Taking A Look At The Green New Deal

[ Posted Thursday, February 14th, 2019 – 18:09 UTC ]

Freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has unveiled her first legislative effort, the "Green New Deal" resolution. The rollout was a little rocky, with some rookie mistakes made. But putting all that aside, I thought it'd be worthwhile to take a look at the actual text of the resolution itself. It's already being demonized by Republicans in a way not seen since the "death panels" demonization of Obamacare, so it's important to see what is actually in it, rather than the caricature of it that its opponents are already creating.

The actual text of the resolution begins by laying out the problems in some detail. It explains why climate change should be a governmental priority, and offers up the solution that we need to act as decisively as we acted during World War II and the Great Depression. Here's just one representative excerpt to sum the introduction up:

Whereas the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen, but many members of frontline and vulnerable communities were excluded from many of the economic and societal benefits of those mobilizations; and

Whereas the House of Representatives recognizes that a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era is a historic opportunity --

(1) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States;

(2) to provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; and

(3) to counteract systemic injustices:

Next, the document lays out the broad goals such action should take. This is the full text of this section:

Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that --

(1) it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal --

   (A) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;

   (B) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;

   (C) to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century;

   (D) to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come --

      (i) clean air and water;

      (ii) climate and community resiliency;

      (iii) healthy food;

      (iv) access to nature; and

      (v) a sustainable environment; and

   (E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as “frontline and vulnerable communities”);

There is a balance throughout the document between directly tackling the problem of climate change and living up to the "New Deal" part of its name, by addressing such unrelated subjects as jobs and equality.

This is somewhat disconcerting, but then again this is not an actual piece of legislation. It is not a bill, it is a nonbinding "resolution" that, even if it passed, would not actually change anything at all. It is commonly referred to as "aspirational." Since it is only an aspiration, Ocasio-Cortez must have figured, why not aspire to achieve greatness in multiple areas simultaneously?

The final part of the text lays out specific goals, such as cutting emissions. It does not, as its detractors claim, mandate an end to all air travel or private automobiles or cows. Instead, it includes the goals of: "eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible", "overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible", and "working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible."

It does set incredibly high bars as aspirational goals, in some parts. For instance: "meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources." This may be feasible in some ways (such as the power plants that feed our electric grid), but it may not be as realistic in others (such as finding a replacement for jet fuel to allow commercial airplane travel to continue). Technology might eventually find all these answers, but we're not there yet.

There is more than a little overreach in one particular goal: "upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification."

That may be a worthy goal in the abstract, but upgrading every sub-par building in the country is a task so monumental that it staggers the imagination. Who would pay for these upgrades and how would they be done in any reasonable timeframe?

The final section lists the concrete actions that the Green New Deal would urge be put into legislation (since the document is, once again, only an aspirational resolution). These range from the generic ("making public investments in the research and development of new clean and renewable energy technologies and industries") to the more specific.

But then it ventures into proposing sweeping changes to the entire labor force:

(G) ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition;

(H) guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States;

(I) strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment;

(J) strengthening and enforcing labor, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors;

It ends in a similar vein, sort of a catchall in case anything was left out in the previous sections:

(O) providing all people of the United States with --

   (i) high-quality health care;

   (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing;

   (iii) economic security; and

   (iv) clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.

It may be only aspirational, but it sure does aspire to a lot.

Putting aside the meaningless caricature that Republicans are painting (which bears no resemblance to the actual text), it is still a rather problematic resolution for some Democrats. It reads not like an actual draft of future legislation, but rather as an entire party platform. These are the sorts of multi-generational goals you hear glowingly spoken of at national party conventions, in other words, but each and every item is usually seen as deserving of its own detailed legislation rather than being thrown together into one document. It's easy to say that America should "provide economic security" and "affordable, safe, and adequate housing," but actually legislating just those two line-items would be a Herculean task. And those are just two items out of a rather long list.

Item (H), though, is the most far-reaching of this very far-reaching document: "guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States." That's a wonderful idea, but how exactly would you write legislation to achieve this lofty goal?

So while pretty much any Democrat would agree in theory with pretty much any of these items, there are so many of them and they are so sweeping as to make the task of creating legislation to actually achieve them almost impossible. This is where the "aspirational" aspect really becomes prominent. Sure, we can all aspire to create a better country along the lines the document lays out, but fully achieving any single one of them is going to be very tough to do because the bar is set so incredibly high for each of them.

