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.

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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.

Aspirational goals

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.

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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.

Nuts and bolts

Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution would create a select committee in the House to draft a plan that fits the proposal’s standards. In that sense, it’s similar to House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown MORE’s (D-Calif.) call for a select committee on climate change, although that panel wouldn’t have the same explicit assignment.

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.

The supporters are Reps. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? MORE (Calif.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Congress must use upcoming defense bills to guard against a confrontation with Iran MORE (Calif.), John LewisJohn LewisFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides 2020 Democrats mark three years since Pulse nightclub shooting MORE (Ga.), Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyUS women's soccer team reignites equal pay push US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push New York congresswoman calls for helicopter ban after fatal crash MORE (N.Y.), Jose SerranoJosé Enrique SerranoJosé Serrano says he has Parkinson's, will not seek reelection Congress must not be fooled by the effort to block citizenship question Five things to know about Ocasio-Cortez’s 'Green New Deal' MORE (N.Y.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerFirst major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz MORE (Ore.) and Reps.-elect Deb HaalandDebra HaalandOvernight Energy: Dems press Interior chief to embrace climate action | Lawmakers at odds on how to regulate chemicals in water | Warren releases climate plan for military Warren releases plan to tackle climate change threats to military House Dem's bill would require ride-hailing companies to cover drivers' Social Security costs MORE (N.M.), Joe Neguse (Colo.), Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

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.”

Potential opponents

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.

That kind of opposition means legislation to enact the plan is unlikely to become law anytime soon, with the GOP holding the majority in the Senate and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE in the White House. No House Republicans have voiced support for the Green New Deal.

Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution is also facing opposition from some Democrats who don’t think a select committee is necessary, or don’t think it should have legislative authority. Leading that charge is Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneTop Trump health official warned against controversial ObamaCare changes in private memo Top Trump health official warned against controversial ObamaCare changes in private memo First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides MORE (D-N.J.), who is slated to be the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee starting in January.

Beyond renewable energy

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.