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Is Elizabeth Warren The US Democratic Candidate To Lead On Clean Energy?

Want to know exactly what Elizabeth Warren has in mind for the transition to clean energy? Read on…

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The field of Democratic candidates for US President has been pared down to 7 ambitious individuals: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang. In their public remarks, some of these candidates refer to climate change briefly and fleetingly; others focus on the need for a sustainable tomorrow as a rallying cry. Of all the candidates, is Elizabeth Warren the most pragmatic about the actual steps needed to tackle the most urgent threat in our lifetime?

She says she is, and she has released a new plan to rebuild the US economy with 100% clean energy and to create 10.6 million good union jobs in the process. She states that “defeating the climate crisis will be a top priority of my administration.”

What’s her plan all about? And does she have what it takes to move the plan to reality?

Tipping points in the Earth system, such as the loss of the Amazon rainforest or the West Antarctic ice sheet, are about to have high and interconnected impacts across different biophysical systems, potentially committing the world to long-term irreversible changes. Those were the findings in a November, 2019 Nature report, and Warren refers to this report in her plan as she makes the case for the rapidly escalating pace of the climate crisis. She affirms that we have roughly a decade left to avoid catastrophic impacts by ending our economic dependence on fossil fuels and substantially reducing global emissions.

In a rhetorical and policy twist, however, Warren describes climate change as an urgent threat that “also presents the greatest opportunity of our time: the chance to rebuild our economy with 100% clean energy, to address the racial and economic inequality embedded in our fossil fuel economy, and to create millions of good, union jobs in the process.”

And she targets the Green New Deal as “the answer to this national call.”

To build the case for the Green New Deal, she calls up historic US policy moves — some of which occurred before many of us were born– when “our country has faced a threat of this magnitude,” and the US overcame the odds.

  • She refers to FDR’s “historic air force” to defeat the Nazis.
  • She honors JFK’s momentous decision to go to the moon.
  • She focuses on Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) that brought an “end to the Great Recession.” Importantly, she reminds us that included in the ARRA was a total federal investment of $90 billion for clean energy, “with every $1 invested in clean energy leveraging an additional $1.60 in non-federal and private dollars.”

The Green New Deal that Warren envisions would result in an estimated total public and private investment of $10.7 trillion in a new clean energy economy, which she argues will reduce US carbon emissions and also jumpstart the US economy.

Elizabeth Warren’s Plan for Union Jobs

Turning clean energy job opportunities into 10.6 million new union jobs will rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and transition the US to a new clean energy economy, Warren says. What does she say is necessary to make that vision a reality?

  • Support for the millions of skilled and experienced contractors that will be needed to plan and execute large construction and engineering projects
  • Support for the first responders, healthcare workers, social workers, and other public and private employees who respond to climate-induced disasters
  • Commitments to investments in retraining, joint labor management apprenticeships, and creating strong career pipelines;
  • A continuous supply of skilled, available workers
  • Partnering with high schools and vocational schools to build pathways to middle class for kids who opt not to go to college

For example, Warren’s plan to Defend and Create American Jobs increases investments in apprenticeships 10 times over current levels, which amounts to a $20 billion commitment over the next 10 years. Partially, this would emerge from Governor Jay Inslee’s lead by re-establishing dedicated programs for green industrial and construction job training and placement under the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act.

Get the Unions on Board, Stupid

How would Warren get such an ambitious jobs program on the ground and actionable?

Partnering with unions to rebuild the middle class is an integral part of Warren’s plan to provide good wages and strong benefits for workers who join the new clean economy. She outlines that:

“A Warren administration will condition federal clean energy investments to state, local, and tribal governments on employers offering family-supporting wages and benefits — and will enforce this through Project Labor Agreements, prevailing wage laws, and Community Benefit Agreements. And I will work hand-in-hand with unions to return power to the working people powering the green economy. Unions built the middle class and unions will rebuild the middle class in the green economy of the future, too.”

Such changes would extend labor rights to all workers, so that building clean energy grids would include guarantees that workers entering this new economy have a voice in shaping it. That means strengthening organizing and collective bargaining rights and increasing worker choice and control, including by “requiring large companies to allow workers to elect no less than 40% of board members.” Warren says she would work with unions to design the training and apprenticeship programs so that a continuous supply of skilled workers would power this transformation.

Part of this restructuring of the US energy job force would include respecting current commitments to fossil fuel workers by “holding fossil fuel companies accountable and defending worker pensions, benefits, and securing retirements.” Such restructuring would also serve to include formerly underrepresented groups in the energy industry — especially women and communities of color — by imposing new rules on companies that hope to receive federal contracts. She pledges to strengthen anti-discrimination protections for workers from all backgrounds.

A Carbon-Neutral US by 2030 is Achievable, Says Warren

Warren’s plan calls for the federal government to set a bold standard for achieving 100% carbon-neutral power by 2030, including carbon-free baseload solutions with the pathway to a 100% emissions-free electricity supply by 2035.

These ambitious targets require the US, she states, “to ramp up renewable energy generation and deployment dramatically.” Such targets would need:

  • Cleaning up our energy system will create a diverse range of jobs — from construction worker to electrician to project manager
  • Making homes, offices, and industries more energy efficient
  • Jumpstarting US research and manufacturing in areas like battery storage, which will require a whole new set of skills and laborers
  • Investing in modernizing the grid with US-made materials, spurring still more US jobs

The plan moves into the granular level by identifying particular approaches to repowering the energy sector.

