The Green New Deal is about to get real

By Rachel Layne

/ MoneyWatch

Changing the politics of climate change

Rookie lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making a splash in Congress by championing everything from sharply higher taxes on the rich to immigrant rights. But arguably her biggest challenge — one that could conceivably affect every American — is to breathe life in Washington for the "Green New Deal." The initiative's audacious goal: Convert the entire U.S. economy to renewable energy within 12 years, while also sparking a massive burst of job-creation and technological innovation.

So far, details are scant, with the New York Democrat and Sen. Ed Markey, D.-N.Y. reportedly preparing to release more specifics within the next week or so. For now, here's a look at what the Green New Deal is all about.

"A suite of economic policies"

The proposal's name deliberately echoes President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the label for a sweeping group of federal programs enacted in the 1930s to end the Great Depression. In the Green New Deal's case, proponents are outlining a group of policies to shift the U.S. economy toward mitigating climate change and its impact.

The Sierra Club, a major supporter, puts it this way: A Green New Deal "is not a single law, but a suite of economic policies to deliver better job opportunities, less climate pollution, cleaner air and water, and more resilient communities."

The push comes just as a new report annual federal climate report concludes that the last five years have been the hottest on record, with scientists linking that trend to the surge in human-related greenhouse gases.

Zero emissions

A memo from Ocasio-Cortez's office is circulating in Congress seeking support for a resolution that outlines the Green New Deal's programs, Axios reported this week. According to several news outlets, the resolution calls for, among other things:

The plan omits a reference to a specific ban on fossil fuels, though that could change, Politico reported.

How will it get funded?

"The short answer to 'how we will pay for' the Green New Deal is easy," Robert Hockett, a Cornell public policy and law professor and adviser to Ocasio-Cortez, wrote in a piece for Forbes last month. "We'll pay for it just as we pay for all else: Congress will authorize necessary spending, and Treasury will spend. This is how we do it — always has been, always will be."

Critics point to estimates of the cost of converting to 100 percent renewable energy reaching into the trillions. So far, Ocasio-Cortez has only floated ideas for how to pay for it — including a fee or tax on carbon emissions and her idea for a marginal tax rate of 70 percent on earnings of more than $10 million for wealthy Americans, a proposal she outlined for CBS's "60 Minutes" last month.

Where did it originate?

The idea for the Green New Deal has multiple sources, including environmentalists and scientists looking for ways to combat climate change. Ocasio-Cortez championed the concept, vaulting the phrase "Green New Deal" into headlines and news broadcasts during her campaign and since the 2018 elections.

A December poll of registered voters conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University showed 92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans support the idea. And many Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls have reportedly signed on to the idea, according to Axios.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The rookie congresswoman challenging the Democratic establishment

Now, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey are drumming up support as they draft specifics for legislation. "It's happening," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted after Axios reported some details of her memo seeking support from colleagues.

As a member of the House in 2009, Markey was the lead author of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which sought to address climate change issues. It included a renewable energy standard and a carbon cap-and-trade system. It passed the House but never made it out of the Senate.

The lawmaker brought Varshini Prakash as his guest to President Donald Trump's the State of the Union address on Tuesday. Prakash is executive director and co-founder of Sunrise, a group dedicated to ending climate change that's currently holding livestream events to support the idea.

Markey's office is now working on companion Green New Deal legislation for the Senate to Ocasio-Cortez's House plan, though that's not yet finalized, according to a recent report from the Boston Globe.

First published on February 6, 2019

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