Clean energy may yet provide common ground
Progressive Democrats in February rolled out their Green New Deal — a 14-page resolution introduced by New York Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. While non-binding, it calls for massive public investment in a “10-year national mobilization” to exorcise carbon from the U.S. economy.
The 10-year Green New Deal mandates generating 100 percent renewable energy and removing greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and transportation. Renewables currently make up only 17 percent of U.S. electric power generation, despite enormous federal and state subsidies.
The plan provides for “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort and durability, including through electrification.”
While millions of jobs would be destroyed in creating this new green world, the resolution says the government would also guarantee “a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”
The Green New Deal means that all carbon energy and jobs would be purged — but China would suffer no such limits on its fossil-fuel production. Republicans have torched progressive Democrats over the cost of the Green New Deal, which the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, estimates at between $51 trillion and $93 trillion over a decade.
Remarkably, the Green New Deal has met with support from liberal interest groups and the six Democratic presidential hopefuls — Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are co-sponsors.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell saw political advantage in calling the Green New Deal resolution up for action on March 26. The Senate rejected the Green New Deal in a decisive 57-0 vote that divided Senate Democrats.
All Republican senators opposed the measure. They were joined by four senators who caucus with the Democrats — Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Doug Jones and Angus King. Forty-three Democrats were placed in the politically embarrassing position of voting “present” on the resolution, rather than take a stand on a measure that many believe to be wildly unrealistic and politically untenable.
Progressives claim the Green New Deal to be “aspirational” rather than a specific plan. But, critics point to the cautionary tale of California’s high speed rail. $10 billion in bonds were approved a decade ago, but the project was beset by uncontrolled costs. Gov. Gavin Newsom abandoned the project in February as “too costly” when completion estimates reached $77 billion. California now has a government-owned “train to nowhere” — from Merced to Bakersfield.
President Trump enjoys mocking the Green New Deal and routinely belittles climate change as a “hoax.” However, Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander, Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham believe climate change to be real and that humans are a contributing cause. They are working on GOP climate approaches.
Alexander calls for “A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy,” after the crash program to develop a nuclear bomb during World War II. He proposes spending the next five years meeting 10 big challenges. His strategy essentially calls for using government research dollars to ramp up use of a whole range of alternative energy sources.
Alexander’s strategy engenders controversy as well in its reliance on nuclear energy as a key alternative to fossil fuels. He also calls for developing nuclear-fusion technology, expanded natural gas use and development of carbon-capture technologies.
While the Green New Deal has proven politically divisive and unattainable, Alexander’s aim is to give Republicans and Democrats a bipartisan common ground path to a dramatic increase in government research funding for clean energy.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa.