If the Senate does hold a procedural vote on the Green New Deal (GND) this week, it is likely that it will fail. That’s because the Republican majority cannot stick their tongues out at them that brought ’em here: the fossil fuel industry. The call for the GND vote is less a move toward US clean energy than it is a mechanism to put Democrats on the defensive — if specific Democrats don’t vote for the GND, activists like the Sunrisers or 350.org may turn on them. That will cause exactly the dissension within the Democratic party that the Republicans crave.
Can’t you see the Republican Senate leaders gathered behind closed doors, smacking their lips in anticipation of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other prominent Democrats alienating the left and youth base of their own parties by refusing to offer a “Yay” vote?
The resolution for a GND, proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), has been widely criticized by Republicans as too ambitious and expensive. It calls for a complete transition to renewable energy by 2030 and to fully eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
“The proposal we are talking about is, frankly, delusional,” McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this month. “It is so unserious that it ought to be beneath one of our two major political parties to line up behind it.”
Some of the “unserious” GND Senate cosponsors include Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris (CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Cory Booker (NY), and Amy Klobuchar (MN).
But all is not lost if the GND is dismissed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his dark shadows, President Trump and the Koch brothers.
Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, and Washington state are all considering legislation this year to decarbonize their power sectors. These states offer a potentially important blueprint for national climate action, pointing out the path for other states to follow toward dramatic increases in renewable energy generation.
A Litany of States and Cities with Commitments to Clean Energy
At the state and local level, where intersectional coalitions of labor, environmental, and racial justice groups are winning followers for climate, jobs, and equity policies, the practical application of a GND doesn’t seem so far fetched. More than 100 cities nationwide that have already committed to 100% clean, renewable energy, and the Sierra Club offers a few of the many examples of state and city initiatives that offer models and momentum for a nationwide GND.
Illinois: Illinois’ general assembly is weighing a bill that sets an aggressive target of decarbonizing the state’s energy by 2030 and running the state completely on renewable energy by 2050. That includes deploying more than 40 million solar panels and 2,500 wind turbines alongside $20 billion in new infrastructure over the next decade. The bill also calls for cutting emissions from transportation and for vastly expanding the clean energy workforce, another area of significant GND critique. For example, the Washington Post has argued that “they should not muddle this aspiration with other social policy, such as creating a federal jobs guarantee, no matter how desirable that policy might be.”
Supporters of the Illinois bill are arguing that addressing equity and social justice are required to build a coalition to back tough climate targets. And, they say, injustice is an inherent consequence of climate change: the most vulnerable people in society, those who have contributed the least to the problem, stand to suffer the most.
“In the wake of federal reversals on climate action, the State of Illinois should pursue immediate action on policies that will ensure a just and responsible phase out of fossil fuels from the power sector to reduce harmful emissions from Illinois power plants, support power plant communities and workers, and allow the clean energy economy to continue growing in every corner of Illinois,”
— Clean Energy Jobs Act (SB 2132/ HB 3624).
California: In addition to committing to 100% clean energy by 2045, California’s “Buy Clean California Act” requires state agencies to consider the embedded carbon emissions of industrial products like steel and glass when contracting for state-funded infrastructure projects. The legislation, which has strong support from business and industry leaders, labor unions, and environmental organizations, further cements California’s leadership in reducing the emissions that cause climate change.
Action on Buy Clean began this year, and it requires contractors who bid on state infrastructure projects to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions data for certain materials they use in these facilities, such as steel and glass.
“Buy Clean is a critical step toward closing a major climate loophole in and accelerating the global transition to a low-carbon economy. As the world’s sixth largest economy, Buy Clean California sends a powerful message to businesses around the world that the greener your products are, the wider its doors open for business.”
— Dan Hamza-Goodacre, industrial program director at the ClimateWorks Foundation
New Mexico: The New Mexico legislature has passed the Energy Transition Act (SB 489), a bill that will make electricity generation 100% carbon-free by 2045 from the state’s investor-owned utilities. The bill, first introduced in February, passed the state Senate in March, 2019.
According to the Sierra Club, this legislation will:
- Require all electricity supplied by investor-owned utilities in NM to be 100% carbon-free by 2045, and all rural cooperative utilities by 2050
- Increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to require that 80 percent of New Mexico’s electricity is generated from renewable energy by 2040
- Help protect public health and reduce New Mexicans’ energy bills by transitioning away from expensive coal-powered electricity
- Provide $40 million in economic support for the Four Corners region, including severance and job-training opportunities for coal plant and mine workers
- Direct up to 450 MW of replacement power to be built in San Juan County, an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars that will replace the lost property-tax base for the community after San Juan Generating Station closes
Pittsburgh: The Clean Rivers Campaign wants to ensure that the federally-mandated solution to Pittsburgh’s sewer problem will bring maximum benefits to their community. This fix will be the largest local public works project in the last 100 years and will create jobs and green infrastructure improvements such as permeable streets, rain gardens, trees, and parks. Through education, advocacy, and civic engagement, the campaign will champion large-scale green infrastructure strategies and promote smart public policies, especially that benefit the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, where the brunt of drastic flooding is most evident.
They are one of many local coalitions across the country calling for, and often securing, public investments in green spaces to absorb rainwater, replacement of lead pipes, and other infrastructure upgrades to increase climate resilience and ensure clean water. Here’s a sample project:
Stormwater planters are specialized vegetated planter boxes installed along sidewalks that are designed to manage runoff. Water enters the planter through a curb cut or other inlet at street level, and excess volume beyond the capacity of the planter is directed to an overflow pipe to prevent flooding.
District of Columbia: The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018 requires DC to transition to 100% clean, renewable electricity sources by 2032. Mayor Bowser signed the Act in January, 2019, codifying the District as a national leader in clean energy and climate action by setting a mandate of 100% renewable electricity by the year 2032. The legislation includes 57 action items for how the District will reach this ambitious target.
Additionally, the bill provides a roadmap to achieving the following goals:
- Mandating 100% of the electricity sold in the District come from renewable sources.
- Doubling the required amount of solar energy deployed in the District.
- Making significant improvements to the energy efficiency of existing buildings in the District.
- Providing energy bill assistance to support low- and moderate-income residents.Requiring all public transportation and privately owned fleet vehicles to become emissions-free by the year 2045.
- Funding the DC Green Bank to attract private investment in clean energy projects.
“By signing the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 into law, we solidify Washington, DC’s place as the national leader in the fight against climate change and proudly communicate to the world that ‘we are still in,’” said Mayor Bowser. “If we are going to make progress on addressing climate change and global warming in our country, it’s going to be cities and states leading the way. With this groundbreaking clean energy law, we have created a model for jurisdictions across the nation to follow.”
It also sets stronger, job-creating building performance standards to reduce energy use and make buildings more energy efficient and requires buses and large private vehicle fleets to transition away from dirty fuel and toward electric vehicles.
Atlanta: After committing to 100% clean, renewable energy across the entire city by 2035, the City of Atlanta created a 100% Clean Energy Plan detailing how the city would reach its goal. The plan calls for improving energy efficiency and sourcing clean, renewable energy locally. It also estimates that 8,000 new jobs will be added to the local economy through 2035, and energy costs for all Atlantans will go down in the transition to 100% renewable power.
“Cities must – and can – lead the way in accelerating this critical transition to clean and renewable energy sources. As home to half the world’s population and accounting for 80% of global gross domestic product, cities are where the future is happening now. We not only have the capacity to act; it is morally incumbent that we do so. Low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by the adverse impacts of extreme weather. Our most vulnerable citizens, such as the youth and elderly populations, are the hardest hit by the public health consequences of toxic dumping, untreated brownfields, and air pollution. Climate action is not only about protecting our environment and our economy, it’s about justice and quality of life for our communities.”
— Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
Yes, there will be lots of hand wringing and wailing if the GND resolution doesn’t have the backing it requires to move into a pragmatic legislative planning stage. However, the framework of a carbon-free electric sector is already taking shape outside the nation’s capital. As long as cities and towns are moving independently toward solving the climate crisis on a local level, we have a start.
Washington state Rep. Gael Tarleton (D) has heard the definition of clean energy debated at length. “If we can figure out a way to clean up our grid, then it will give us the confidence to tackle the carbon pollution in transportation,” Tarleton said. “We need a victory to show people we can make conscious choices to change the way we live our lives.”
Unless otherwise noted, images via Pixabay.