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AOC makes case for tackling climate change with union jobs at Astoria town hall

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez discussed the progress of the Green New Deal, five years after she introduced the proposal. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Feb. 27, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan

US. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hosted a town hall in Astoria last week to discuss how federal climate change policy is playing out on a local level. 

Five years after she laid out the Green New Deal vision with Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Ocasio-Cortez who represents the Bronx and parts of western Queens, reflected on the progress made to address climate change.

The advisory congressional resolution put forward an ambitious plan to vastly curb greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuels with clean energy, while creating lucrative unionized jobs in the sector. 

After discussing the impact of the Green New Deal over the past five years, she was joined on stage for a panel discussion with Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani and state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who both represent western Queens, to discuss the vision for the next five years. They were also joined by two local organizers who focus on environmental justice for disadvantaged communities and labor during a panel discussion. 

“We’ve been able to successfully prevent and lower the amount of emissions that are circulating in our communities,” said Ocasio-Cortez. However, she added, “it’s not just what we are trying to stop, but it’s about introducing the alternative vision of what we actually want in.”

In 2022, the Green New Deal reached a milestone with passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which despite its name, the representative referred to as the “largest investment in climate policy.” The act offers funding for resiliency infrastructure and tax incentives for clean energy manufacturers to create new jobs. 

Today, the country is halfway towards the Green New Deal goal of bringing net emissions down to zero by 2030. And 40% of all energy jobs in the country are in the clean energy sector. After Ocasio-Cortez cited the victories on the federal level, she shared with over a hundred local residents in attendance how it’s trickling down to the state and city level.

The elected officials were joined by two organizers for a panel discussion. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“When we unlock these huge, massive federal investments… you can pass the baton to movement organizers on a state level,” said Ocasio-Cortez. 

A UAW union member and solar panel installer, Daniel Lozano spoke about unionization efforts and labor standards in implementing the Green New Deal. He was part of the unionization effort at EmPower to receive better compensation for what he says is a dangerous job, working on roofs in all weather conditions, to bring solar power to homes. 

“We don’t want the workers to be left behind in this new economy of the solar companies getting all the incentives… but then the workers are not seeing any of those profits,” said Lozano during the panel portion of the event. 

Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, spoke about ensuring economic and social justice is part of the clean energy movement to ensure a better quality of life for residents. He’s organized for community focused developments and the shut down of polluting energy plants in the Bronx. 

Over a hundred local residents gathered to hear about efforts to address climate change on a national and local level. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Several air-polluting peaker plants, which sit idle until hot weather energy surges, have been closed in western Queens, as well as in the Bronx. These plants are located in disproportionately working class, Black and immigrant neighborhoods, and have contributed to higher than average asthma rates for nearby residents. 

Mamdani helped fight the opening of a new peaker plant in his western Queens district, and instead fought for the Astoria Gateway for Renewable Energy. Beginning in the late 2020s, the plant will bring in enough energy to power 1 million homes from an offshore wind farm on Long Island.

“The state can provide and create energy at a rate much lower than the private market,” said Mamdani. “In order to have energy that is affordable for New Yorkers, you need to pay New Yorkers who create that energy a living wage. These things cannot be separated from each other.”

In the Bronx, organizers and elected officials also worked with SUNY Maritime in Throgs Neck to create a job training program for offshore wind in the local community. Ocasio-Cortez lauded the projects for their investment in the environment , while also bringing dignified, high paying and unionized jobs. 

The congresswoman pushed back at the arguments made by her opponents that climate friendly policies would kill jobs, or that prioritizing jobs would go against interests of local communities and climate justice. She says we can have both and the results are evidence.

Ocasio-Cortez also formally announced that she is running for reelection in District 14 last week. She was elected into office for the first time in 2019. 

“I’m so proud of the work we have accomplished for our communities in The Bronx and Queens over my past term in Congress. We’ve brought in historic investments directly to the residents of the NY-14 from creating green energy job training programs in Throggs Neck and reducing air pollution in Co-op City, to improving street safety of Astoria Boulevard and Westchester Square, and expanding pre-K programming in Corona,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “These projects, paired with our tireless fight in Washington to take on special interests and support working families, have shown what the possibilities of good governance can look like.”

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