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Rep. Frank Pallone. Photo by Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe.

Climate coalition threatens Pallone primary challenge

Activists demand congressional hearings on Green New Deal

By Nikita Biryukov, September 06 2019 1:16 pm

A coalition of climate advocacy organizations and student groups are pushing House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch to back the Green New Deal proposed by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, — and are threatening a primary challenge against the seventeen-term Democratic congressman if he doesn’t.

“We are beyond the point of compromises like the one you and other democratic leaders have proposed,” the Central Jersey Climate Coalition said in a letter to Pallone. “Continued stalling on bold climate action, and continued support for a 2050 deadline on net-zero emissions, fails to recognize the aggressive role that the United States must play in reducing emissions if we want to meet global targets.”

The coalition’s letter outlines four demands for Pallone, who is in his first year as chairman of one of Capitol Hill’s most powerful committees, which deals with environmental issues.

The group is calling on Pallone to hold hearings on the Green New Deal, back the plan, return roughly $15,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry he received during the last election cycle and refuse such contributions in the future.

Some of the coalition’s members are ready to back primary challengers against Pallone if he does not accede to their requests.

“Yes, yes we are.” Anna-Marta Visky, chair of Our Revolution Monmouth County, said when asked whether her organization would support progressive opponents if Pallone refused their demands.

Visky said her organization had not yet identified candidates it would back against Pallone. She declined to say whether Our Revolution Monmouth County would work against the incumbent congressman if he acceded to only some of their demands.

Not all groups in the coalition shared Visky’s certainty.

“We are hopeful that Pallone will in fact hold these hearings on how to implement the Green New Deal, and if he doesn’t, we’ll be disappointed — possibly disappointed enough to consider supporting an opponent,” said David Hughes, treasurer of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and chair of the union’s Green New Deal Committee.

Hughes added that the union has not yet thought about 2020 endorsements.

Pallone already faces primary challenges from three candidates to his left.

Russell Cirincione, John Hsu and Javahn Walker, who Pallone defeated by roughly 72 points last year, have announced their intent to seek the sixth congressional district’s Democratic nomination.

The coalition, which has the backing of the Rutgers University faculty union, also want Rutgers to formally endorse the Green New Deal.

Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson),  Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Donald Payne (D-Newark) are facing similar challenges from the party’s left wing.

“We are very hopeful that, because he is a progressive Democrat and because he does support renewable energy and does support social justice, we’re very hopeful that he will hold the hearings,” Hughes said, referring to Pallone.

So far, congressional Democratic leadership eyed the Green New Deal, pushed by progressives like first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New Yor), with a degree of skepticism.

In July, a group of influential House Democrats, Pallone included, introduced a plan aiming to push the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. The Green New Deal calls for the same by 2030.

The Central Jersey Climate Coalition has similar demands for Rutgers.

The group is calling for the university to develop a plan to zero out its carbon emissions by 2030. It’s also calling on Rutgers to establish an office of sustainability by 2020 and divest its endowment funds from fossil fuel companies by 2024.

The coalition estimates roughly 8% of the university’s endowment is invested in such firms.

“We represent some of the leading climate science individuals and institutions in the world so that the knowledge of climate change, to a large extent, comes from Rutgers, and we expect our university to act in accordance to what this information is indicating,” Hughes, an environmental anthropologist, said. “We’re calling upon our university to go carbon neutral by 2030 — In other words, for our university to listen to the science coming from its own faculty.”

The coalition will hold a march at the university and a protest at Pallone’s New Brunswick district office on Sept. 20.

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