Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has proposed new legislation to make it easier to sanction foreign companies and individuals responsible for planet-heating pollution or human rights abuses against environmentalists.
The bill, a draft of which HuffPost obtained, gives the White House additional authority to cut off access to U.S. financial institutions or block visa requests and compels the president to “prioritize action against, and deterrence of, egregious behaviors that undermine efforts” to prevent catastrophic global warming.
The 19-page legislation proposes extending the Global Magnitsky Act, the powerful 2012 anti-corruption law used to sanction Russia and North Korea, to cover a broad range of so-called climate abuses, including the destruction of critical rainforests and the construction of heavily polluting new coal plants.
If passed, the bill could give a future president new powers to target administrations like that of Brazil’s far-right Jair Bolsonaro, who ramped up deforestation of the Amazon ― a vital absorber of climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions ― and has done little to stop the murders of activists fighting for Indigenous and environmental rights.
“As we fight to enact a Green New Deal here at home, we must use all of the tools of our foreign policy to change the behavior of companies and individuals most responsible for exacerbating the climate crisis,” Markey said in an emailed statement. “This legislation would bring us closer to a complete U.S. global strategy that matches the magnitude of the climate crisis.”
The bill includes measures aimed at reversing the Trump administration’s retreat on climate policy, including a provision requiring the United States to fulfill its pledge to give $3 billion to a United Nations fund to help poorer countries bypass coal plants and build clean infrastructure. It also compels U.S. diplomats to engage with the Chinese government, in particular, to negotiate a binding agreement to end fossil fuel subsidies worldwide.
The legislation is the latest climate bill from Markey, who this year allied with his party’s new insurgent left wing to recast himself as the Green New Deal movement’s elder statesman. In February, he introduced a resolution staking out the core tenets of the sweeping industrial policy to dramatically reduce emissions, spur a green jobs boom and make the biggest investment in the federal social safety net in generations.
In September, he proposed a bill to extend special protections to refugees displaced by extreme weather and sea level rise.
Markey, 73, is counting on support from the grassroots climate groups whose protests propelled the Green New Deal into mainstream politics to beat back a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.). Despite identifying few if any policy differences between himself and the incumbent, the Kennedy name commands considerable electoral sway in Massachusetts, and the 39-year-old is hoping a vague message of generational change could overwhelm Markey.
But Markey has staked a flag in climate at just the moment when the crisis is finally a top concern for voters as natural disasters visibly worsen and President Donald Trump hacks away at the moderate climate regulations enacted during the Obama administration. The new bill echoes a proposal Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) put out earlier this year when he briefly ran for his party’s 2020 presidential nomination as the singularly focused climate candidate.
“Civil society and citizen activists are increasingly under threat from dictators who exploit natural resources to increase their power and endanger their citizens,” said Geoff Potter, who helped write the Inslee campaign’s book-length stack of climate policies. “Senator Markey’s use of the Magnitsky Act and other powerful legal authorities to confront this behavior recognizes this threat and reaffirms America’s role in defeating climate change and defending democracy around the world.”
But Joseph Majkut, a climate scientist and policy expert at the center-right Niskanen Center, warned that “giving broad discretion to apply sanctions on people building coal plants is totally arbitrary.”
“I’m all for finding muscular approaches to avoid overbuilding coal plants and cajoling emissions reductions from other countries and I agree that diplomatic efforts should be our priority,” he said by email. “I’m not sure we should be treating that like aggression against the United States or a gross violation of human rights, especially if these things are being built in developing countries.”
Either way, the bill faces ― at best ― slim prospects of becoming law while Trump remains president.