WASHINGTON — Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg called tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry a “disgrace” in testimony to Congress at an Earth Day hearing on subsidies.
The 18-year-old activist from Sweden told the House Oversight Committee in the hearing on “The Role of Fossil Fuel Subsidies in Preventing Action on the Climate Crisis” that history would hold them accountable if they fail to take action to end fossil fuel subsidies, a cause taken up by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
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“How long do you honestly believe that people in power like you will get away with it? How long do you think you can continue to ignore the climate crisis, the global aspect of equity and historic emissions without being held accountable?” Thunberg, testifying remotely, asked lawmakers. “You still have time to do the right thing and to save your legacies. But that window of time is not going to last for long. What happens then?”
Thunberg is known for her global climate advocacy and for sailing to the U.S. from the United Kingdom, to reduce emissions rather than flying. She was Time’s Person of the Year in 2019. Thunberg previously appeared before congressional subcommittees in 2019, asking lawmakers to “listen to the science” and take urgent action to prevent the drastic effects of climate change.
“We the young people are the ones who are going to write about you in history books. We are the ones who will decide how you will be remembered. So my advice for you is to choose wisely,” she said Thursday.
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The government provides several tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry as a means of encouraging domestic energy production, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. The organization cites estimates that put direct subsidies at roughly $20 billion per year.
That’s something Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight environmental subcommittee, wants changed. And while President Joe Biden has pledged to eliminate subsidies for drillers and producers, Khanna and other progressives want specifics to show up in Biden’s infrastructure plan.
“He ran on it, but now we have to actually make sure it is actually in the bill,” Khanna told USA TODAY before the hearing.
Also Thursday, Biden also took part in a two-day virtual climate summit, where he pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030.
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Republicans on the committee blasted their Democratic colleagues for what they said were fear tactics “to scare people to action regarding climate change.” They also criticized plans to reduce or eliminate fossil fuel subsidies without ensuring countries like China will do the same.
“This is not helping nor is it productive,” said ranking member Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.
Thunberg said the climate change crisis is affecting people across the world, especially marginalized groups, and should be treated as an urgent matter.
Indigenous rights advocate Tara Houska told lawmakers she has been engaged in the movement to end fossil fuels because Native American lands are often disproportionately negatively impacted by the effects of emissions, yet hold much of the world’s biodiversity.
“We are the people who are impacted first and worst by climate crisis, yet we are the people who often contribute the least to the climate crisis,” Houska said.
Contributing: Savannah Behrmann, Ledyard Kind, Matthew Brown