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No Deal Neal

Richard Neal, congressional leader in corporate PAC money, remains the only Mass holdout on Green New Deal.

By Will Meyer

A reader recently submitted a video of a citizen-activist confronting MA-01 Rep. Richard Neal at a Town Hall meeting on March 19th, 2019. During the exchange, a constituent asks the congressman why he hasn’t publicly endorsed the Green New Deal policy platform, a resolution that would significantly reduce emissions and transform the economy away from fossil fuel dependency.

Neal brushed it off, suggesting that while he does theoretically support the idea of it, “It is aspirational … and you’re going to say to me you’re going to get rid of planes in ten years?” (Neal has taken PAC donations from Delta Airlines.) “And what about cows?,” he said, echoing the right-wing scare quotes trotted out to stop the legislation.

At around the same time, Neal suggested that he has “no latent opposition” to the Green New Deal. “I like the thrust of it. I’m a supporter, a believer in it,” he said, according to MassLive. Yet the Congressman, who is chair of the powerful Ways and Means committee, remains the only member of the entire Massachusetts delegation to not yet endorse the environmental platform.

Likewise, Neal has refused to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, a voluntary pledge to refuse money from fossil fuel executives. Both Massachusetts senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, have signed, as well as several members of the MA congressional delegation, including Jim McGovern, Ayanna Pressley, Joe Kennedy III, and Seth Moulton.

Neal, for his part, has accepted more corporate PAC donations than any other member of Congress, including $196,750 this cycle from PACs related to energy and natural resources, which includes alternative energy, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He has received $64,800 from individuals in these industries, creating a total of $261,550 in total contributions.

The way Neal raises money has been criticized by journalist David Daley in an op-ed he wrote for the Boston Globe. Daley cited lavish dinners, concerts, and sporting events Neal has attended with wealthy donors as evidence of the congressman “putting special interests before the public interest.” Daley told WBUR: “He essentially auctioned off access to himself, wining and dining lobbyists at these elite fundraisers. In return, he pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars of contributions, many from elite donors with valuable interests before his committee.”

Additionally, Neal’s climate policy, critics say, does not adequately address the severity of crisis. Although Neal clearly believes in climate change and taking some sort of action to mitigate emissions, the climate policy as articulated by Neal’s website doesn’t advocate for any binding policy framework to reduce them (beyond condemning Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, which itself doesn’t have a binding enforcement mechanism).

“At a time when all hands need to be on deck, there are officials letting us down with their blatant disregard for the issue. Rep. Richard Neal is the only Massachusetts federal representative who hasn’t endorsed the Green New Deal, even though he himself has noted the urgency of the crisis and said that global carbon emissions must be lowered,” Seo-Ho Lee, co-coordinator of Sunrise Movement’s Amherst Hub, told The Shoestring in an email.

The Green New Deal is constructed around recommendations made by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change created in 2018. In order to stay below 1.5 degrees (celcius) of warming, as outlined by the Paris Accord (which Neal says he supports), the IPCC says carbon pollution would need to be reduced 45% by 2030. The world would need to be carbon neutral by 2050. As a result, the Green New Deal aims to codify these benchmarks into law.

Asked if refusing to support any program that mandates the emissions reductions recommended by the IPCC amounted to a form of climate denial, Ashwin Ravikumar, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Amherst College, told The Shoestring in an email: “It would be almost charitable to ascribe to Richie Neal the label of ‘climate denier.’ To deny the existence of climate change at least gives you a certain perverse internal consistency when you fail to act, even if your stubborn inaction is rooted in a brazen form of stupidity.”

“Neal, however, has acknowledged that climate change exists, and seems to broadly accept climate science, but nevertheless refuses to support popular policies that would revitalize the economy, address economic injustice, and mitigate the existential threat of climate change. This is in a real sense worse than simply denying climate change; it exposes Neal’s moral bankruptcy and amounts to a deep betrayal of his constituents,” Ravikumar said.

Neal’s campaign didn’t respond to The Shoestring after three attempts to contact its spokesperson Peter Panos.

The youth led Sunrise Movement recently endorsed Neal’s primary challenger Alex Morse, who does support the Green New Deal, in March. In the group’s endorsement video, members of the organization stated, “After over a year of trying to engage with [Neal], we are tired of the cold shoulder while our lives are on the line.”

Speaking to Neal’s tenure, one member says, “My generation deserves better. You have held the seat of Representative for Massachusetts First Congressional District for 32 years. You’ve been in office longer than I’ve been alive. It has been your job to take action for climate justice. To step up or step aside. You have failed.” The email announcing the group’s endorsement of Morse states that Neal “is widely viewed as responsible for failing to renew the clean energy tax credits at the end of last year.”

“If his own constituents can’t convince him, who can?,” Amherst Sunrise’s Lee said. “Voters need to turn up and elect someone who will keep their promises and show their dedication to fighting climate change. We don’t need lip service. We need action.”

Will Meyer is co-editor of The Shoestring.

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