Stabenow, Peters vote 'present' on Green New Deal resolution

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters on the floor of the 2019 Detroit auto show. They expressed optimism Friday that the incoming presidential administration will be a partner in advancing policies that would make Michigan a center of the next-generation auto industry.

Washington — The U.S. Senate's vote to advance the ambitious Green New Deal failed as expected Tuesday, with most Democrats voting "present" in protest of what they've called a "sham" vote. 

Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, were among 43 senators voting present on the resolution, while 57 voted no. 

Neither Stabenow nor Peters have publicly endorsed the Green New Deal but both roundly criticized their Republican counterparts for supposedly failing to take climate change seriously or even acknowledge it's man-made.

"I want real action on climate change. We all know this is a political game that Mitch McConnell is playing," Stabenow said of the Senate majority leader. 

"I'm going to vote present because it’s not something that we should be participating in one way or another. ... Climate change is not a game." 

Republican lawmakers, who sought to show Democrats divided on the proposal, accused them of "ducking" the vote.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said he does believe that human action contributes to climate change and that lawmakers have a responsibility to do something about it.

"The Green New Deal is not the solution for America. It is a big green bomb that will blow a hole in our strong, healthy and growing economy," Barrasso said on the Senate floor.

"That's exactly why Democrats are ducking and dodging and distancing themselves from this so-called Green New Deal because it's a radical plan."

Both Michigan senators stressed an "alarming" new report out last week from the University of Michigan finding that the Great Lakes region is warming faster than the rest of the country, resulting in extreme weather patterns, rising lake levels and flooding.

"What we should be doing is having a thoughtful debate on the need to address a significant threat to our country," Peters said on the floor, calling Tuesday's vote a "political stunt." 

"The Senate must come together to pass real concrete policies that will help mitigate climate change and wean us from our dependence on fossil fuels. I know it's possible because I've worked on bipartisan efforts with my colleagues to advance clean energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions."

The non-binding resolution, introduced last month 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.

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, or as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, a "destructive socialist daydream." 

"The proposal addresses the small matter of eliminating the use of all fossil fuels nationwide in a 10-year time frame," McConnell said on the floor.

"This might sound like a neat idea in places like San Francisco or New York, the places that the Democratic Party seems totally focused on these days. But communities practically everywhere else would be absolutely crushed."

Stabenow of Lansing said she loves the enthusiasm and name of the Green New Deal, but she wants to focus on policies that directly affect climate change and create new green energy jobs. 

"The Green New Deal is a broad economic package that goes beyond that into every part of the economy and way of life," she said. 

Stabenow said agrees with some provisions of the Green New Deal. But due to the breadth of the document, it's given Republicans the opportunity to "play political games, rather than forcing them to step up and be accountable for the changing climate," she said.

"I want to take all that enthusiasm and focus it right where it needs to be, which is that climate change is real. It’s man made. And we have to move from a fossil-fuel economy to clean energy," Stabenow said.

"It actually creates jobs in Michigan. We are No. 1 in the Midwest for new jobs from new, clean energy technologies. We need to be focused like a laser on that."

Stabenow said she's also working to expand electric vehicle tax credits to encourage more consumers to buy them, and wants to continue working with farmers on expanding efforts she worked into last year's farm bill to "keep carbon in the ground."

Peters highlighted the General Motors Co.'s plans announced last week to add 400 jobs and invest $300 million to build a new electric vehicle at their plant in Orion. 

The Michigan Republican Party criticized Michigan's Democratic senators for supporting counterproductive policies on global warming.

"By ducking the vote on the Green New Deal, Peters and Stabenow have denied the people of Michigan a say on a resolution that would destroy the state’s manufacturing and agricultural sectors if implemented," Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox said. "This is further proof that the Democratic Party is moving toward state-run socialist schemes. Michiganders deserve a senator who will stand up to these socialist, big government programs.” 

After Tuesday's vote, the Senate next will "ironically" consider a disaster aid package — disasters "that are a result of not acting to stop carbon pollution," Stabenow said. 

"But despite these efforts, our state and our country have been hurt by the lack of a coherent, cohesive and forward-looking policy that grows our economy while protecting our environment," Peters said. 

"We need a policy that ensures renewable energy is produced here in America and done in a way that creates jobs and strengthens our national security."