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Democrats unveil Green New Deal that would push government to make radical changes

The resolution would force lawmakers to take a position on the deal, and its goals of remaking the U.S. economy within a decade

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez listens as Sen. Ed Markey speaks as Democrats announce their Green New Deal resolution outside of the Capitol on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez listens as Sen. Ed Markey speaks as Democrats announce their Green New Deal resolution outside of the Capitol on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A resolution outlining the goals of an ambitious progressive plan to overhaul the U.S. economy across all sectors, from finance to energy to social services, was rolled out Thursday with the aim of driving future legislation.

The Green New Deal resolution sponsored in the House by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and in the Senate by Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey cites urgent warnings in two recent major climate reports to compel the federal government to act urgently on the radical changes they say would make the U.S. resilient and sustainable across all sectors.

In an October report, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that unless urgent and drastic action is taken, global temperatures could rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) between 2030 and 2052, which could have catastrophic repercussions for the economy, the environment, humans and wildlife.

That report was followed in November by the multi-agency Fourth National Climate Assessment report that issued similarly urgent warnings about the potential for damage across all sectors of the U.S. economy because of incidents exacerbated by climate change.

Also watch: Ocasio-Cortez decries shutdown as ‘erosion of American democracy’ in first floor speech

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The resolution would force lawmakers in the House and the Senate to take a position on the Green New Deal and its ambitious goals of significantly remaking the U.S. economy within a decade of when the plan starts. It calls for a move to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions “through a fair and just transition” for all communities and workers; to invest in sustainable infrastructure and industry; to ensure everyone has access to clean air and water and healthy food; to ensure communities are resilient to the impacts of climate change; and to guarantee jobs with family-sustaining wages.

It would also direct the government to take steps to stop and prevent the oppression of, and promote justice and equity for, the so-called frontline and vulnerable communities, including indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, the poor, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

To get to those goals, the government would have to embark on a “Green New Deal mobilization,” a 10-year project that involves significant overhauls of the country’s infrastructure, transitioning to 100 percent renewable and zero-emission energy, and changes in sectors of the economy, from transportation to farming.

Estimates on what it would cost to implement the ideas of the Green New Deal vary widely, but those who have dared a guess say it would be at least in the trillions of dollars. A Stanford University study estimates that it would require an upfront capital investment of $13.4 trillion to transition to a 100 percent renewable energy system of wind, water and solar by 2050.

The Green New Deal is not a new concept, although it was recently popularized by Ocasio-Cortez, the outspoken progressive lawmaker, who together with other newly elected progressive Democrats has helped galvanize young environmental activists around the country. Groups like Sunrise Movement and have coaxed more lawmakers to support the plan and are demanding the same commitment from 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. Some candidates in the 2020 presidential race, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee have declared their support for the plan.

The Green New Deal evokes President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1930s “New Deal” stimulus package aimed at kick-starting the economy and creating jobs during the Great Depression. But Ocasio-Cortez and other backers of the agenda say that while the government’s reforms during that period created the greatest middle class in the U.S, they excluded low-income, poor and racial minority communities, and they want to correct that.

The resolution says it would usher in “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era,” and that it presents an opportunity to create “millions” of good, high-wage jobs, counter systemic injustice and create prosperity and economic security for everyone in the country.

The ambitious and unambiguously progressive goals would require years of work across several congressional committees before any legislation is completed. More importantly, they stand very little chance of becoming law while Republicans, who assert that the agenda is radically counter to mainstream economic thinking in the U.S., remain in control of the Senate. Nor does the agenda have unanimous support among Democrats, especially those representing fossil-fuel-dependent regions.

“It would be very expensive for all families, it will drive up energy costs terribly high and it’s just not practical,” GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said even before the resolution was released.

And on the first day of climate change hearings in two House panels on Wednesday, Republicans shot down the idea.

“We should be open to the fact that wealth transfer schemes suggested in the radical policies like the Green New Deal may not be the best path to community prosperity and preparedness,” House Energy and Commerce’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee ranking member John Shimkus of Illinois said at a hearing.

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