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Green New Deal Launched with Support from Democratic Presidential Candidates

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) held a press conference outside the Capitol building on February 7th to introduce their House and Senate resolutions for a Green New Deal. Original co-sponsors include 64 House Democrats and 9 Senate Democrats. Six declared and potential presidential candidates signed up as co-sponsors: Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Bernie Sanders (Independent Socialist—VT).

The Green New Deal resolution, according to the accompanying fact sheet, sets out “a 10-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society at a scale not seen since World War 2 to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all.” The comparison to the Second World War is significant. Although the name recalls the New Deal of the 1930s, the ambition is much greater than the original New Deal’s ad hoc programs to put people back to work. In fact, the scale of the economic transformation envisioned would dwarf World War II.

The fact sheet calls for “a massive mobilization of all our resources” and states that “the level of investment required is massive.” In addition to saving the world from global warming, the Green New Deal aims to achieve economic and social justice at the same time, not just through massive investments in green energy, but also by guaranteeing good-paying jobs, unionizing the green workforce, and banning monopolies and unfair competition. As Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said at the press conference, “Today is a day that we truly embark on a comprehensive agenda of economic, social, and racial justice in the United States of America.”         

During the Second World War, federal spending increased from 9% of GDP in 1940 to 41% in 1945. Approximately 16 million men and women served in the U. S. military (and over 400,000 were killed).  Rationing was instituted for gasoline, heating oil, coal, firewood, tires, shoes, sugar, coffee, meat, butter, cheese, and a number of other foods. Sales to civilians of new automobiles and most household appliances were suspended.  New building construction was mostly confined to facilities needed for the war effort. Wages and prices were frozen by executive order. Unlike the Green New Deal, however, the mobilization required by the war did not require rebuilding our entire energy infrastructure, retrofitting every existing building for energy efficiency, or trading our existing vehicle fleet for electric cars, more mass transit, and high-speed trains. 

Achieving the Green New Deal’s objectives in ten years—or in 20 or 40—is clearly impossible. Even if hundreds of thousands of windmills, tens of millions of solar panels, and hundreds of millions of car batteries could be fabricated, the grid cannot operate on 100% intermittent and variable power—or even 50%.

One aspect of covering the landscape with hundreds of thousands of square miles of windmills and solar panels is that to do so would require suspending federal, state, and local environmental statutes, permitting procedures, and land use plans. Forget about the Endangered Species Act’s habitat protections and prohibitions on killing endangered birds and bats. The Clean Water Act’s wetlands protections will have to be overlooked. Environmental impact statements that now take years to prepare, years to move through the permitting process, and more years to litigate, are out the window. Wind and solar projects will have to be permitted in days.    

One reporter at the press conference asked how the Green New Deal was going to turn out more successfully than the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, which narrowly passed the House in 2009 but then died in the Senate after widespread public opposition became apparent. Sen. Markey replied (at about 21:45 of the press conference video) that, “The difference between 2009 and 10 and today is the movement that has now been built, OK? We did not have that movement in 2009 and 10. This is now a voting issue across the country. The green generation has risen up….We now have the troops, we now have the money, we’re ready to fight.”