Green New Deal and Climate Policy

Climate policy is taking center stage with Democrats in Congress who gained control of the House of Representatives after the 2018 elections and the over 20 candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. The debate, and rhetoric, is heating up and looks to continue as we head into the presidential election next year.

One of the most high-profile proposals is the so-call “Green New Deal” (GND), which has generated a lot of attention and controversy. So, just what is the GND, and what are the prospects for it and other climate proposals? The GND is an ambitious set of goals meant to address climate change and transform the nation’s economy. It has taken the form of a non-binding joint resolution introduced in Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).

According to the sponsors, the GND would aspire to:

  • • Move America to 100% clean and renewable energy
  • Create millions of family supportingwage, union jobs
  • Ensure a just transition for all communities and workers to ensure economic security for people and communities that have historically relied on fossil fuel industries
  • Ensure justice and equity for frontline communities by prioritizing investment, training, climate and community resiliency, economic and environmental benefits in these communities.
  • Build on FDR’s second bill of rights by guaranteeing:
    • A job with a family-sustaining wage, family and medical leave, vacations, and retirement security
    • High-quality education, including higher education and trade schools
    • Clean air and water and access to nature
    • Healthy food
    • High-quality health care
    • Safe, affordable, adequate housing
    • Economic environment free of monopolies
    • Economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work

Few details have emerged regarding what specific policies or programs would be implemented to achieve the GND’s goals. Republicans have criticized the GND as being extremely expensive and promoting a radical shift in the economy. Because there is a lack of information about how the GND would be implemented, estimating the total cost is very difficult. Some of the more frequently cited estimates range between $50 trillion and $100 trillion, but there are many policy variables that would impact the overall cost.

The GND resolution has garnered the support of 91 Democrats in the House of Representatives and 12 Democrats (including one independent) in the Senate. Among those supporting the GND are most of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. One major exception, to date, is Joe Biden, who has not taken a formal position on the GND and has indicated his desire to find a “middle ground” on climate policy.

Because the GND was introduced as a joint resolution, Congressional approval would be more symbolic than programmatic. Passing such a resolution would not establish any new programs or regulations. However, passage would signal that there is strong enough support in Congress to enact specific legislation to support programs that will advance the GND agenda. Of course, anything passed by Congress would be subject to a potential veto by President Trump.

Since the introduction of the GND resolution, both parties have been trying to get the political upper hand. Democrats are hoping to use the GND to highlight need to take action on climate change, while Republicans are pointing to the cost and government overreach possible with the proposal.

possible with the proposal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pushed for a vote on the GND resolution in the Senate to force Democrats to take a hard position on the proposal. The procedural vote was defeated by a margin of 57-0. Three Democrats and one independent joined all of the Republicans in voting against the resolution. The remaining Democrats voted “present” to avoid being on the record supporting the resolution without having to formally oppose it.

It appears that no further Congressional action on the GND is likely in the short term, but GND advocates are keeping climate change at the center of policy debates. In addition, several Democratic presidential candidates have released their own proposals that provide outline details for how they would address climate change. While reducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) is not specifically mentioned in the GND, such reductions are spelled out by name in recent proposals released by former Washington Governor Jay Inslee and former Representative Beto O’Rourke.

Given the current division of power in Congress, and with President Trump in the White House, it is unlikely that the GND or any other major climate policy changes will make it into law in the near future. However, climate change will remain a high profile issue and play an important role in shaping the 2020 elections and beyond.