Since winning her district’s Democratic primary in June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a media darling. Even before being sworn in, the new (and youngest) member of the House of Representatives has been pushing her fellow Democrats to support her “Green New Deal” proposal. The idea seems to be popular–a recent poll shows that 81 percent of registered voters support a proposal to push for 100 percent renewable energy and infrastructure upgrades–fewer know much about the proposed plan.
According to the same poll, 82 percent of voters said they had heard nothing at all about the Green New Deal.
That hasn’t stopped the Green New Deal from becoming one of the most discussed issues heading into the new Congress. Ironically, as support for the measure grows, the details of the plan are becoming increasingly unclear. Ocasio-Cortez, who made the Green New Deal a major part of her campaign, no longer has the text of her proposal on her campaign website.
Archived versions of the proposal show that it is less a formal plan than a possible means of creating one. Ocazio-Cortez wants to create a new select committee to help push the U.S. to become “emissions neutral.” Other goals include expanding renewable generation so as to meet 100 percent of American demand through renewable sources, pushing for innovation in green technology, and upgrading “every residential and industrial building” to be more energy efficient.
The changes would require a radical reshaping of the American economy. So far, Democratic supporters have praised the Green New Deal’s goals without addressing its requirements for a racially “just transition” and for a job guarantee program. Instead, they are largely focusing on the renewable energy goal and the infrastructure requirements.
“What we need is a major paradigm shift. For every dollar spent our nation’s roads, we must spend no less than one dollar on 21st-century clean energy, one dollar on more sustainable transportation options, and one dollar on our drinking and wastewater systems,” wrote Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey (D) in an op-ed on Monday.
“For every highway, for every energy project, every single dollar needs to be spent with a proper accounting of climate change and resilience. That’s the formula necessary for America to lead the world into the 21st-century green economy.”
His essay did not address some of the more radical labor proposals that have won Ocasio-Cortez support on the left. Meanwhile, lawmakers coming out in support of the “Green New Deal” have largely shied away from addressing these elements of the plan.
Part of the confusion may be because this isn’t the first time that a Democratic politician has pitched the idea of major environmental reform using the same language. After all, Barack Obama promised to create five million green jobs through a combination economic stimulus package and environmental reform package in December, 2008. Jill Stein used the language of the “New Deal” to push for policies ranging from public sector jobs that could be “stored in job banks,” to an immediate end to foreclosures, and free college education.
Since no legislation can be drafted before the start of the new Congress, it is still early to say what any proposal might look like. Even from the details Ocasio-Cortez has provided, conservative scholars are skeptical, pointing out that if renewable energy was a good buy, it would be able to compete without aggressive subsidies. Christopher Clack, a physicist who has studied rapid deployments of renewables, estimated the cost of building the necessary generation capacity alone would be more than $2 trillion.
High costs may stymie getting from green ideas to green laws. Although the Green New Deal has significant support right now, bringing the idea from a proposal to actual legislation may be difficult. After all, a significant part of the Green New Deal is proposed infrastructure spending. President Trump also ran on promises to invest significantly in America’s roads, bridges, and pipes. So far, his infrastructure plan has fizzled.
For as much support as the proposal has at this stage, cracks are already showing in the coalition. On Dec. 10, 1,000 youth activists staged a sit-in at the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) to show their support for Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal.
“Any politician who wants to be taken seriously by our generation needs to support solutions that match the scale and urgency of the climate crisis,” said Sunrise spokesperson Varshini Prakash, who warned that Democrats would lose the youth vote if they did not address the issue.
Pelosi has so far shown no sign that she wants to take up the issue, perhaps fearing that it would become yet another flop like cap and trade. While she agreed to meet with activists about the proposal, she has not publicly come out in support of it.
Democrats have already found themselves in a tight spot with environmentalists during the 2018 election. After publicly announcing that it would refuse all donations from fossil fuel companies, the Democratic National Committee was forced to backtrack on its decision in August.