Movement and a progressive organization called the Justice Democrats. Two of Sunrise Movement’s leaders, Evan Weber and Varshini Prakash, have been on the Grist 50 — our annual list of up-and-coming changemakers. The activists were joined by Ocasio-Cortez, who voiced support for the Green New Deal — a plank of her campaign platform. But what is this “Green New Deal,” anyway? This video tells all:

It’s unlikely such legislation would fare well in the Republican-controlled Senate. Even some Democrats might hesitate to back it: After all, many of them are still taking oil money to try and win elections, as representative-elect Lizzie Fletcher did in Texas’ 7th District.

Nancy Pelosi was quick to respond to the protestors, saying that her office was “inspired” by their advocacy. Pelosi has indicated she intends to revive a committee on climate change that was established back in 2007 and disbanded in 2011. Unimpressed, the Sunrise Movement tweeted that Pelosi’s plan is akin to “bringing a squirt gun to a wildfire.”

There is new evidence that a Green New Deal would be embraced by voters, according to a new nationwide poll from survey group YouGov. As Alexander Kaufman of HuffPost reports, around half of folks who cast ballots in the midterms either “strongly” or “somewhat” support charging companies pollution fees and giving unemployed Americans green jobs.

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What were Ocasio-Cortez and 150 young activists doing in Nancy Pelosi’s office?

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