Las Vegas Sun

June 19, 2021

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Questioning the candidates:

New Yorker de Blasio says local consent a must on nuclear waste storage


Steve Marcus

Democratic presidential candidate and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Public Service Forum at UNLV Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.

Bill de Blasio, the two-term mayor of New York City, touted his progressive record in an interview with the Sun, showing support for New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and a vision for a noncorporatized marijuana business.

The mayor visited Las Vegas to participate in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 2020 Public Service Forum, a gathering Saturday at UNLV that attracted 19 of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates.

Democratic presidential candidate  and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Public Service Forum at UNLV Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.

Democratic presidential candidate and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Public Service Forum at UNLV Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.

During his time here, he sat down with the Sun to discuss issues that will affect Nevada going forward, including Yucca Mountain, marijuana banking and climate change.

Could you detail your position on Yucca Mountain?

Local consent is what I believe in, and my strong impression is there is not that consent and therefore it’s unacceptable for the federal government to force a community to accept something that comes with real problems and dangers.

So, no. I do not believe that the people of Nevada should have to be put in that situation. It’s as simple as that.

If you’ve been outside here, you’ve noticed it’s hot, and it’s going to get hotter if nothing changes. Could you detail your plans to combat the threat of climate change?

I want to say I’m a believer in the Green New Deal, so much so that I’m implementing it right now in New York City. This is a real differentiator, I want to say upfront. A lot of good people in this race — very few of them have had to take plans and put them into action.

We just passed literally the toughest legislation on earth — not just in America, on earth — requiring the retrofitting of major buildings to be energy efficient. Because what few of us understood, I certainly didn’t, was that big buildings are actually one of the biggest emitters (of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

We’re putting up electric vehicle charging stations all over our city. Private sector is not doing it. Federal government is not doing it. We’re doing it because if we want electric vehicles to become a reality, we have to make it easier for people.

We’re doing very aggressive things because we only have that 12-year window the U.N. talks about. I believe it. We should not have the audacity to question it and then find out we were wrong. We should take it on face value.

For Nevada, you’re in a really tough situation right now. I was talking to one of the officers at the airport who said they could hit 110 (degrees) today, and we’re only just beginning to feel the full effects of global warming. That’s devastating for Nevada, what that could mean. We’ve got to put this into reverse with everything we’ve got.

What is the federal government’s role in combating the climate crisis?

The federal government has the power to do absolutely transformative things. For example, we need to move away from fossil fuels in a systematic fashion that will take immense federal involvement. I believe it will create a huge number of jobs. I believe that we have to make sure that folks in the fossil fuel industries get those jobs — not just be left out in the cold. Anyone working in fossil fuel now should get a new job in renewable energy.

It’s not going to happen just through private sector innovation. It’s going to have to take a massive federal investment. I’m one of the people who believes that you get the resources for that investment with an entirely different approach to taxing the wealthy. Repeal the Trump tax giveaway to the wealthy and corporations and tax the wealthy at a much, much higher rate.

I want to take you back to some good old days on this topic, which were the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower, where wealthy Americans had an income tax rate of 70% or more. That was the time in our history when the federal government was investing intensely in infrastructure, education, higher education and research and all the things that made America so strong. We’ve got to go right back to that.

I put out a tax plan. It’s the most aggressive, I would say, of all the candidates. I admire Sen. (Elizabeth) Warren, but it goes beyond her plan and starts that wealth tax at $10 million in assets. We’re going to need a huge amount of revenue to save this Earth. We’re going to create a huge amount of jobs, in the process.

The analogy some people like to give is putting a man on the moon and the way there was a national commitment to that in the ’60s. This makes that look like a walk in the park. This is about survival. We’re going to have to mobilize our whole country, but I actually think it could be unifying for our country. I think there could be a sense of common cause and people (saying), ‘We’re going to save this earth together.’ But (it) only will happen with very strong presidential leadership.

Nevada is one of the states that has legalized marijuana on a recreational level, but cannabis businesses cannot generally use banks, leaving thousands of dollars in cash in their buildings. What is your solution to the banking problem, and do you support legalization?

I’ll start with the perspective of my state. We came this close in the spring to a full legalization in New York and then it fell apart in the Legislature at the last moment. As that vote was looming back in December, I put together a plan. I said, ‘Here’s how you do legalization the right way,’ and one of the most important features of that plan was noting that we could have for the first time a major new industry, with all the right safeguards in place in terms of health and safety, but with the ability to stop it from becoming a corporatized industry.

When you think about America, what typically happens is a bunch of little guys start their businesses and eventually get swallowed up by the big guys. So, we’re used to a model where the corporate sector wins out each time, and we’re also used to the corporate sector doing some unsavory things. A great example is the tobacco industry, which started trying to hook young people, lied about what they knew about the health dangers. We saw it with the pharmaceutical industry, (which) tried to hook people on opioids, lied about what they knew about the health dangers. We can’t have that with marijuana.

So, I think we need a method of legalization at the federal level that, in fact, uses the power of the law to disincentivize corporations and to support small businesses and community-based businesses, including in a lot of the communities that have suffered the brunt of draconian criminal justice legislation. I see this as an opportunity to right a lot of wrongs, but to do that we’ve got to get the banking piece right.

Obviously, I believe there should be federal legalization with all those guardrails, with all those ground rules, and that should, in the process, legalize the banking. In the meantime, if there’s not going to be full legalization, there still has to be a fix for banking, and I know that there’s a serious piece of legislation in Congress that would solve it and I support that.

If you don’t legalize banking for this industry here and now, you’re keeping it a cash industry, which is a boon to organized crime, it’s a boon to folks who want to not pay their taxes. It’s absolutely backward. So, while we’re sorting out the bigger issue, let’s legalize the banking for the states that have it on the way to legalizing it federally with a fair banking system and with those safeguards we need for everyone else.