Experts say Green New Deal’s path forward lies in infrastructure legislation
Experts on issues ranging from climate change and government to labor weighed in on Thursday in response to a resolution charting the path forward for a Green New Deal. Many expressed optimism and emphasized the resolution’s importance, even as they caveated the extreme measures any ultimate legislation would require in order to be successful.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) unveiled the much-hyped resolution on Feb. 7. The document is meant to serve as a blueprint for eventual legislative action prompting a dramatic decarbonization of the U.S. economy along with mass job creation and other progressive initiatives like health care expansion within a decade.
The path forward will likely be through a wide-ranging series of bills and projects, all aimed at tackling what would likely be the biggest national effort in almost a century. And while no one piece of legislation might address all components of a Green New Deal, some experts are pointing to an infrastructure bill as one bipartisan mechanism through which the resolution could be implemented.
“We have heard some discussion across both parties about the idea of a big infrastructure bill,” said Ellie Johnston, the lead on climate and energy issues for Climate Interactive.
A number of advocacy groups have rushed to endorse the resolution, already backed by the youth-led nonprofit Sunrise Movement, which first escalated Green New Deal conversations to the national level. Climate experts have also hailed it as a long overdue necessity.
“As someone who has worked on climate change for over a decade, it’s about time,” said Johnston.
While the resolution is vague on specifics, it is, in the words of Markey, “a set of principles, not prescriptions,” and meant to set the broader vision for what Green New Deal projects would entail. Johnston told ThinkProgress that the lack of details doesn’t pose an outsized problem for those invested in climate action and that there are already a number of legislative ways in which the deal could become reality.
Calling for a “10-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society” in order to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, the Green New Deal resolution mandates decarbonizing the economy through an influx of jobs aimed at an energy transition.
Johnston said one way to begin that process could begin with addressing the country’s crumbling infrastructure, long in need of repair, and that “a Green New Deal could put people to work.”
The resolution itself calls for the country “to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century,” offering an opening for a massive infrastructure effort to take place.
The topic has notably been floated often by President Donald Trump, so much so that “infrastructure week” became a punchline during his first two years in office.
Bold action on infrastructure would likely include addressing the electrical grid, something that would be crucial for the Green New Deal resolution to carry any weight. The process would be staggering, but it would also do what the resolution mandates: employ hundreds of thousands of workers in an economic burst aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.
“If done well, it can be a huge driver of job creation and boosting our economy, driving investment,” Johnston said.
Labor groups have also expressed interest in the idea of an infrastructure plan to help the environment while creating new jobs. “We can, and must, have both,” said Mike Williams of the BlueGreen Alliance (BGA), speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Feb. 6.
BGA is a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations and did not return a request for comment on the Green New Deal to ThinkProgress on Thursday. But a two-page guide from the organization on infrastructure and protecting the environment shows support for job creation and emissions reduction through sweeping infrastructure legislation.
Scientists also expressed initial support for the resolution. In a statement Thursday morning, Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he was “excited and heartened” by the effort and expressed no worries about its feasibility.
“The resolution’s focus on a rapid, massive near-term investment in equitable climate solutions is exactly what’s needed to accelerate the clean energy momentum already underway nationwide,” Kimmell said.
Some experts have nonetheless expressed skepticism, especially with regards to funding. Elizabeth Sanders, a Cornell University professor who focuses on political development, pointed to components that could cause problems for proponents.
Of particular concern is funding, with billionaire Democratic donors likely to balk at raised taxes. But Sanders argued that funding the Green New Deal’s “expensive new health, education, and infrastructure projects” will require significantly more funding regardless of whether wealthy Americans get on board.
Some of the costs involved with the project would likely include building a better grid and upgrading current buildings to be more energy efficient, to say nothing of funding the mass expansion of public transportation run on clean energy. Projections have indicated the Green New Deal could cost around $2 trillion, potentially more.
“Logical places to look for additional funds would be in the Defense Budget, which is huge,” said Sanders in a statement, while caveating that military cuts would likely be a hard sell for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Ultimately, she said, the Green New Deal’s agenda to create “a working class-middle class coalition based on real economic and environmental benefits” depends largely on “bold fundraising initiatives” and a significant amount of risk-taking by proponents.
Funding is far from the only hurdle facing the Green New Deal. No legislation is likely to pass in the next two years, with the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House all but guaranteed to shoot down any measure produced in the Democrat-held House. But lawmakers pledged on Thursday to work across committees in order to enact the effort.
House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are both co-sponsors of the resolution and indicated they will work hard to move legislation forward. DeFazio said a transportation bill centering electrification is currently in the works. Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), a skeptic of Green New Deal efforts, also said Thursday that he agreed with the resolution’s general goals and would consider it.
Johnston, of Climate Interactive, underscored that there is no time to lose and praised the “win-win positive impacts” presented by the resolution.
“The devil is in the details,” she said. “But [I like] the ambition that I see outlined.”