IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Existential' threat to the planet: Ocasio-Cortez offers Green New Deal details

A Republican senator denounced the proposal for a full switch to renewable energy as a "socialist manifesto."
Image:  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez waits for a ceremonial swearing-in picture on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 3, 2019.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

The Green New Deal is now a green new plan, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., set to roll out a resolution calling for a complete transition to renewable energy by 2030.

The legislation is the first of its kind to emerge from a flurry of activism around a Green New Deal in the new Congress, a cause Ocasio-Cortez has championed since arriving in Washington. It seeks "to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers," according to a copy of the resolution posted by NPR.

"Climate change and our environmental challenges are one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life, not just as a nation, but as a world," Ocasio-Cortez said at a news conference introducing the resolution. "In order for us to combat that threat we must be as ambitious and innovative in our solution as possible."

Ocasio-Cortez may be a leading voice the push for the Green New Deal, but she won't be serving on a newly created House committee tasked with combating climate change. House Speaker Pelosi announced the nine Democratic members of the panel on Thursday.

"She did, in fact, invite me to be on the committee," Ocasio-Cortez said. "I don't think that this is a snub."

With Democrats gearing up for the 2020 presidential cycle, the Green New Deal resolution is likely to be a touchstone for debates among candidates, several of whom have spoken favorably about the concept. Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., are co-sponsors of the resolution, according to their staff, and more could sign on.

"We need commitments with teeth," Ocasio-Cortez said of 2020 candidates in an exclusive interview on MSNBC's "MTP Daily." "So I don't want to be placated as a progressive."

The measure is nonbinding, meaning it would not have the force of law if passed, and contains a broad set of principles and goals for responding to climate change rather than more specific legislative language on how the process would occur.

"What this is resolution is doing is saying this is our first step," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Our first step is to define the problem and define the scope of the solution."

To that end, it calls for a massive 10-year infrastructure plan that the resolution likens to spending during World War II. It does not address how it would be paid for and Ocasio-Cortez, who has promoted an economic theory that downplays deficit concerns, has argued that offsetting the cost may be unnecessary.

"The question isn’t how will we pay for it, but what is the cost of inaction, and what will we do with our new shared prosperity created by the investments in the Green New Deal," she wrote in a blog post earlier this week.

Goals include preparing for natural disasters linked to climate change, expanding renewable energy plants and building a "smart grid" to more efficiently utilize them, upgrading existing buildings and manufacturing plants to be more green, promoting electric vehicles and public transportation, and protecting existing natural environments.

Notably, the bill does not include a direct call for imposing a price on climate pollution, like a carbon tax. Proposals to do so have garnered some limited bipartisan support since various carbon tax proposals are revenue-neutral and rely less on government intervention, but activists in the Green New Deal have largely focused on spending side and some question whether taxing energy is politically sustainable.

Ocasio-Cortez wrote on her website that "the door is not closed for market-based incentives," but that they would play a "small role."

The resolution also drew some criticism from the left, with environmental group Greenpeace arguing that it should call more explicitly to end the use of oil, gas and coal rather than just promote new green energy projects.

The text of the resolution also goes beyond environmental issues and addresses topics like racial and economic inequality. It includes a call for the government to guarantee jobs for everyone, support labor unions, and enact universal health care and housing.

Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff tweeted that they expect at least 60 co-sponsors in the House. But it faces a tough road to passage with Republicans in control of the Senate and some Democrats wary that it promises too much, too fast, without a clear path to get there.

"It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Politico on Wednesday. "The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it right?"

Ocasio-Cortez said she agreed with Pelosi's characterization of the bill as a "green dream" on Thursday and that she did not consider it a "dismissive term."

In the Senate, the new ranking Energy Committee chairman, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is known for his advocacy for the state’s coal industry and will play a key role in legislation if Democrats take power in 2021. Manchin mentioned coal 11 times in his opening remarks at their first hearing this week while expressing general support for confronting climate change.

On the Republican side, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, denounced the resolution as a "socialist manifesto."

"As Democrats take a hard left turn, this radical proposal would take our growing economy off the cliff and our nation into bankruptcy," he said in a statement. "It’s the first step down a dark path to socialism."