Fighting Climate Change Could Define Kamala Harris’ Vice Presidency. Watch Our Interview With Her.

Kamala Harris represents a series of historic firsts—she will be the first woman vice president, the first Black vice president, and the first Asian American vice president. She’ll also be the first-ever vice president who has devised a comprehensive plan to address climate change—and as the tie-breaking vote in the evenly split Senate, she’ll have plenty of opportunity to fight for the environment. 

Harris’ home state of California has been hammered by longer wildfire seasons, blackouts from extreme heat, and drought. Harris doesn’t shy away from connecting these events to manmade climate change. When I sat down with her in Dubuque, Iowa, a year before she joined the presidential ticket, she was still in the midst of her own presidential campaign. “For me this issue of the climate crisis relates to every aspect of what we do,” she said.

Her remarks to me in October 2019 captured some of the themes that are starting to define the Biden administration’s all-hands-on-deck approach to the climate crisis: It’s not something the Environmental Protection Agency can address alone. “Every branch has a role in this responsibility.” 

Harris’ climate plan didn’t get much attention during her presidential run, but it was impressive: Her vision of the Green New Deal included a staggering economic investment in clean energy and infrastructure. She spoke about the importance of including low-income and communities of color in the fight against pollution and climate change; her Climate Equity Act, introduced first in 2019 with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in 2019, requires that any environmental legislation receive an equity score to assess its impact on frontline communities.

Another theme from my interview with Harris was her insistence that the Department of Justice should investigate and rein in manipulative oil and gas industry practices. Her actual record on that is more mixed: As California attorney general, Harris led an investigation into whether ExxonMobil misled consumers about climate change, but she did not go as far as to issue subpoenas. And although she has at times embellished her history of suing and winning against Big Oil, she has spoken forcefully about holding polluters accountable. “Let’s get them not only in the pocket book, but let’s make sure there are serious penalties for their behaviors,” she said. That means taking aim at the “whole apparatus built around them” that’s built to protect the dominance of fossil fuels. And, she emphasized, that may not just mean the major oil companies, but other players, like gas-reliant utilities. “I think everyone who is part of misinforming the public, misleading the public and false advertising should be held accountable,” she said.

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