Normally, of course, a freshman lawmaker's first-draft legislative effort would not even be news. It'd be a point of pride for the individual lawmaker, but few others would notice. The Green New Deal is different, for two reasons. First, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already a media star in the Democratic Party, so her actions are scrutinized closer than normal (which is a vast understatement). She has been talking about creating a Green New Deal for a while now, so she had to actually come up with something concrete to back up her call for other Democrats to get on board with the idea. But the second reason the Green New Deal is such a big deal is that climate change is becoming so prominent in Democratic politics. It will be a major issue for all the 2020 presidential candidates. And before last week, there was a real vacuum of concrete plans from any Democrat. It's easy to talk about climate change in the abstract out on the campaign trail, but since Democrats have been in the minority for so long they don't have bills to point to when it comes to actual plans of action. Ocasio-Cortez is trying to step into that void and fill it with her own prescription.

What happens next will be interesting. Either the Green New Deal will become the litmus test for Democratic politicians, or others will develop their own green legislative plans. We may have competing Green New Deals before we're done, in other words, in the same way Democrats are currently wrangling over what precisely "Medicare for all" should mean. This would be healthy for all concerned, since competing ideas mean a serious discussion over the merits of each individual plan. This could refine the concept to a much more workable blueprint, although it would likely mean jettisoning (or at least seriously toning down) most of the impossible-to-reach goals in the process.

Ocasio-Cortez is already known for advocating big and bold ideas. She is now proving that she can lead the entire party in a serious policy discussion. However, by being first out of the gate she didn't have time to offer up more than an aspirational document. By doing so she avoids taking stances on some very tough-to-resolve issues (such as, just to name one: "should gasoline be eventually phased out entirely, and if so, when should that happen by?"). She also opens herself to criticism over the sweeping nature of the document, which (as mentioned) really reads like a draft of an entire Democratic Party platform rather than a discrete piece of legislation.

Ideally, what should happen now is that Democratic politicians from presidential candidates on down will offer their support for the aspirations in the Green New Deal, but at the same time develop their own detailed plans for how to achieve some of its goals. "I certainly can support the Green New Deal goals, but the first thing I'd do to get there is pass my own Green Electric Grid plan," in other words.

Ocasio-Cortez knew when she wrote the resolution that it wasn't going to become law. It's a resolution, not a bill, and she knows the difference. This freed her up to reach for the stars in what she wrote, but while this will indeed provide aspirational goals for other Democrats, the hard work of determining how we achieve those goals is still yet to be done. Providing a party platform is one thing, but there's still a pretty big vacuum when it comes to actual concrete agenda items Democrats could rally around. The presidential candidates are already starting to differentiate themselves on their ideas for reforming the tax code and on "Medicare for all," so exactly the same thing needs to happen on the issues of the environment, climate change, and jobs. It'll be interesting to see what these ideas are, because the Green New Deal didn't really provide any of these specifics at all.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


18 Comments on “Taking A Look At The Green New Deal”

  1. [1] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Wow, that's a helluva lot of excess verbiage to say "Let's strive to solve all our problems while simultaneously making everbody happy and well off."

    Who could possibly be against that, right?

  2. [2] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    How offensive...

    Americans can't entertain such radical ideas, clean water: never. Electric mass mobility: shuddersome. Guaranteed affordable healthcare: treasonous. Affordable housing: the temerity.

  3. [3] 
    Paula wrote:

    Earlier today I read this piece on FiveThirtyEight: The Green New Deal Is Impractical, But ‘Practical’ Solutions Haven’t Worked Either

    The author notes that very little has passed to deal with climate change - including "practical" scaled-down, ought-to-be-possible legislative efforts.

    But that bill didn’t pass the Senate. (2009) And there’s been little forward momentum on climate legislation since then. Instead, the scope of “practical” solutions has just gotten smaller and smaller. Even the more recent Climate Solutions Caucus — a bipartisan congressional group aimed at showing that people of many political stripes can agree on combating climate change — declined to criticize the Trump Administration for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. “That should have been an easy lift,” Jaffe said.

    And if bipartisan, practical, detail-oriented climate solutions aren’t working, are they really practical? “I think that’s a fair observation,” Jaffe told me.

    The political will has to be there - as embodied in enough legislators and POTUS who grasp the need to act on this. It's not going to be a matter of how ambitious or timid the legislation - it's going to be a matter of who's in Congress and WH.

  4. [4] 
    chaszzzbrown wrote:

    If you don't already read him, David Roberts at Vox is really interesting on energy issues (he introduced me to the duck curve amongst many other ideas).

