After an awkward few months spent halfheartedly trying to rebrand himself as a progressive, 2020 presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper seems to be once again embracing his identity as a moderate — starting with two of the issues that dogged him throughout his two terms as Colorado's governor: fossil fuels and climate change.
On a visit to Iowa in January, Hickenlooper expressed cautious support for the Green New Deal, a plan championed by progressive Democrats to massively expand federal investment in renewable energy and emissions-cutting technology — though he confessed that he hadn't read the full plan.
Now, Hickenlooper has reversed course, in a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday, March 26, writing that while the plan has "laudable aims," it's too ambitious and broad in scope, which "sets us up for failure." But some of Hickenlooper's chief complaints about the Green New Deal resolution raise questions about whether he ever read it after all.
“The resolution sets unachievable goals,” Hickenlooper writes. “We do not yet have the technology needed to reach ‘net-zero greenhouse gas emissions’ in 10 years.”
In fact, the Green New Deal doesn’t set any such goal. The full text of the non-binding resolution, introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey in February, calls for a "10-year national mobilization" to pursue a variety of "goals and projects." They include 100 percent renewable electric power — a much narrower and more feasible goal, already targeted by many governments around the world, including the City of Denver — and efforts to reduce carbon emissions from other sectors "as much as technologically feasible."
Hickenlooper’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he plans to correct his error, or whether the corrected information changes his opinion on the resolution.
His op-ed also criticizes the Green New Deal for "shunning the private sector," and argues that instead, we must confront climate change by working "closely with industry and our nation’s great research universities" and "harnessing the ingenuity and resources of our entire society."
But "a Green New Deal," says the resolution, "must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses."
Tuesday's op-ed came shortly before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought the Ocasio-Cortez-Markey resolution to a vote on the floor of the Senate. Hickenlooper's stance against the resolution aligns him with the 53 Republicans and four red-state Democrats who voted "no"; the rest of the Senate Democratic caucus, including Colorado’s Michael Bennet, voted “present” on the measure, dismissing the vote as a Republican stunt.
Hickenlooper, a former geologist for the oil and gas industry, has long been criticized for his ties to fossil-fuel interests by Colorado environmental activists, who gave him the nickname "Frackenlooper." During his eight years as governor, he threatened to sue towns that attempted to ban fracking within their municipal borders, and presided over a 500 percent increase in average monthly oil production across the state.
As climate change takes on a new urgency in Democratic politics ahead of the 2020 primary, Hickenlooper's record on energy and the environment is likely to continue to be an issue for his long-shot presidential campaign. While visiting the crucial early primary state of New Hampshire last weekend, Hickenlooper was asked by youth climate activists to sign the "No Fossil Fuel Money" pledge. After initially signing it, he reversed himself after learning that the pledge would bar his campaign from accepting contributions from people who work in the fossil-fuel industry, a video posted to social media by the New Hampshire Youth Movement shows.
"You can't do that," said Hickenlooper of the pledge, which six Democratic presidential candidates have already signed. "I have no idea who writes me checks. We get a thousand checks a day."
"I'm really disappointed to hear that," said an activist in the video, as Hickenlooper crossed his signature off the pledge.