Offshore Wind Projects: Warren uses Rhode Island’s Block Island Wind Farm as an example of what can be achieved through a clean, powerful energy resource that lies just off US coasts. Her Blue New Deal For Our Oceans plan would bring offshore wind projects to life and employ workers from more than 70 different occupations — from machinists to engineers, sailors to ironworkers, electricians to longshoremen.

Transportation Infrastructure: Since transportation accounts for the largest portion of US carbon pollution, Warren sees rebuilding the crumbling US transportation infrastructure as essential. Such transportation infrastructure updates would build in climate resiliency by recreating a transportation system powered by electricity rather than fossil fuels.

Public Transportation: Gaps in public transportation, too, are part of Warren’s plan. She’s proposing a new Build Green program, which would establish a grant program to electrify public buses, school buses, rail, cars, and fleet vehicles that is modeled after the Department of Transportation’s BUILD grant program. This program would be financed through closing corporate loopholes and would open up new funding opportunities for states, cities, counties and tribal governments to expand and electrify public transportation options — crucial to ensuring equitable and accessible transportation for all.

100% Clean Vehicles: To spur auto manufacturing into electric vehicles (EVs), Warren will require all new light- and medium-duty vehicles sold by 2030 to be zero emission vehicles. Her plan calls for investing in a nationwide network of EV charging infrastructure with a charging station at every US highway rest stop as well as establishing the groundwork for electrifying long-haul trucking.

Warren argues that investment in clean energy technology, including products designed for use in the EV supply chain, would further increase adoption of EVs by making it easier for auto manufacturers to build the vehicles that consumers want. Under her plan, the Department of Transportation would set performance management rules that require federal transportation investments to be accompanied by life-cycle analysis and reduction strategies for climate and other transportation related pollution.

Investment in US Infrastructure

Warren targets several areas of the US infrastructure as part of her plan to tackle the climate crisis. America’s water infrastructure is “crumbling,” she argues, and she outlines that the US government’s failure to invest is putting Americans in danger in 2 major areas:

  • Levees, dams, and inland waterways infrastructure are all at risk — and will only become more stressed by climate change as sea-level rise, extreme flooding, and drought all become more frequent and severe.
  • Drinking water is increasingly at risk: as the infrastructure supporting it crumbles, an estimated 77 million Americans live with tap water that violates federal safe water standards — and this number does not even include the millions more served by very small water systems or private domestic wells.

Fixing the US water infrastructure, she says, is a chance to create about 190,000 union jobs.

Dams, Levees, and Inland Waterways: Dams, levees, and inland waterways provide the necessary infrastructure for shipping and hydroelectric power, and they have been “so underfunded that they are putting our communities at risk.” Warren would triple the US Army Corps of Engineers’ annual budget so that they have resources to upgrade water infrastructure and defend vulnerable communities from harm. To pay for this, she’ll transition the military away from its dependence on fossil fuels and build in other internal Department of Defense funding shifts.

Safe Drinking Water: Today, an estimated 77 million Americans have tap water that violates federal standards, and at least 2 million in the US still don’t have access to running water. Warren argues that “a long legacy of unfair, racist, and deliberate policy choices” have disproportionately affected safe, affordable drinking water for communities of color. Warren would support the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, and Affordable Safe Drinking Water Act. The latter would extend the horizon for states and localities to repay revolving loans and expand the funding to cover the installation of lead and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) filtering systems and remediation measures.

Brownfield Remediation: Brownfield remediation, too, is necessary, so Warren would reinstate and then triple the Superfund Tax to ensure that communities from the legacy of environmental harm would be protected. She will take executive action to develop a national inter-agency safe and affordable drinking water roadmap and convene a Water Equity Advisory Council with representation from key environmental justice and community-based organizations that are on the frontlines of addressing the safe water crisis.

Housing — Energy Efficient & Affordable

Warren intends to work with states and local governments to develop and implement new and stronger building codes to reach zero-carbon emissions. She would build those new standards into federal grant requirements, tax credits, and mortgage products, with the goal of upgrading 4% of buildings a year until goals for housing infrastructure sustainability are completed.

Warren’s Affordable Housing Plan would invest $500 billion over 10 years to address the housing crisis and would create 3 million new housing units. As a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, she would raise living standards and provide the financial assistance necessary to retrofit these homes.

Warren would also commit at least an additional $50 billion to improving school infrastructure, which would require a workforce across the country to identify the schools most in need and carry out the necessary upgrades to provide children “with the learning environment they deserve. There’s nothing more important to me than investing in our kids because it means we’re investing in our future,” Warren says. She states that “green infrastructure means inclusive infrastructure,” and the US must recognize that the national building infrastructure crisis is an environmental justice crisis.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear to Elizabeth Warren that defeating the climate crisis and transitioning the US economy to run on 100% clean energy will take big, structural change. She’s proposing a plan that she claims would result in $10.7 trillion in federal and non- federal funding to fight for a Green New Deal.

Are you curious how she intends to use those dollars to address the size of this crisis? Then you’ll want to check out the next part in this series, in which we look at Warren’s financing tools to unlock state, local, and private investment and direct it towards meaningful investments to mitigate climate change, produce jobs, and reduce inequality.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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