Five things to know about Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) made waves on her first day in Washington after being elected by participating in a protest to demand a “Green New Deal.”
Ocasio-Cortez has garnered support from progressive groups and a handful of Democrats for her proposal that sets a goal of getting 100 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy sources.
While the plan is mostly a draft resolution for the House to create a special committee to work out the specifics, it’s already generating significant discussions among policymakers.
Here are five things to know about the Green New Deal.
The plan, as outlined in a draft resolution on Ocasio-Cortez’s website, has a number of ambitious objectives.
Central to her proposal is the goal of working toward using nothing but renewable energy for electricity generation. That would mean wind, solar, biomass and geothermal are in, while coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear power are completely out.
The resolution makes no mention of whether it includes hydropower, the nation’s largest source of renewable energy, though it is often criticized by environmentalists because of the impact of dams and infrastructure have on landscapes and ecosystems.
The plan calls for transitioning to renewables within 10 years of passing Green New Deal legislation.
The policy is meant to do the United States’ part to respond to the urgent needs to slash greenhouse gas emissions. A United Nations report last month recommended cutting worldwide greenhouse gases by almost half by 2030 to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change.
Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution, however, doesn’t call for a mandate for renewable energy. It also doesn’t specify how the U.S. should wean itself off non-renewable power sources.
The proposal also would consist of a nationwide build-out of a “smart” electrical grid and mass energy-efficient building upgrades.
Such a dramatic energy transition would undoubtedly come with an exorbitant price tag. It would involve a massive build-out of new electric generation, transmission and storage, and it would likely necessitate new technologies, particularly for storage, since wind and solar cannot always generate power at all times of the day.
The United States got only 17 percent of its electricity last year from renewable sources, with 7.5 percent coming from hydropower, according to the Energy Information Administration.
While some cities, states and countries have set goals to completely switch to renewables, real-world deployments are practically nonexistent at this point.
And since the Green New Deal hasn’t been fleshed out, no comprehensive cost analysis exists.
A back-of-the-envelope calculation by Christopher Clack, a physicist who has studied rapid deployments of renewables, estimated that building out the generating capacity alone would cost at least $2 trillion.
“It’s a daunting task, and I’m not sure that the authors of the Green New Deal fully comprehend how much they’ll need,” he said.
Critics say the transition would be impossible.
“One hundred percent renewable energy defies the laws of physics,” said Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a fossil-fuel-backed conservative think tank. “It would be impossible to achieve.”
Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute, said it does a disservice to the real seriousness of climate change to set such an unrealistic goal.
“I understand the value of aspirational goals,” he said. “My personal view is, that undermines the credibility of the effort.”
Who supports it
In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, a driving force behind the proposal is the Sunrise Movement, a youth organization pushing for aggressive climate and renewable energy policies, and lawmakers who support them.
The proposal faces political problems. Just 12 House Democrats in the new Congress have backed the resolution.
Many of the lawmakers backing the plan said they campaigned in part on climate change, and that nothing less than the Green New Deal would fulfill the mandate from their constituents.
“As a millennial, I firmly believe #climatechange is the defining issue of our time,” Neguse tweeted.
“Pelosi should not only create this committee, but also appoint @Ocasio2018 as Chair,” Khanna wrote on Twitter.
Progressive environmental groups like 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have also signed on.
“The United States has lost nearly a decade on making significant political progress on climate change,” Janet Redman, climate director at Greenpeace USA, said in a statement. “Our new leaders in Congress need to make up for lost time. Heart-wrenching evidence emerges almost daily of the urgent need for climate solutions that meet the scale of the looming crisis.”
While not many groups or lawmakers have spoken out against the plan, it is sure to rile up various groups and industries if the Democrats move forward with implementation.
“It’s a good plan if you want to fleece taxpayers and ratepayers, because that’s what it’s going to do if implemented,” said Nick Loris, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Loris said if renewables could compete on their own, they wouldn’t need tax credits or mandates.
“If you have to mandate its use, it’s a good indication that it’s not a cost-competitive form of energy,” he said.
The Green New Deal isn’t only a renewable energy policy. It also would guarantee jobs for unemployed people who want them.
The resolution asks the select committee to take into account historic racial, gender, economic and other inequalities and consider including programs like basic income and universal healthcare, while having labor unions take a leading role in implementation.
“What she asks for in this manifesto goes beyond decarbonization and gets into a progressive wishlist to fix what they perceive as all that ails society,” Pyle said.
The proposal takes its name from the New Deal, the 1930s-era package of policies pushed by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt to bring the United States out of the Depression, mainly through investments in federal jobs programs.
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