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The Energy 202: Lots of people support the 'Green New Deal.' So what is it?

with Paulina Firozi


Before the 2016 midterm elections, it was a campaign slogan little known outside progressive activist circles.

Now after the election, it is supposedly supported by most American voters. Even if many of them still said they have no idea what it was.

In only a few months, the notion of a “Green New Deal” has earned the support of not just a few dozen Democrats in Congress. It's also backed, at least according to one new survey, by the vast majority of registered voters.

A poll conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities found that 81 percent of registered voters either strongly or somewhat support the ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions over the next decade.

Even most Republican voters — nearly two in three — said they supported the Green New Deal when it was described to them by pollsters as a plan to generate all of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources within 10 years while providing job training for those displaced from traditional energy sector jobs.

But that same survey also identified the main weakness surrounding a Green New Deal, an ambitious proposal from progressive activists to tackle climate change that has been adopted by some high-profile Democratic freshman including Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

More than four-fifths of respondents said they had heard "nothing at all" of it before being reached online by survey takers.

Those findings show that left-leaning activists have, at the very least, found an effective slogan to encapsulate the aggressive action they demand to address climate change.

But turning a mantra into law is no small task. Ocasio-Cortez and others have outlined formidable goals, but have not yet detailed a clear way of achieving them. And the researchers warn Democrats and their climate activist allies that they should expect to see more resistance to the idea of the platform as more people learn about it and associate it one political party over another.

The phrase “Green New Deal” has existed in U.S. political discourse for at least a decade after New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman used it in a 2007 column calling for a plan to transition the American energy system from fossil fuels to renewable sources. The name harkens back to a series of efforts to build public works and overhaul financial rules under Franklin D. Roosevelt dubbed the New Deal.

Soon after that, Van Jones, the CNN commentator who once served as President Obama’s “green jobs czar,” adopted the phrase in his 2008 book “The Green Collar Economy” to describe a plan to create thousands of low- and medium-skill jobs installing solar panels and insulating homes.

A year later, the United Nations Environment Programme picked up on the phrase when outlining a “Global Green New Deal” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing economic development.

But the current version was perhaps outlined best by Ocasio-Cortez. Shortly after the election, she called for the creation of a so-called “Select Committee For A Green New Deal” in the House that would develop a plan to “dramatically expand” renewable power to meet 100 percent of the nation’s needs while creating a job guarantee program to facilitate that transition.

Since the election, young activists part of groups like the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats have staged sit-ins in the offices of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democratic leaders,demanding their endorsement of the committee. So far, at least 40 members of Congress have endorsed the idea of a Green New Deal.

But given House Democrats' experience with cap-and-trade legislation when they were last in the House majority, grand gestures aimed at climate change are going to be politically divisive, even among Democrats.

Edward Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication and one of the co-authors of the survey, said it is “probably not all that surprising” few Americans outside Washington have heard of the Green New Deal.

“It's quite a new concept and while it is certainly caught hold in in liberal progressive circles, probably not so much in much of the rest of America,” he said.

The poll, which was conducted online between Nov. 28 to Dec. 11, did not tell respondents that so far all of congressional backers of the Green New Deal are Democrats. Public opinion may calcify along party lines as the concept gains publicity and its details — including its costs — are sketched out more thoroughly.

“The Green New Deal isn't anything yet. It doesn't have any guts. It doesn't have any inside. It doesn't have any real specifics other than broad platitudes,” said Frank Maisano, an energy industry specialist at the law and lobby firm Bracewell.

For now, the organizers of the Capitol Hill climate protests are fine with allowing the moment to fill out the details of what major climate change action would look like.

"What young people are doing here today, and what Justice Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez have been calling for, is similar to what happened in the 1930s and 1940s," Justice Democrats' spokesman Waleed Shahid told reporters before the protest in Pelosi's office this month. "The original New Deal was not one policy."

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— States set out on plan to curb climate-warming transportation emissions: Nine northeastern states and the District of Columbia announced Tuesday they would jointly develop a “cap and reduce” strategy for slashing carbon emissions from transportation fuels, which have become the leading source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“This bipartisan effort to limit climate pollution from our cars and trucks is the latest example of states stepping up and demonstrating the leadership we’re not seeing from the Trump administration,” said Pam Kiely, senior director for regulatory strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund.

The group said its program would “be pragmatic, transparent, and as simple as possible to implement.”

How it may work: The plan — which is still being negotiated — could place a ceiling on the amount of carbon that could be emitted by motor fuel wholesalers. The states could then gradually lower that ceiling and reduce carbon emissions.

To comply, the wholesalers could use more biofuels, or buy credits from other wholesalers, or seek higher revenues through recharging electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel vehicles. Because there are fewer than 100 wholesalers in that region, the plan would not be difficult to administer.  

Revenue raised from the program could go to investments in clean energy projects, joint infrastructure or a green bank, the group said.

California is currently the only state with a program to limiting greenhouse gas pollution from the transportation sector.

Which states are involved: The new coalition of states includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The group vowed it would complete its plans within the next year.

 “It’s the culmination of years of work of the ‘Transportation and Climate Initiative’ and sets out an ambitious work plan for the next year,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center.

Many of the states have been members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which launched the first U.S. mandatory market-based program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At a recent auction, carbon dioxide allowances sold for $5.25 a ton, a relatively modest price. The sale generated $71.5 million for reinvestment in energy projects and programs. 

