Why ‘Green New Deal’ Has Washington in Such a Lather

(Bloomberg) -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal created a sprawling range of public-works programs to address the Great Depression. Eighty years later, some present-day members of his party say a program no less grand in scope is needed to address a new crisis -- the existential threat of global warming. A band of self-described progressive Democrats energized by the party’s successes in last year’s midterm elections have unveiled a wish list of government actions they’ve packaged as the “Green New Deal.” It’s long on ambition but short on details.

Why ‘Green New Deal’ Has Washington in Such a Lather

1. What is meant by ‘Green New Deal’?

The term has kicked around for more than a decade among advocates of a concerted government effort to turn environmentalism into an economic engine. Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times, in a 2007 column, called for “a Green New Deal — one in which government’s role is not funding projects, as in the original New Deal, but seeding basic research, providing loan guarantees where needed and setting standards, taxes and incentives that will spawn 1,000 G.E. Transportations for all kinds of clean power.” In its most recent incarnation, Green New Deal is the name adopted by Democrats led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts in a bid to dramatically shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels and other sources of the emissions that cause global warming.

2. What would it do?

The group’s manifesto, in the form of a non-binding resolution offered in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, calls for a “10-year national mobilization” to shift the nation to 100 percent “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” -- a highly ambitious goal, given that fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas and coal) accounted for 80 percent of U.S. energy consumption in 2017. Weaving together what had been a hodgepodge of progressive proposals and aspirations, the plan calls for upgrading “all existing buildings” for maximum energy efficiency and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions “as much as is technologically feasible” from manufacturing, agriculture and transportation. For good measure, the program calls for steps to expand educational opportunities, increase “high-quality union jobs” and provide health care and housing for all Americans -- a progressive wish list not directly connected to renewable energy.

Why ‘Green New Deal’ Has Washington in Such a Lather

3. How would the plan accomplish all that?

Answers to that question, and how much it would cost, are largely absent for now. Green New Deal proponents say their immediate goal is to change the debate about the climate, to inject a greater sense of urgency and ambition. What’s been put down on paper is akin to a “request for proposals,” Ocasio-Cortez explained on Twitter. “We’ve defined the scope and where we want to go. Now let’s assess + collab on projects,” she wrote.

4. How has that been received?

Why ‘Green New Deal’ Has Washington in Such a Lather

With lots of doubt. Ernest Moniz, U.S. energy secretary under President Barack Obama, called the plan “impracticable” and “unrealizable.” Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell said it’s an example of “lazy sloganeering.” To Bloomberg Opinion columnist Noah Smith, it “overreaches in its desire to deliver a raft of expensive new entitlements -- guaranteed jobs, benefits, health care, housing, education, income and more.” The Economist called it “a deeply unserious proposal.” Others praised the plan as a welcome first step. “No matter what you think of the specifics, or lack of them, this is a conversation that is long overdue -- and necessarily begins with a shout, not a whisper,” Liam Denning wrote in Bloomberg Opinion. Former Vice President Al Gore, an early champion of action to address global warming, praised the document as “the beginning of a crucial dialogue.”

5. How much support does it have?

The resolution’s 68 co-sponsors in the House and 11 co-sponsors in the Senate (as of Feb. 15) are all Democrats (or caucus with them, in the case of Senator Bernie Sanders). They include announced or potential 2020 presidential candidates Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sanders of Vermont. But so far it has received a lukewarm response from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and plenty of Democrats from the party’s more moderate wing, along with strong opposition from Republicans and industry leaders who say it’s technologically impossible and would cost tens of trillions of dollars. Some environmental groups said it doesn’t go far enough.

6. What are its chances?

Even if Pelosi gets the House on board, broad legislation based on the Green New Deal would certainly never pass in the Republican Senate (controlled by a majority leader, Mitch McConnell, from a coal state, Kentucky) or be signed into law by President Donald Trump. (Certain pieces like proposals to clean up polluted sites, if offered on their own, might at least stand a chance.) Such political realities don’t discourage Green New Deal backers who are looking further down the road beyond the 2020 presidential elections. “We ought to have strong legislation on climate change ready to go so when we have the right president they can sign it,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat.

7. Is there a risk for those who support the Green New Deal?

Why ‘Green New Deal’ Has Washington in Such a Lather

Republicans certainly hope they’ll benefit from any hard turn to the left by Democrats on climate issues, and they’re already featuring the plan in attack ads. “It’s a socialist manifesto that lays out a laundry list of government giveaways, including guaranteed food, housing, college, and economic security even for those who refuse to work,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate’s environment committee. Trump himself weighed in to mock the proposal: “I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called ‘Carbon Footprint’ to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military - even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!”

The Reference Shelf

  • The text of the Green New Deal resolution.
  • How the climate-change debate has shifted.
  • Germany’s version of a Green New Deal actually works, writes Bloomberg Opinion columnist Leonid Bershidsky.
  • Bloomberg Opinion’s Noah Smith offered an alternative plan “that isn’t over the top.”
  • How Republicans are using the plan against Democrats.
  • Disagreement over nuclear power contributed to a rough rollout for the Green New Deal.

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