A California Democrat flipped a GOP-held House seat last month after running on a clean energy platform. Now he wants to flip thinking about climate change as a voting issue in the 2020 presidential election.
Rep.-elect Mike Levin, 40, won the seat of retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, a nine-term GOP House member. He beat Republican candidate Diane Harkey 56.4 percent to 43.6 percent, the widest spread of the seven GOP-held seats in California that Democrats flipped in the November elections.
Levin’s an environmental attorney who also ran a clean technology trade group. He picked the title “Clean Energy Advocate” for his ballot description.
As they take control of the House in January, Democrats shouldn’t shy away from seeking action on global warming, Levin said. They can set parameters for the 2020 elections and let potential candidates know “that we do expect them to take bold and aggressive action to get us back on a course toward global leadership as it pertains to climate change,” he said.
“That’s something that I think we’ll be holding all of the presidential candidates to account for,” Levin said.
His election represents a big change for California’s 49th District, which stretches along the coast from Del Mar in north San Diego County to Dana Point in south Orange County. It includes a large Marine Corps base and several neighborhoods with median home prices close to or topping $1 million.
During the last part of his tenure, Issa said he accepted climate change but opposed actions to address it that he saw as costly. He criticized President Obama’s “Green Jobs Initiative,” a bid to fund investments in the clean energy sector and create 5 million jobs. After narrowly winning re-election in 2016, Issa joined the House Climate Solutions Caucus.
Shortly after launching his bid for the office, Levin confronted Issa about his views on climate at a town hall meeting, holding up the book “Climate Change for Beginners.” (He also mailed it to the congressman.) Levin asked why Issa supported President Trump’s agenda “to gut the EPA, to gut basic science.” He also joined protests outside Issa’s local office urging him to retire.
Here’s what he told E&E News in a recent interview:
Why did you believe running as “Clean Energy Advocate” would appeal to voters?
My background for the last decade-plus has been in clean energy and environmental protection. A lot of the work that we’ve done in California is potentially a national model for what is possible in the United States.
I ultimately campaigned on climate change and the environment because one, it was my background, and two, I think it was the right thing to do.
There was an article that was written by the Washington Examiner that said I was gambling by campaigning on climate change. I think just the opposite is true: We’re gambling if we don’t talk about climate change.
All you have to do is look at any of the recent reports [such as the fourth National Climate Assessment released by the Trump administration or the most recent U.N. International Panel on Climate Change report].
If you read even the summaries of those and the impact that global climate change will have here to our economy, to our environment, then not acknowledging the scientific consensus and taking affirmative steps to reduce our emissions footprint is a gamble that we cannot afford.
What sort of feedback did you hear from voters about your emphasis on clean energy and climate? The district is changing demographically but still has many conservatives.
It has been and continues to be a coastal district. The overwhelming feedback has been that we need to protect the quality of our air and water, and our beaches, and our oceans.
You said in a recent email that to reduce carbon emissions, “we must consider several ideas and not be afraid of bold action.” Can you give me an example of potential bold actions?
We do need to create a new select committee on climate change that can both re-educate the public on the dangers posed by climate change, as well as do stakeholder engagement with a wide variety of important organizations and industry partners in the clean energy industry.
Then ultimately we’ll draft policy. … It will be a “Green New Deal.” The details are the key: what that will look like, how quickly we can transition, what type of jobs we’re creating and who will benefit economically? My hope is we’ll have a just transition from fossil fuel use to renewables as quickly as possible.
What is your strategy on how you’re going to get any of this accomplished over the next two years, with a GOP-controlled Senate and White House?
We’ve got to take the long view. Obviously we’re not going to get a “Green New Deal” with Donald Trump in the White House. What we can do is try to piece together as many elements, sort of a down payment on the “Green New Deal” over the next two years, try to work with our friends across the aisle to whatever extent possible, but also plant a stake in the ground for all those running for president in 2020.
Do you see anything you can get accomplished in the next two years on the climate front?
There are proposals like trying to support the Paris climate accord, trying to have a resolution in support. Hopefully there are those in the Senate who can get behind [that].
I also have seen the new bill from the Citizens’ Climate Lobby that’s got Republican and Democratic co-sponsors, that has a carbon fee and dividend. I look forward to exploring that.
The fossil fuel industry, which opposes many of these measures, is very powerful. You’re in a competitive district and could face a tough re-election campaign in two years. How do you plan to counteract this?
If you look at our race, we received overwhelming support from the environmental community that outweighed significantly any support from the fossil fuel industry that my opponent may have received. I have pledged not to take any fossil fuel money, and I’ll stick to that pledge. I think most of my California colleagues are in the same boat.