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Brief #56 – Environmental Policy

Policy Summary
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced her plans for a Green New Deal in February. Senate Democrats responded with their own, highly abridged version of a Green New Deal proposal at the end of the month, signifying the divide between new progressives in the house and more center-leaning party veterans in the Senate on how, exactly, the party’s thrust for green legislation should be aimed.

Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution, which has come under fire by lawmakers and pundits on both sides of the aisle, goes far past envisioning a future with a smaller carbon footprint and includes calls to:

  • Create millions of high-wage jobs
  • Provide economic security for all citizens
  • Reverse anti-labor policies
  • Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
  • Invest public funds in resilient infrastructure
  • Secure healthy food, clean air and water, and access to natural spaces for all citizens
  • Actively promote justice programs for “frontline and vulnerable communities”
  • Meet 100 percent of US power demand through zero-emissions sources
  • Promote globalized exchange of technologies and products
  • Provide resources and higher education to minority groups
  • Invest public funds in research and development of new energy technologies
  • Ensure that all new jobs created are unionized
  • Offer universal healthcare and affordable housing to all citizens

The resolution unanimously offered by Senate Democrats, by contrast, seeks to:

  • Acknowledge the scientific consensus concerning role of human beings in affecting climate change over the last 100 years
  • Lay out a path for Congress to immediately address the role of humans in affecting climate change

Policy Analysis
The policy proposals offered up by the new and old guards of the Democratic Party could not be more different. One seeking to wholly overturn the current US economic and social system, the other seeking to promise to address, at least, that climate change exists in the near future. Such a stark contrast has led many outlets to float the idea that the party is bitterly divided. The different proposals, however, could well be a coordinated effort by the party to establish the base minimum and maximum starting points on climate policy negotiations, as they prepare to challenge Trump’s presidency in 2020.

In its current form, Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution would be sure to fail in the Senate, if not the Congress, as its primary objectives wander far from the domain of climate science. Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution is equally aimed at addressing grievances about the state of “frontline and vulnerable communities” as it is at addressing climate change. Hence, the “New Deal” in Green New Deal. The list of who, exactly, makes up frontline and vulnerable communities is long: “Indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.”

Such a list, so broad as to be nearly untenable as a category, is certainly one reason for the criticism being raised against the resolution. And it is likely that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez will continue to be accused of pandering to her constituents by padding the resolution with an openly diversity-driven agenda by her critics, as well as lauded for it by her supporters. Regardless of which side opinions fall on the matter, its ambiguity is likely to ensure its characterization as a fugue dream of the radical left.

The terse plan of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Tom Carper, on the other hand, which would only commit efforts to acknowledging the role of human activity in climate change and committing the nation to action on the issue would likely be an easy win. The resolution, which is still a work-in-progress, carries none of the baggage of including frontline and vulnerable communities, and does not bog the goals of clean energy down in what many might view as identity politics, and is likely to be seen as the choice of moderate realists.

If the opposing resolutions are an effort to plot out the boundaries of future climate talks, then the Democrats will certainly be aiming for a middle-of-the-road resolution before the 2020 elections. What form that resolution will take remains to be seen, but it is important to recognize that neither Ocasio-Cortez’ resolution, nor that of the Senate, include a single mention of how such a deal would protect workers currently in dirty industries such as coal, or offer re-training for them.

Engagement Resources

This brief was submitted by USRESIST environmental policy analyst Andrew Thornebrooke. Contact: contact@thornebrooke.com

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