On heels of bid for House speaker, protesters call for Jeffries to be a ‘climate leader’

protest outside jeffries office
New York climate activists protested outside of Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries’ Brooklyn office Tuesday, calling on the presumed pick for House Speaker to take definitive action against climate change.

On the heels of Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries’ bid to become the next top Democrat in the House of Representatives, climate activists protested outside of his Brooklyn office on Tuesday, demanding the rep take a stand against the fossil fuel industry and actively work to address climate change.

Protesters on Nov. 22 condemned Jeffries’ “weak record on climate action” since he resisted signing the Green New Deal. They also urged him to oppose any renewed version of Senator Joe Manchin’s plan for the approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would transport Appalachian shale gas about 300 miles from West Virginia to Virginia; to fight Republican representatives in the House, who have has historically refused to take climate action; and to cut ties with donors to his campaign from the fossil fuel industry.

If voted speaker, activists with 350 Brooklyn, Climate Families NYC, Food & Water Watch, Indivisible Brooklyn, New York Communities for Change, and Sunrise Movement NYC Activists are hoping Jeffries will take “bold climate leadership” from day one. 

“With climate change, time is not a renewable resource,” organizers with pro-climate action organization Food & Water Watch said in a statement. “It is essential that congressional leadership at least entertain solutions commensurate with the challenges we face. Rep. Jeffries should show the courage and leadership on the climate and support the Green New Deal.”

This demonstration came just days after Jeffries announced his bid for House Minority Leader, a role he is widely expected to assume later this month. Nancy Pelosy, speaker of the United States House of Representatives, said she would not seek a leadership role in the next Congress. The No. 2 Democrat, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, is also stepping down, and last week endorsed Jeffries for the role.

Jeffries is a political liberal and a former corporate lawyer. He now represents the blue 8th Congressional District in eastern Brooklyn and southwest Queens, which witnessed the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy along New York’s waterfront. His district received more aid for Sandy relief than any other district in the city. 

hakeem Jeffries
U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is hoping to become the next top Democrat in the House — and activists say his record on climate is weak.  File photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech

Earlier this year, nearly all of the congressional representatives from New York City signed on as co-sponsors to Congressmember Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’ resolution recognizing the duty of the federal government to create a Green New Deal.. But Jeffries held back — has expressing that he is inclined to wait until the bipartisan House Select Committee on the climate crisis makes recommendations on the issue, a process that can take over a year.

In 2022, two of Jeffries’ top ten donors were private equity companies with fossil fuel holdings.

“We are concerned that those who are on the front lines, poor people, communities of color are going to be left behind because Jeffries wants to stand with his corporate donors,” said a member of New York Community Change.

Jeffries also refused to take the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, a campaign urging representatives to pass up donations from fossil fuel companies, signed by 59 members of Congress.

“We demand to put an end to the fossil fuel industry,” said one protester. “It is time for Jeffries to stand up. We are asking you to change and become the climate leader that we need at this time and we will not stop fighting until you do so.”

“The climate crisis is accelerating rapidly, even as Congressman Jeffries stays silent,” added Sara Gronim of the local grassroots group 350Brooklyn.

In response, a rep for Jeffries pointed Brooklyn Paper to a statement the congressmember made on The Brian Lehrer Show the same day as the protest.

When asked if he would commit to being “a progressive leader” on climate change in Congress, the sitting rep said he was proud to be a part of passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which he called “the most significant climate change legislation ever to be passed by any legislative body in the history of the world.”

“It will set our planet on a sustainable path forward, change the trajectory, of course, lower energy costs, and stand up the clean energy economy. So there’s work to be done to build upon that,” he said.

“With respect to anything that may be going on in the Senate relative to Senator Manchin, it’s not an issue that I’ve been focused on at the moment until it comes over to the House of Representatives,” he added. “I think in the House we’ve been pretty clear, forward thinking and visionary as it relates to continuing to confront the climate crisis. And I look forward to being part of that effort along with my colleagues in the House moving forward.”

Update (Monday, Nov. 8 at 12 p.m.): This story has been updated to include comments from Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries.