In a wide-ranging interview with WGBH News on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey addressed several national and local issues that have been grabbing headlines in the past few weeks. He defended his proposed Green New Deal, brushing off recent criticisms; gave an update on changes coming to pipeline safety law after the September explosions in the Merrimack Valley; and commented on what he believes the United States' role should be in the changing government in Venezuela.

Below are highlights from WGBH News' interview with Markey:

Defending The Green New Deal

Markey vigorously dismissed a warning from former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, that the Green New Deal resolution Markey introduced with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York will be a liability for Democrats as they try to unseat President Donald Trump.

In an interview with CNBC Tuesday, Frank said that the Green New Deal — which calls for an aggressive 10-year mobilization to fight climate change — would be "a loser" for Democrats in 2020.

“There’s an argument that you don’t destabilize a society by doing too much change at once,” Frank said.

Asked about Frank’s comments, Markey told WGBH News that, on the campaign trail, the Green New Deal will instead be a political asset for Democrats who choose to support it.

“I think, ultimately, this is going to be a very good issue for Democrats,” Markey said. “Because the energy level, you can feel [it] all across the country. ... We're going to see a building storm of concern, especially by millennials, but by other generations as well, that this issue must be dealt with. So I think there's an underestimation dramatically of what the political potency of this issue is.”

Markey contrasted the political landscape today to that of the late 2000s, when he championed the American Clean Energy and Security Act — colloquially known as Waxman-Markey for its sponsors, Markey and then Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

That bill, which would have created a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, passed the House, but never became law.

“The difference today is this: We now have an army,” Markey said. “We now have people who can fund this effort on our side. We didn’t have it when I was passing the bill in 2009.”

Read more: Sen. Markey Optimistic About Green New Deal, Despite Criticism

What’s more, Markey said, “We have a whole generation of people who are willing to make [climate change] one of their top three issues. We did not have that in ’09 and ’10.”

Markey also contends that there’s a strong economic case to be made for the Green New Deal.

“There are now 350,000 workers in the wind and solar industry, and 50,000 coal miners,” he said. “No one had that on the scoreboard 10 years ago. ... It’s the single greatest blue-collar job-creation engine in two generations, the renewable-energy industry.”

Since Markey introduced the Green New Deal resolution with Ocasio-Cortez, it's become a litmus test for Democrats, with some embracing it and others questioning its viability.

Markey also said that negotiations for clean energy legislation has gained an edge now that the House of Representatives is controlled by Democrats. "At the top of the list," he said, is extending tax credits on clean energy sources like wind, solar and electric. This is an area, Markey believes, that has a chance to garner bipartisan support.

"If Trump wants an infrastructure bill, we're going to demand that it's a green infrastructure bill," Markey said. He added, "We're going to be in a position where we can force votes on key issues dealing with climate, dealing with energy issues as well, that move us towards a clean energy future."

Markey: "We can unleash a Green New Deal, that creates millions of new jobs, in order to save all of creation."

Hope For The Merrimack Valley

When Markey hosted a Senate field hearing in November on the natural gas fires and explosions that erupted across three Merrimack Valley communities two months earlier, he placed much of the blame for the disaster on the agency charged with regulating the natural gas industry: the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA.

"This agency often takes many years to issue required regulations, dragging its feet while our communities remain in danger," he said at the time.

But, as WGBH News has reported, one member of the advisory committee that reviews newly proposed pipeline regulations says PHMSA is hamstrung in its efforts to regulate the industry, and she says it’s up to members of Congress, like Markey, to change the rules to empower PHMSA. Markey now tells WGBH News that he intends to push for that.

At issue is a provision from the 1994 reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Act that allows new regulations only if it could be shown the cost was justified by the benefits. The act is due for reauthorization again later this year.

“As we reauthorize the PHMSA, the pipeline safety law, this year … we have to allow safety to become the priority,” Markey said. “Unfortunately, from my perspective, that agency had become a lapdog, not a watchdog, for safety. And it is absolutely essential that we put the strongest possible standards in place. And a cost benefit analysis that allows for a short-changing of safety is just a recipe for disaster.”

Markey said he’s optimistic that a change in that requirement could win bipartisan support in the Senate.

