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Ilhan Omar: Green New Deal would help Minnesota, could pass House

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U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar told Climate Cast about why she supports broad new climate change legislation known as the Green New Deal.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar is among the most vocal proponents of the Green New Deal, and she said the wide-ranging climate change proposal now has enough support to pass the U.S. House.

But first, someone needs to write such a bill.

"I'm one who is urging my colleagues to really take this opportunity to not just issue resolutions and talking points, but for us to actually put a real bill on the table and to allow us to have a real conversation on this issue," Omar said.

The Green New Deal is a broad proposal. It would establish a new select committee whose charge include drafting laws to remove greenhouse gases from the air and transform the U.S. economy to make it carbon-neutral. 

It has support from a contingent of congressional Democrats, led by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A public opinion survey said most of the U.S. population supports it, too. 

In an interview for Climate Cast, Omar said climate change "is one of the greatest threats we as the human race has ever faced. And we need to start treating it that way." 

The Green New Deal has faced political opposition, mostly from Republicans. Omar said the Democrats' House majority has helped grow support for the plan, as well as grassroots and caucus-level work. 

Some opposition to the plan, Omar said, has to do with people's fear of discussing changes that might be necessary under global warming. 

"We will hear from folks who say, 'I can't drive my big truck,' or, you know, 'My family has been in this line of work for many generations,'" Omar said. "And for us it's about making sure that we're having a conversation with them about what it means to sustain a future for their children and their grandchildren."

Jobs from the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal would create many jobs, including those outside the clean energy sector, Omar said.

While she didn't offer a specific number of jobs, Omar said she has heard from some rural Minnesotans, specifically on the Iron Range, that they want greater investment in training and education. 

She also said investment in broadband would help areas like the Range move toward "21st-century jobs."

"When we talk about investment in the expansion of broadband that's again another investment in creating jobs," Omar said. "And once we make those investments and we have the expansion of broadband then we have opportunities to increase more jobs in that area."

Omar's path to climate-change awareness

Omar was born in Somalia and spent part of her childhood there. But she said she didn't pay much attention to climate change's impact on the country until she returned to Somalia for a visit in 2011. 

On that trip, she saw a country suffering from widespread famine caused by severe drought — made worse by global warming. 

Somalia's drought and famine continue today, having killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. 

Seeing the conditions first-hand in Somalia, she said, "made me come back with a more clear vision on the work that needed to get done and my urgency in wanting to address this issue."