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The Energy 202: Trump's $100 trillion price tag for the Green New Deal may have come from a tweet

with Paulina Firozi


President Trump said the Green New Deal will cost $100 trillion.

But the Democratic authors of the sweeping climate change effort that also includes significant changes to the social safety net didn't estimate how much such an effort would cost American taxpayers.

In fact, the president's $100 trillion figures seems to have originated from one conservative's back-of-the-envelope calculations on Twitter.

Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who is formerly an economist for the Senate Finance Committee and an adviser to Mitt Romney’s and Marco Rubio’s presidential campaigns, said he has not been in contact with the White House about the math that gave rise to the exorbitant price tag.

“Maybe my tweet had more influence than I thought,” he said in a telephone interview.

But Trump's adoption of the $100 trillion figure -- as well as estimates cited by other Republican policymakers -- shows the speed by which information has ricocheted around the conservative blogosphere as opponents have made the Green New Deal a persistent punching bag in their rhetoric before any substantial policy discussions have occurred in Congress.

"They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home, and put millions of Americans out of work, spend $100 trillion, which, by the way, there's no such thing as $100 trillion," Trump told rally-goers in El Paso, Tex. "You have to spend $100 trillion."

Apparently pleased with that line, Trump repeated the 15-digit figure during his keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland when attacking Democrats' "new $100 trillion Green New Deal."

According to conservatives, sometimes the total cost of the Green New Deal introduced last month by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be $93 trillion. Other times it is as high as $100 trillion, as Trump estimated last month.

Shortly after the plan's release, Riedl estimated the plan's cost could run north of $100 trillion. And an official analysis from the American Action Forum implied to some conservatives a total cost of $93 trillion. In response, Democrats have dismissed those tallies as “misinformation” funded by fossil-fuel interests, including the Kochs.

Guaranteeing everyone a job could cost anywhere from $6.8 trillion to $44.6 trillion, the report said. A net-zero emissions transportation system would run from $1.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion.

The report itself doesn't mention the number $93 trillion. But when the top of all the ranges of the report's six different categories are added together, that is the sum.

With that, some Republicans suddenly had a figure to cite.

"At $93 trillion, the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire recorded spending of the U.S. since the Constitution went into effect in 1789," Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), for example, said last month on the Senate floor.

Yet in the report itself, the authors concede is just "an initial foray" at estimating the actual cost of the Green New Deal. And doing that addition on the top ends of the ranges of the different categories "doesn't convey the uncertainty," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

“It took on a life of its own,” he said in an interview.

But what the think-tank report does do, Holtz-Eakin said, is express what he sees as the staggering order of magnitude of the cost of implementing the Democratic climate plan.

"Is it tens of millions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars or tens of trillions of dollars?" he said. "Clearly it's the latter."

Yet given that math, PolitiFact rated the specific $93 trillion figure as "false." Politico ended up dubbing it "bogus."

On Feb. 8, before the American Action Forum report came out, Riedl tried tabulating the cost of the deal in a series of Twitter messages.

He conceded he had “No idea” how to determine the cost of some items, such as replacing gasoline-powered vehicles or making buildings more energy-efficient nationwide. But Riedl said the total “must be heading towards $100 trillion.”

From there, that figure ricocheted around right-wing blogs like Townhall until Trump mentioned it in his Feb. 11 speech in Texas.

But Dave Anderson, a policy and communications manager at the pro-renewables Energy and Policy Institute who has tracked the spread of that $100 trillion figure, said “we know that President Trump and his staff regularly watch the conservative media scene.”

Riedl added that while his impromptu analysis is hardly "a rock-solid score," it is still "a fair ballpark estimate."

"Heading towards $100 trillion allows for a pretty broad range of figures," he added.

Markey has criticized the numbers as "misinformation” meant to stymie climate-related legislation.

“If the Republicans want to, they should set up a debate,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said earlier this month on the Senate floor. “And we can have it out here on whether or not the planet is dangerously warming, whether or not human activity is principally responsible and whether or not this body should take action.”

“That is what we should be debating out here this afternoon,” he continued. “Not a whole group of bogus facts produced by the Koch brothers, paid for by the Koch brothers, that are being repeated over and over again.”

