The Right Green New Deal
The Green New Deal as proposed makes the right diagnosis, but the wrong prescription for government action on renewable energy.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey’s Green New Deal has sparked an important and overdue debate about America’s energy future. The core message of the controversial bill is correct: America needs an all-hands-on-deck effort to combat climate change. The last five years have been the five hottest years in recorded history. The consequences of climate change — from unprecedented wildfires in California to the recent flooding in the Midwest — are threats to Americans’ security and well-being. The government needs to act. The Green New Deal as proposed makes the right diagnosis, but the wrong prescription.
Unfortunately, the Green New Deal doesn’t lay out a clear or realistic transition to renewable energy; it’s a grab-bag of wide-ranging economic and social policy proposals. The bill puts forward changes to the law to reduce poverty, provide universal health care, break up monopolies and provide a job for every American. These may be worthy goals, but their exorbitant costs make it less likely that the bill will see the light of day. A better Green New Deal would be laser-focused on transitioning the country to 100% sustainable energy as quickly as possible. A serious bill would start by setting and meeting three ambitious but achievable goals.
First, Congress should require state regulators to move energy utilities toward a nationwide balance of 50% renewable energy by 2040. California has already shown us how to get there. The state set goals to have utilities to get 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2010 and 33% from renewables by 2020. It met both goals ahead of schedule. California is now on track to reach 50% sustainable energy by 2030.
The United States can generate 100% renewable energy, but it needs a clear and realistic nationwide goal tied to a legislative mandate. Hitting 100% renewable energy in 10 years, as the Green New Deal proposes, is not realistic. A more realistic, but still ambitious goal would be to require utilities across the country to get 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2040. The next Congress should set it as a nationwide mandate.
Second, Congress should set a goal of banning the sales of internal combustion vehicles by 2040. This sounds like a bold proclamation, but 11 countries — including England, France, Israel, India, and Taiwan — have already done it. China is likely to do the same within two years. The good news is that electric vehicles (EV’s) will soon be priced on par with gas-powered cars, and every automaker in the world is tooling up to go electric.
Offering a $2,500 refundable federal tax credit to buy an EV is a smart transition strategy. Those incentives could phase out as the cost of lithium ion batteries goes down. The United States and China are fighting for leadership in global EV production. We should be leaning forward, not backward, when it comes to producing emission-free vehicles.
Third, Congress should set a target of increasing building energy efficiency substantially by 2030. Buildings use 40% of the nation’s energy. Setting higher standards for energy efficient buildings creates green jobs and saves energy. And while a substantial increase in efficiency is ambitious, it is realistic: Already in 2018, over 40% of buildings in the top 30 United States markets met silver, gold or platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
Still, we can do more. European countries like Norway have developed “powerhouse” buildings that are “energy positive,” which means they generate more energy than they use. We should follow Europe’s lead and use a series of carrots and sticks to make sure that 70% of our buildings meet gold or platinum LEED energy efficiency standards by 2030.
A Green New Deal is essential for the planet, and it’s a winning campaign message. Adding a massive restructuring of the American economy and health-care system is admirable goal, but dooms any major movement on environmental issues to failure. We need a clear plan with aggressive milestones to get there, using the template that California and Western European countries have shown us. If you care about passing a Green New Deal, keep it 100% green!
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.