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Environmental advocates urge Jeffries to lean green

But Jeffries team says his track record on environment is sterling

June 18, 2019 Mary Frost
Environmental activists rallied outside the office of Representative Hakeem Jeffries in Fort Greene on Tuesday, pushing him to support a clean air amendment to an energy bill. Photo courtesy of Laura Shindell at Food & Water Watch

About a dozen climate activists held a rally outside the office of U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn on Tuesday to urge him to support legislation that would prevent the federal government from backing fossil fuel projects through a loan program meant to finance clean air initiatives.

The Energy Department legislation in question is part of a $988.6 billion “minibus” appropriations package being considered by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The Omar-Jayapal amendment — one of 113 amendments proposed for the Energy Department portion of the package — clarifies that taxpayer funds in the Department of Energy’s Section 1703 Loan Program can only be used for clean energy projects that “avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases.”

“We’re here calling on Congressman Jeffries to vote for the Omar-Jayapal amendment that is calling on the government to stop funding fossil fuel infrastructure,” Jenny Bock, an organizer of Friends of the Earth, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We’re hoping to influence Jeffries before the vote happens.”

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Bock said that Jeffries “has not had a great track record taking any action to address the climate crisis recently. He talks a big game, but he has literally done nothing — except after pressure we put on him he did publicly oppose the Williams frack gas pipeline project. And he has not signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, pledging to stop taking donations from fossil fuel companies.”

Jeffries’ director of communications Michael Hardaway was taken aback, however, by the activists’ characterization of the Congressman’s record.

“Mr. Jeffries has spent his entire career fighting to protect our environment. That commitment is exemplified in his 95 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters,” Hardaway told the Eagle.

“Just this week, his amendment on climate change passed with support from all Democrats and eighteen Republicans. That effort would highlight climate change as a national security issue,” he said.


Hardaway added, “Concerning the Omar-Jayapal amendment, I think it goes without saying that he plans to vote in favor.”

After the White House wouldn’t say if President Donald Trump believed climate change is real, Jeffries tweeted in early June, “Climate Change is real Donald. We need action, not conspiracy theories manufactured by the Pollution Industrial Complex.”

The League of Conservation Voters said Jeffries voted in favor of green legislation 91 percent of the time in 2018. In 2017, he voted in favor of pro-environmental legislation 97 percent of the time.

Nikki Crook, of 350 Brooklyn Parents, delivers petitions to a Jeffries staffer. Photo courtesy of Jenny Bock
Nikki Crook (right), of 350 Brooklyn Parents, delivers petitions to a Jeffries staffer. Photo courtesy of Jenny Bock

While in Fort Greene, representatives of Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, NY Communities for Change, Peoples Climate Movement and 350 Brooklyn delivered more than 100 petitions calling on the New York members of Congress to vote yes to amendment.

One project that would be affected by the amendment, Bock said, is the proposed Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub, which would be built in the Appalachian region of the U.S. The facility would provide ethane, a natural gas liquid (like butane) used in petrochemical and plastics production.

According to Food and Water Watch, the company behind the Storage Hub is seeking a $1.9 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Under the Omar-Jayapal amendment, this loan guarantee would not be permitted.

“Jeffries is the fifth-most powerful Democrat in Congress because he’s the chair of the Democratic Caucus, Bock said. “He’s one of the few holdouts in the NYC delegation who has not endorsed the Green New Deal.”

Environmental advocate Wendy Scher told the Eagle she was disappointed that Jeffries has not come out in favor of the amendment. “I know Jeffries because when I was organizing against destructive trade legislation like the Trans Pacific Partnership, we lobbied many Congress members and Jeffries was one of the people we could count on.”

Saskai Harak, a Food & Water Watch organizer and constituent in Jeffries’ district, said, “This vote is crucial test of Jeffries’ credentials as a climate champion. As a top Democrat in the House of Representatives, we need Jeffries’ leadership in opposing federal financial support for dirty fossil fuels.”

Hardaway said on Wednesday that the advocates’ stance puzzled him, since Jeffries has intended all along to support the amendment.

“He has done this sort of thing his entire career,” he said.

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Update (June 19) — This story has been updated to include comments from Jeffries spokesperson Michael Hardaway on the lawmaker’s pro-environmental voting record.

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