    On the Green New Deal, I recommend his article There’s now an official Green New Deal. Here’s what’s in it..

  5. [5] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    I have to agree with Paula that what matters is who's in Congress and the WH.

    If you want Congress to seriously address climate change you need to seriously change the climate in Congress.

    Maybe a NEW GREEN DEAL.

    Instead of the politicians getting the green to finance their campaigns from the Big Money interests the politicians could get the green from ordinary citizens in the form of small contributions.

    As long as the politicians are financed by the Big Money interests they will represent the Big Money interests. And the Big Money interests don't see climate change as a problem- they see it as an opportunity.

    After they have made a lot of money destroying the air, land and water they will be able to make more money selling us what we will need to survive to breath the air, use the land and drink the water that remain clean or to clean them for use.

  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Just heard on Youtube - "Bi-partisan Senate Intel Committee Finds No Evidence of Russian Collusion".

    Hide all the sharp objects from the girls - I sense an impending rash of wrist slashing in the land of Weigantia.

  7. [7] 
    Paula wrote:

    [6] Stuck: I'll see your YouTube recording and raise you this article:

    Meanwhile Blotus has another incoherent power grab fest, backed by America's most disgraceful Senate Majority Leader in history before flying off to Florida to play golf.

  8. [8] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    [6] According to this same committee, which is still in session, they, up to this point, can't say either way that direct synergy betwixt Trump and Russia is evident.

    Considering the lacklustre, cavalier approach all GOP committees have looked into this issue, I wouldn't go hiding the cutlery just yet. Were I inclined to take a leap of faith and presume Trump's disassociation from Russian meddling, I'd need an explanation as to why so many of his associates have run afoul of Mueller and his probe. Why have these people lied? Why did Sessions recuse himself from Russian-related oversight? Why did these individuals have a Russia commonalty while working for Trump and his 2016 campaign? And finally, are these characters part of the 'best people' narrative Trump was eagerly assuring his adherents he would surround himself in the event he won?

    If you're not inclined to wonder, that's your business, but to my mind, knowledge is power. I'm still not 100% sold on the 'collusion' aspect of 2016, I am however sold on the fact that Trump has monumentally poor instincts for personnel, if his choices thus far are anything to go by.

    As for Trump's Russian connections, let's have a peek at his tax returns, those of his kids, and all financial entities under Trump control... Trump has a history of using the tax code to his benefit, I doubt highly he would omit any business dealings, such as Trump Soho, as a loss if he could ultimately benefit. Hmm? There's no point having a 'collusion' debate until it's established that Trump had/has form for Russian contact. A conspiracy to knobble the 2016 election would have to include prior Russian contact, no one believes such a random happenstance just falls into the lap of a presidential candidate.


  9. [9] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    I can scarcely believe that anybody would wonder/question about those things.

    The man (Trump himself) is a dishonest, unethical, marginally competent (or maybe marginally INcompetent) person, who gets to box above his weight thanks to an inherited fortune, who also happens to be an asshole of the first rank as a human being, and who associates pretty much exclusively with the notorious "Birds of a feather"!

    I'd be happy to see every single on of his hangers-on wind up in the hoosegow, with him right along side of 'em, just so long as it's over a legitimate transgression of the law, and not something rabid Democratics conjured up to punish him for beating their unbeatable candidate.

    No matter how much the girls claim to the contrary, it is NOT against the law to get dirt on your political opponent, no matter how evil the source.

  10. [10] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Paula Your [7]

    Far as I'm aware, nobody disputes that the Russians hacked the Democratics' emails, and it may well be that helping Trump was their motivation, but people always fail to make a legitimate connection between those two things.

    The emails revealed that Hillary stacked the primary deck against her opponent. Fine, Hillary is a devious bitch, but WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH TRUMP???

    The only way that benefits Trump would be if it made Bernie's supporters (the most radical Dems) so mad they voted Republican! NOBODY's dumb enough to buy into that!!

  11. [11] 
    Paula wrote:

    [10] Stuck: You are a moron. Carry on.

  12. [12] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    There we go, I knew that given enough time, she could come up with a cogent argument to back her case!!

  13. [13] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    The Green New Deal has got a catchy name. I'll give it that.

  14. [14] 
    Paula wrote:

    [12] Stuck: I learned from Michale that people who repeat nonsense over and over no matter how many times it's been debunked don't have "arguments" to counter. It amounts to wrestling with a pig - both end up muddy and the pig enjoys it.