-Steven Mufson

— Democrats want to know about oil campaign to roll back clean car standards: Sens. Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) have asked the Trump administration to disclose any contacts it has had with the oil and gas industry regarding "its efforts to weaken fuel economy standards." The request sent Wednesday to several agencies, including to the Energy and Transportation departments and Environmental Protection Agency, comes after a New York Times report on a "covert campaign" from Marathon Petroleum, the nation's largest refiner, and other oil industry groups to roll back car emissions rules that would have decreased gasoline consumption.

— “A responsibility to do something about it”: Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote a New York Times op-ed calling for the nation to limit carbon emissions by building more next-generation nuclear reactors and honing  carbon-capture technology — not by taxing carbon emissions as some Republicans are proposing to do.

What he is saying: Barrasso did not stake out any new positions in the op-ed, having sponsored tax incentives for carbon-capture technology that have already become law. But he is speaking a bit more candidly about climate change than some other Senate Republicans. “The first is, the climate is changing and we, collectively, have a responsibility to do something about it,” he writes. 

What he is not saying:  Barrasso does not mention human involvement in global warming. He goes on to say, “Second, the United States and the world will continue to rely on affordable and abundant fossil fuels, including coal, to power our economies for decades to come."

— Report finds regulators could have prevented an outbreak of black-lung disease: An investigation from NPR and PBS’s Frontline found more than 2,000 coal miners suffering from black lung disease. The thousands of miners endured the same disease across the same time period in five Appalachian states, per the report, and federal regulators had the information to prevent it.

“For decades, government regulators had evidence of excessive and toxic mine dust exposures, the kind that can cause PMF, as they were happening,” per the report. “They were urged to take specific and direct action to stop it. But they didn't.” One former mine safety regulator under the Clinton administration acknowledged: “We failed… Had we taken action at that time, I really believe that we would not be seeing the disease we're seeing now.”

— DC passes landmark renewable bill: District lawmakers unanimously passed a historic bill to require 100 percent renewable electricity by 2032. The legislation will boost fees on electricity from coal and gas to meet the standard and also mandates all public transportation and privately owned fleet vehicles to reduce emissions to zero by 2045, HuffPost reports. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser  (D) is expected to sign the bill.

— API's Durbin departing: American Petroleum Institute announced Executive Vice President Marty Durbin will leave the group at the end of January. "It was a thrill to have worked with the natural gas and oil industry during a period of such incredible innovation — even the dual challenges of an economic recession followed by an industry downturn couldn't dampen the U.S. shale energy revolution," the veteran lobbyist said in a statement, Politico reported. A replacement has not yet been announced.


— Blind amphibian named after Trump: A blind legless creature that buries its head in the sand will be named Dermophis donaldtrump in a response to the president's dismissal of the consensus among climate scientists that humans are warming the planet, The Guardian reports. “The name was chosen by the boss of EnviroBuild, a sustainable building materials company, who paid $25,000 (£19,800) at an auction for the right… The newly discovered creature is a caecilian and its naming rights were auctioned to raise money for the Rainforest Trust. The scientists who found the 10cm amphibian have agreed to use the name Dermophis donaldtrumpi when they officially publish the discovery in scientific literature.”

— Bear that recovered from fire killed by a hunter: A bear named Cinder survived a July 2014 fire that destroyed 300 homes and scorched 400 square miles in the state of Washington. Years later, the radio tracking collar on Cinder stopped transmitting, The Post’s Cleve R. Wootson reports. “When a crew ventured into the mountains, they found the skeletal remains of what used to be Cinder, the collar sliced off and lying nearby. They believe a hunter shot the bear and cut off the collar, which rendered it inoperable.”

— "We can’t allow business as usual in the salmon fisheries": Two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wild Fish Conservancy are threatening to sue the Trump administration, claiming it is violating the Endangered Species Act by not considering how salmon fishing off the West Coast is impacting killer whales. “The orcas’ plight has received much attention this year as scientists warn that they’re on the brink of extinction,” the Associated Press reports. “There are just 74 left, the lowest number since more than 50 were captured for aquarium display in the 1970s, and no calf born in the last three years has survived.” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has pledged $1.1 billion to help the population of killer whales bounce back, but groups said more needs to be done.


— Anti-Dominion group claims customers pay too much for electricity: A new political action group called Clean Virginia released a study this week claiming Dominion Energy customers pay too much for electricity because of poor oversight, The Post’s Gregory S. Schneider reports. The study claims customers pay “excess rates of $254.” “A spokesman for Dominion said the group’s findings are incorrect and that the utility’s rates are 18 percent below the national average and 32 percent below the Mid-Atlantic average," Schneider writes. "Clean Virginia’s effort shows the degree to which opponents are challenging the enormous political stature of Dominion, which is Virginia’s most generous corporation when it comes to campaign contributions.”


Coming Up

  • The National Council for Science and the Environment hosts its Annual Conference from January 7-10, 2019.

— Dems share Bill Nye's beef with those who reject climate science: "This whole thing that there’s a conspiracy of scientists to get rich from government grants," Nye says in this Newsweek clip shared by the Democratic Party's Twitter account. "Yeah, as I joke, some of those guys drive Honda Accords. That’s the kind of cash they’re rolling in.”