What exactly is the ‘Green New Deal’?

By Hannah Northey | 11/16/2018 01:07 PM EST

In a Democratic clash on Capitol Hill, progressives are pushing an ambitious plan to wean the U.S. off fossil fuels, boost renewables and build a “smart” grid. Meet the “Green New Deal.”

President Franklin Roosevelt signs the TVA Act into law in 1933 as part of the New Deal.

President Franklin Roosevelt signs the TVA Act into law in 1933 as part of the New Deal. Tennessee Valley Authority

In a Democratic clash on Capitol Hill, progressives are pushing an ambitious plan to wean the U.S. off fossil fuels, boost renewables and build a "smart" grid.

Meet the "Green New Deal."

The proposal, drawing inspiration from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal, is one that progressives — led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a rising star on the left — want Democratic leaders to embrace.


The thinking is that a newly revived Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in the House would produce a draft of the plan by Jan., 1, 2020, and finalized legislation no later than March 1, 2020.

The scope of the plan, laid out on Cortez’s campaign website, is cast as a work in progress. House leaders would be able to review the results of investigations and studies, along with detailed findings and interim recommendations. And there’s time for collaboration.

Pushing the proposal is the youth-driven Sunrise Movement, a growing grassroots movement that’s taken over the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California this week and Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey today.

Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the group, told E&E News earlier this week that progressives are calling on Pelosi to start building consensus around the ideas. That way, Democrats can move quickly if they regain power in 2021 and beyond (Climatewire, Nov. 14).

And yet disagreement is brewing, even among those eager to tackle climate change policy. Also outstanding are specifics on what programs would be included in a Green New Deal and how Congress and the federal government would pay for the plan.

"Democrats are united in decarbonizing our economy and addressing climate change in stark contrast to Republicans. But House leaders have to be strategic in how they approach climate change," said Paul Bledsoe, an energy fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute who worked on climate change in the Clinton White House. "Impossible-to-reach targets will only disappoint."

Here’s a look at what the plan calls for — so far — within a decade of being enacted:

100 percent renewables

Ivanpah solar power facility. Photo credit: Phil Taylor/File/E&E News
The “Green New Deal” seeks 100 percent renewable energy. | Phil Taylor/File/E&E News

The plan calls for the United States to shift to all renewable energy within a decade.

Such a move has been at the heart of ongoing debates within the energy sector for years. Experts have clashed on whether such a move is possible and on the definition of "100 percent renewables" (Greenwire, April 20).

Some researchers have suggested that moving to all renewables isn’t the best way to address climbing temperatures (Climatewire, June 20, 2017).

Build a ‘smart’ grid

Electric grid. Photo credit: Muttoo/Flickr.
The “Green New Deal” calls for a “smart” grid. | Ian Muttoo/Flickr

The plan also calls for the creation of a national, energy-efficient "smart" grid.

Billions of dollars around the world has been invested in clean energy technologies, and grid experts for decades have been innovating ways to link them together, from solar arrays and wind turbines to electric cars.

Upgrade homes and businesses

Energy efficiency homes in Freiburg-Vauban, Germany. Photo credit: Arnold Plesse/Wikipedia
These energy efficient homes in Freiburg, Germany, create more energy than they import from external sources. | Arnold Plesse/Wikipedia

Boosting efficiency is also on the menu. The plan calls for "upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety."

That push could directly confront the Trump administration’s decision to leave energy efficiency on the back burner.

Multiple efficiency standards do not have set timelines for release, despite deadlines by Congress, and regulations for portable air conditioners, commercial packaged boilers and uninterruptible power supplies remain among the administration’s long-term goals (Greenwire, Oct. 17).

Decarbonize, decarbonize, decarbonize

New York City's New Flyer XE40 all-electric bus. Photo credit: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit
New York City’s New Flyer XE40 all-electric bus. | Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

Progressives are also calling for deep decarbonization across the nation.

The plan includes language that would reduce emissions from manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, as well as decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure.

The plan would also call for "funding massive investment" in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases, but the proposal hasn’t outlined the specifics of how to do that.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Cargo ship. Photo credit: Tom Driggers/Flickr
A cargo ship moves through the Port of Savannah, Ga. | Tom Driggers/Flickr

In addition to boosting clean energy and exports, the plan would also lay out a national jobs program.

Specifically, the plan calls for "training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a national "job guarantee program" to "assure every person who wants one, a living wage job."