  15. [15] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Paula [3] -

    I really think both are necessary. The blue-sky approach moves the Overton Window on the whole discussion, which allows concrete plans to actually be seriously considered and (hopefully) passed. One boosts the other, to me...

    chaszzzbrown [4] -

    The duck curve? OK, you lost me...

    James T Canuck [8] -

    I'm still not 100% sold on the 'collusion' aspect of 2016, I am however sold on the fact that Trump has monumentally poor instincts for personnel, if his choices thus far are anything to go by.

    That's an excellent statement, and it's where a whole lot of people are at this point. Until the Mueller report comes out (whatever it says), that's where we really are.

    Will the Mueller report contain any obviously impeachable charges? That's an open question. Maybe it will, maybe it won't.

    But I bet a lot of the public sees "an impeachable offense" kind of like Potter Stewart's definition of pornography -- they'll know it when they see it.

    C.R. Stucki [9] -

    No matter how much the girls claim to the contrary, it is NOT against the law to get dirt on your political opponent, no matter how evil the source.

    If a foreign government is involved, then it is. As it should be. Otherwise we'd have spent the whole Cold War electing whomever the KGB wanted us to.

    Of course, back then Republicans would have cared if Russia had helped them get elected... that's a big difference from today...

    Balthasar [13] -

    That is an excellent point, and I could not agree more. Coming up with snappy names is tough, and you're right, this one is a winner.


  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:


    Smart man. Stay tuned. :)

  17. [17] 
    Kick wrote:


    No matter how much the girls claim to the contrary, it is NOT against the law to get dirt on your political opponent, no matter how evil the source.

    The only problem with your whining repetitive BS is that it's entirely incorrect. Here... once again... is the law that contradicts the incessant spew of your bullshit mountain.

    Section 110.20 Prohibition on contributions, donations, expenditures, independent expenditures, and disbursements by foreign nationals (52 U.S.C. 30121, 36 U.S.C. 510).

    (b) Contributions and donations by foreign nationals in connection with elections. A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.

    (c) Contributions and donations by foreign nationals to political committees and organizations of political parties. A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or donation to:

    (1) A political committee of a political party, including a national party committee, a national congressional campaign committee, or a State, district, or local party committee, including a non-Federal account of a State, district, or local party committee, or

    (2) An organization of a political party whether or not the organization is a political committee under 11 CFR 100.5.

    (d) Contributions and donations by foreign nationals for office buildings. A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party for the purchase or construction of an office building. See 11 CFR 300.10 and 300.35.

    (e) Disbursements by foreign nationals for electioneering communications. A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make any disbursement for an electioneering communication as defined in 11 CFR 100.29.

    (f) Expenditures, independent expenditures, or disbursements by foreign nationals in connection with elections. A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make any expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.

    (g) Solicitation, acceptance, or receipt of contributions and donations from foreign nationals. No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by paragraphs (b) through (d) of this section.

    So to recap yet again: I've shown you the written law and provided a link to that law multiple times now, which states therein that it is illegal for a campaign to solicit, accept, or receive the help of foreign nationals, and you are demonstrably a moron who isn't capable of grasping this fact and who continues to spew your ridiculous bullshit wherein you apparently believe that Americans have a First Amendment right to do so despite this written law.

    It's well-settled law that our First Amendment rights are limited. It is indubitably illegal in many jurisdictions for an American citizen to yell "fire" in a crowded venue unless something is in flames. I've now shown you the law multiple times where it is illegal to do what you keep insisting is legal, and no matter how many times you repeat it, you're wrong... it's illegal.

    Your feeling that a written law is unconstitutional also doesn't make it legal, and if you seriously believe the Supreme Court would actually make a ruling that would strike down the current law (see blockquote above) that would thereby allow foreign governments unabated to turn the First Amendment into a tool to kill American democracy, then moron isn't strong enough a word to describe you. :)

  18. [18] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I realize that H.Res.109 — 116th Congress (2019-2020) is fundamentally a political document, but it is intended to drive a technical solution with political economic and ecological consequences. I wish it had included two governing principles:

    Analysis of Green Strategies will be based upon:

    1) Laws of Thermodynamics


    2) Fundamental Long Term Geological Cycles, most notably the carbon cycle.

    Failure to do so will most likely result in short term remediation which makes long term solutions more expensive, less effective and/or downright impossible for future generations.

    Technological Flim/flam like "clean coal" fails on both counts....unless your expectations for human longevity and population size are brief and/or small.

    The science is well defined, the implications of applying it are extraordinarily complex. Much more so when you factor in politics, local, national and multinational.

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