Peters supports ‘aspects’ of Green New Deal

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, addresses a crowd.

East Lansing — U.S. Sen. Gary Peters said Monday he supports parts of the Green New Deal but declined to back the plan, saying he is focused on “specific pieces of legislation that actually move us down the road, as opposed to resolutions.” 

The Bloomfield Township Democrat, up for re-election in 2020, last month voted “present” on a Green New Deal resolution put before lawmakers in what Peters had described as a “political stunt” by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. 

“I think it’s very exciting what’s happening around the Green New Deal and the energy around climate — that it has to be something we lean into,” Peters told reporters before hosting a Climate Change Summit at Michigan State University.

“There’s no question we’re going to need to make a massive effort to deal with this issue, and there are many aspects of the Green New Deal I support, particularly when it comes to retrofitting buildings.”

The non-binding Green New Deal resolution, introduced this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, calls for the United States to drastically reduce its dependence on fossil fuels on the massive scale of the original New Deal.

Its goals include achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as well as federal investment to create high-paying jobs, while ensuring clean air, clean water and enhancing the social safety net.

Republicans have ridiculed the resolution as a costly government takeover of the American way of life, but Democrats argue that inaction could also be expensive and catastrophic. McConnell called it a “destructive socialist daydream” and challenged Democrats to take a public position on the Green New Deal by putting it up for a vote knowing it would fail in the GOP-led Senate. 

Peters said he voted “present” because McConnell had not allowed any committee meetings on the proposal or provided lawmakers with the opportunity to "mark up" the resolution by changing it before it reached the floor. If lawmakers let that happen, “you’re going to see an unwinding of precedent" on a whole host of issues, he said. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Monday announced it is funding a new billboard along US-24 in Detroit directing residents to “ask Gary Peters” about the Green New Deal, which the group argues will put Michigan auto industry and manufacturing jobs at risk.  

"Michigan voters will remember that when given a chance to reject the job-killing Green New Deal, Peters was silent — standing with his party's most radical members,” NRSC spokesman Nathan Brand said in a statement.

On the other side of the political spectrum, liberal activists are also pressuring lawmakers to take a position on the Green New Deal, which is supported in Congress by freshman U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township, both Democrats. 

Tlaib and former Detroit Health Department Director Abdul El-Sayed on Friday led hundreds of supporters in a Green New Deal rally at the Bonstelle Theatre. 

"Climate change is an imminent threat,” El-Sayed told The Detroit News. "The corporatism that is driving it — and the inequity that we face in communities across our state — has to be addressed. Democrats need to take a stand. Oil and gas lobbies can't come before real people."

Asked Monday to clarify his position on the Green New Deal, Peters again declined to voice support or opposition for the resolution. He said he is focused on specific pieces of legislation, including the Vehicle Innovation Act to encourage investments in research and development of electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles. 

“As you know, the Green New Deal is a resolution, and resolutions are fine, but what we need to do is move beyond just talking about climate change,” he said. “What we have to do is concrete action.”

Peters, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, convened a panel of experts on Monday to discuss the “rising costs of climate change” to taxpayers. 

He pointed to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommending the federal government limit its own "financial exposure" by developing a "cohesive strategic approach with strong leadership" to manage risks associated with climate change. 

Since 2005, the federal government has spent roughly $430 billion on disaster assistance, including catastrophic hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and other losses the past two years.

"Disaster costs are projected to increase as extreme weather events become more frequent and intense due to climate change — as observed and projected by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine," according to a report summary.

Peters on Monday released his own 34-page report highlighting projected costs of climate change and inaction by Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.

Aging infrastructure in Michigan and other states is not designed to handle growing risks associated with extreme weather events, Peters said, noting severe Metro Detroit flooding in 2014 cost more than $1 billion to repair. 

Without action, taxpayers will “be on hook for billions in cleanup costs in the years ahead,” Peters said. 

Climate change poses national security risks as well, said retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral David W. Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University. 

It’s a “readiness” issue,” said Titley, who was the Navy's chief meteorologist and suggested that rising sea levels jeopardize coastal military installations. 

“It’s not a partisan issue or a political issue or a desire to appear green,” he said. “The (Department of Defense) needs to manage climate change to ensure it’s readiness for decades to come.”

Titley and other experts stressed scientific consensus around climate change and impacts of human behavior, suggesting calls for more certainly are just an “excuse to delay action.”

Dr. Lorraine Cameron, a senior environmental epidemiologist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, called climate change “the greatest  threat to global health in the 21st century, echoing a 2018 declaration by the World Health Organization. 

As rising temperatures lead to more extreme weather events “we expect more injuries, deaths and acute illnesses,” Cameron said.

As Michigan struggles to fix its crumbling roads, Department of Transportation Director Paul Ajegba said the state is working  to upgrade freeway pump stations to be better prepared for increasing flooding. He noted MDOT has also been forced to close a bridge over the River Raisin in Dundee three times in recent years because of rising water levels. 

“In my 29 years, I’ve never seen anything like that before,” he said, suggesting “this is all due to climate change.”