The long-awaited Green New Deal was unveiled in Washington on Thursday, laying down a marker for 2020 and beyond.
If you haven’t heard of the Green New Deal, you probably live under a rock. The highly-anticipated policy proposal, spearheaded by freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Senator Ed Markey (MA), calls for a World War II-style or Apollo program (pick your historical analogy) mobilization to transition the U.S. economy off of fossil fuels.
The Green New Deal has floated around in the past, particularly during the financial crisis over a decade ago, but was really revived as a major concept by environmental groups and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez in recent months. While any legislation cannot pass the current Congress, given Republican control over the Senate and Donald Trump in the White House, it is now very much a litmus test for aspiring Democratic candidates for president in the 2020 election.
As such, its contents are important, given that one of these candidates could occupy the White House in two years.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey finally unveiled a resolution on February 7, sketching out the framework of future legislation. The bill was necessarily done in broad strokes for several reasons. The Democrats have to wait until 2021 at the earliest before trying to pass something. Keeping everyone on board, at this stage, requires some finessing, leaving some difficult decisions for later. And, of course, detailing the nitty gritty of a complete transformation of America’s energy system will take time.
So, what’s in it? The Green New Deal legislation lays out several key principles, calling for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of millions of jobs through public investment, an overhaul of U.S. infrastructure, clean air and water, and justice for frontline communities during this transition.
More specifically, it calls for a 10-year program of “national mobilization,” which will achieve 100 percent of U.S. power demand from clean, renewable and zero-emissions energy sources. It calls for building energy efficient, distributed, and “smart” power grids. Existing buildings will see an overhaul while new buildings are intended to achieve “maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability,” and the like. The GND also calls for “massive growth in clean manufacturing.”
“Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us, our country, our world,” Ocasio-Cortez said on NPR’s Morning Edition.
For now, the GND did not specifically call for a carbon tax, and perhaps more notably, it avoided explicitly calling for the end of fossil fuel development. Still, the goal is to dramatically slash, if not end, the consumption of oil, gas and coal for U.S. energy use.
So far, the concept is popular. A December poll asked people if they supported a proposal to generate 100 percent of U.S. electricity from clean sources within ten years. About 92 percent of Democrats supported the idea, but surprisingly, a very large 64 percent of Republicans also supported it.
Of course, it’s easy to support a vague aspiration and the devil will be in the details. The legislation will surely lose support, particularly from Republicans, when push comes to shove in the months and years ahead.
But for now, all of the major Democratic candidates for President have endorsed the concept. The point of laying out the framework right now in a congressional resolution, even if it goes nowhere, is to put some more meat on the bones and, crucially, to put the Democratic candidates on record.
It’s easy for the candidates to nod their heads in agreement to an abstract Green New Deal, but with strong ideas now down on paper, they have to decide whether or not to maintain their support with a clearer vision. As the candidates try to distinguish themselves in the Democratic primary, the pressure will be on them to continue to endorse the GND.
So, what does all of that mean? The upshot is that with President Trump’s poll numbers in negative territory, whichever candidate emerges from the Democratic primary will have a decent shot at winning the presidency. If that occurs, they will be on record having supported the GND, and will most likely push for some version of it in 2021.
That means that oil and gas companies, having enjoyed a deregulatory bonanza under Trump, could see rougher waters ahead. But with the climate debate getting momentum, that pressure is not going away, no matter what happens with the Green New Deal.