“To the credit of the Republican majority last year, when I approached them and asked if it would be possible for me to chair a hearing up in Merrimack Valley, the Republican leadership said yes,” he said. “And I was very heartened by that and hopeful that when we're redoing the Pipeline Safety Act that we can heighten the safety standards. … So I think that ultimately we can make some real progress.”

Markey said he feels the tragedy in the Merrimack Valley will be taken to heart by Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

“I think the report that is going to come back from the National Transportation Safety [Board] is going to be a very devastating attack on the culture that existed that made it possible for this to happen,” Markey said. “And as a result I have some real hope that we can pass meaningful legislation this year. And I'm working across the aisle to accomplish that goal.”

Markey: "I'm very hopeful that what happened in Merrimack Valley is something that is going to be taken to heart."

Limiting The Use Of Nukes

As Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens to target the United State with new nuclear weapons, Markey says it's time to for Congress to limit Trump's ability to launch a preemptive nuclear strike.

In his annual state-of-the-nation speech Wednesday, Putin said that if the U.S. deploys new nuclear missiles in Europe, Russia will protect itself by creating similar weapons capable of reaching North America with great speed.

Putin’s statements come after Trump’s announcement earlier this month that the U.S. is leaving the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which dates to 1987. The U.S. accuses Russia of not complying with the pact, and contends that the agreement limits America’s ability to respond to threats from China and Iran.

Against this backdrop, Markey said, the risk of an actual nuclear war is too great for Congress not to act. He’s urging passage of legislation that he and California Rep. Ted Lieu re-introduced in January.

“It's necessary to have Congress reassert its authority to ensure that no president, including Donald Trump, can initiate a nuclear war without receiving actual Congressional approval,” Markey said.

“Otherwise, we could quickly cross into a place where all-out nuclear war is in fact commenced.”

Markey: "I'm very concerned that we're at the dawn of a new nuclear arms race."

Invading Venezuela

Massachusetts has the nation’s 9th-largest Venezuelan exile community with nearly 4,000 residents. Many of them have called for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and by force if necessary.

When asked about Trump's veiled threat to invade — “All options are on the table,” the president said on Monday — and the reported buildup of U.S. military assets in the region, Markey said that “it would be a mistake for the United States to invade Venezuela in the same way that it would have been a mistake to invade Nicaragua or El Salvador in the 1980s."

"As a result, we have to engage in alternative political strategies," Markey said. The situation, he said, calls for, "intensifying the diplomatic work of the United States, economic isolation of this regime, and a further effort to intensify the public understanding of the corruption of this Venezuelan government and the clear interest that the people in that country have to change and to move in a new direction."

While Markey said that the U.S. should side with those who seek fundamental change in Venezuela, "we have to be very careful so that we don't go down a slippery slope where military activity is in fact engaged in."

When asked about Elliott Abrams' role in possibly provoking a U.S. military response, Markey said that Abrams "and others like him back in the 1980s," set a policy in which they embraced "a more muscular military presence down in Latin America."

Abrams is the Trump administration’s envoy for Venezuela. He served as assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration and supported right wing-governments in Guatemala and El Salvador. Abrams also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.

"I think it's something that we have to avoid while still engaging intensively to ensure that the people of Venezuela are able to have the change of government which they deserve,” Markey said.

Markey: "I think we should be siding with those who are seeking fundamental change in that country."

Pushing For Net Neutrality

Regarding the principal of “net neutrality,” of which the senator has been a strong proponent, Markey hinted that he and his Democratic colleagues in the Senate are preparing for a new push.

In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission, a majority of whose members are now Republican appointees, voted 3-2 to do away with rules that prohibit broadband internet providers from manipulating the speed at which customers can access specific sites on the Internet.

“In 2019, there will be action now coming out of the House,” which is now controlled by Democrats, Markey said.

“Over in the Senate, stay tuned because I am working with other Democrats in a strategy to have the Senate as well, be put on the political hot seat,” he added.

Markey said that much will hinge on a lawsuit, filed by competitors of big internet providers as well as some states, in the D.C. Circuit Court, arguing that the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules was capricious and illegal.

Markey: "This court decision hangs over the whole legislative process."