Though never adopted, the ‘Green New Deal’ left its mark
A new version was introduced this week, but the original's influence can be seen in Biden climate agenda
When they first introduced their Green New Deal resolutions as a nonbinding legislative blueprint to tackle climate change and economic inequality two years ago, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey faced a chorus of opposition from Republicans who framed it as a socialist manifesto.
Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Markey, D-Mass., filed new versions of the resolution this week, and while the political landscape in Washington has changed dramatically since their first effort, the attention-grabbing knack of the Green New Deal persists, and its influence can be seen in the aggressive climate agenda set by President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers who now control both chambers of Congress.
Biden and his administration have not embraced the Green New Deal label for their $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan, but his campaign called the resolution a “crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” and the White House’s climate agenda shares common themes with some of its languages, phrases and objectives.
In their proposals, both camps invoke the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who championed government work programs during the Great Depression.
In name alone, the resolution is an homage to Roosevelt, and Biden has fashioned the early days of his presidency in a style that harkens to FDR. He called during his first week in office for a Civilian Climate Corps to employ people in environmental cleanup and conservation projects.
Markey and Ocasio-Cortez introduced legislation this week to establish a Civilian Climate Corps.
The resolution’s reintroduction comes before Biden is scheduled to host a two-day international climate summit, with heads of state appearing and speaking virtually. The president is expected to announce national climate goals and detail how the U.S. will reach those targets.
Those goals are likely to include slashing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, a threshold in line with what climate experts say is necessary to stave off the worst climate effects.
The more moderate climate agenda that the White House and some Democratic leaders embrace is hardly as aggressive as the Green New Deal resolutions of either the previous or current Congress.
But the term that has invigorated the left and maddened the right has left a marker on environmental politics, sharply on display in Republicans’ response to Biden’s infrastructure plan, which GOP members say pays too much attention to and spends too much money on low-carbon technology like electric vehicles and too little on old-fashioned public works projects like roads, bridges and tunnels.
“To call this an infrastructure proposal is really an insult to the English language,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said Tuesday. “This proposal is simply the Green New Deal in disguise. They need to disguise it because actual infrastructure improvement is popular and the Green New Deal is not.”
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., used a similar line Wednesday, accusing Biden of “using the guise of infrastructure” to push the Green New Deal, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called environmental provisions of the plan the “far left’s green fads.”
Sixty-eight percent of Democratic-leaning voters are concerned “a great deal” about climate change, versus just 14 percent of Republican-leaning voters, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.
“This is the moment that requires us to act big, think big, have a program that matches the magnitude of the problem that we’re confronted with,” Markey told reporters as he announced the reintroduction of the resolution. “We want to lift the gaze to the constellation of possibilities for our country.”
Ocasio-Cortez and Markey said the Biden administration has listened to their climate goals.
Ocasio-Cortez, who served on a climate advisory group for the Biden campaign, said the administration has “shown an adaptiveness” on climate. “The amount that we have negotiated that has already been incorporated in the Biden administration’s approach so far is commendable, and we have to go bigger and bolder,” she said.
Yet, like the authors of the Green New Deal, Biden administration officials frequently call climate change an existential threat, and the White House’s infrastructure plan and $1.53 trillion fiscal 2022 budget outline are shot through with climate proposals and themes.
On a call to preview the climate talks Thursday and Friday, Biden administration officials, who declined to speak on the record, said the White House was pursuing a whole-of-government approach to knock down emissions.
While both the Biden administration and sponsors of the Green New Deal have made climate an early focus of the 117th Congress, they diverge on cost and technological options to decarbonize.
Nuclear, carbon capture
The resolution does not mention nuclear power or carbon capture technology, a nascent mechanical technique of trapping emissions before they enter the atmosphere. Those approaches have broad support from Republicans, including Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The Biden administration has spoken favorably of nuclear power and carbon capture, including them in his call for $15 billion from Congress to fund climate research “priorities.”
And while Green New Deal proponents have called for a minimum of $10 trillion in federal spending over the next decade to confront climate change, the Biden administration has not endorsed that amount of spending.
As they did two years ago, Republicans in Congress criticized the resolution after its reintroduction on Tuesday, with Barrasso calling it a “disaster” and other GOP members saying its provisions, if enacted, would raise emissions by pushing manufacturing overseas.
Unlike two years ago, Democrats are responding to those challenges with well-rehearsed rebuttals that frame clean energy and climate action as engines for job creation that the U.S. must adopt to compete with China and other foreign powers in the global economy.
Speaking Monday to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Md., Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said ramping up domestic renewable energy is critical to challenging China on the global stage.
“It’s difficult to imagine the United States winning the long-term strategic competition with China if we cannot lead the renewable energy revolution,” Blinken said, according to a copy of his remarks. “Right now, we’re falling behind. China is the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles. It holds nearly a third of the world’s renewable energy patents.”
“If we don’t catch up, America will miss the chance to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people.”