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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars 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 HuffmanOvernight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Dems want documents on Bernhardt's lobbying work Overnight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown MORE (Calif.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaEnvironmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Lawmakers, tech set for clash over AI MORE (Calif.), John LewisJohn LewisLiberals surprised by tax vote vow to kill 'Free File' provision House passes bill to modernize IRS The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump looks to get tougher on border with Nielsen out MORE (Ga.), Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneySenate bill seeks to bring freedom back to banking Dems challenge bank CEOs on post-crisis reforms Carole King lobbies lawmakers in support of bill to protect the Rockies 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 BlumenauerDem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring On The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars Great challenges require great vision MORE (Ore.) and Reps.-elect Deb HaalandDebra HaalandPark Service defends funds used to stay open during shutdown Ben Ray Luján to run for New Mexico Senate seat New Mexico Dems brace for crowded race to succeed Udall 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 TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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 PalloneOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group House Democrats probe Trump administration's funding of anti-abortion group Overnight Energy: Bernhardt confirmed as Interior chief | Dems probing if EPA officials broke ethics rules | Senators offer bipartisan carbon capture bill 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.