The American Action Network, a sister organization of the American Action Forum that has funded it in the past, does not disclose its donors. But ProPublica has identified it has part of "a tangle of nonprofits" supported by the brothers "all aimed at advancing conservative causes."

The most costly supposed Green New Deal measure, according to both Riedl and American Action Forum, is providing  single-payer health care.

But as a review of the American Action Forum report from Markey’s office points out, his resolution does not specifically call for that. Its promise is more vague -- to provide everyone with “high-quality health care.”

What’s more, the American Action Forum analysis imagines the deal will seek to replace all commercial air travel with high-speed rail, which is again something not mentioned in the text of the resolution.

Holtz-Eakin argues that to get to zero emissions in the transportation sector, the nation would indeed need to “ground the planes.”

Another, perhaps more important point of contention from Markey: These are cost analyses, not cost-benefit analyses that take into account the jobs created or the health costs avoided by reducing fossil-fuel emissions.

Correction: This story originally stated that $100 trillion is a 12-digit figure. It is a 15-digit figure.


— Judge says Trump’s drilling plan ignores climate costs: A federal judge says the Interior Department violated federal law because it “did not sufficiently consider climate change” when it decided to lease federal land in the West in 2015 and 2016. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington’s initial ruling could have implications for how the administration handles its plan to expand fossil fuel production nationwide, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reports, adding it’s also the first time this administration has been “held to account for the climate impact of its energy dominance agenda.” 

— Senate Dems want to know Bernhardt’s offshore drilling plans: A group of 17 Senate Democrats sent a letter to interior secretary-designate David Bernhard calling for information about his views on offshore drilling ahead of his confirmation hearing next week. The letter cites the administration’s proposal for a five-year oil and gas leasing program that they write has “bipartisan concerns among officials at all levels of government.” “The American people deserve to know your plan for the Outer Continental Shelf before the Senate votes on your nomination,” reads the letter written by the group led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

— “What’s going on with General Motors?”: Trump traveled to Ohio to discuss manufacturing amid his ongoing rebuke of General Motors over its closure of a plant in the state. During his remarks, he called on the company to keep its Lordstown plant open, urging GM to continue operations there or find another company that would.

He also pressured the United Auto Workers to negotiate with the automaker to keep the site open. But he appeared to blame the closure of the plant on union dues. “They ought to lower your dues, by the way, they ought to stop with the dues,” he said. “You’re paying too much dues."

Meanwhile: Hours before Trump’s visit to Ohio, Ford Motor Co. said its $900 million investment planned for the Detroit area will create 900 jobs, instead of the previously announced 850 jobs, and most of the new employees will build new electric vehicles for the company, the Associated Press reports. Trump praised the company on Twitter following his Ohio visit:

— A plan to use less Colorado River water: In the midst of a near-two-decade drought, seven states in the West have united behind a plan to manage the Colorado River, signing a deal that comes after years of negotiations, the New York Times reports.

Colorado, New Mexico, Utah Wyoming, Arizona, California and Nevada have agreed to voluntarily limit water use to stop federal mandatory water restrictions on the river’s lower basin. Based on 2007 guidelines, the federal government would have to declare a shortage on the lower Colorado River at 1,075 feet. The water level at Lake Mead was at 1,088 feet at the beginning of March, according to the Times.


— The aftermath of devastating flooding in the Midwest: Communities across the region have started on what will be a massive cleanup effort after a powerful “bomb cyclone” battered the area, flooded land with often polluted water and killed at least four people, as Frances Stead Sellers and Ted Genoways write in The Post.

But regions downstream are also anticipating another impact as the waters flow south. “Communities continued to issue new disaster declarations, putting three-quarters of Nebraska’s counties under states of emergency,” they write. “Officials in Iowa, Wisconsin and Mississippi have done the same, under threat from the historic flooding around the Platte and Missouri rivers…But for many in the devastated region, the start of the cleanup was coupled with a realization that the recovery could be prolonged, amid warnings that the current infrastructure of dams and levees will not be adequate to protect them from the increased frequency and severity of flooding that comes from climate change.”

“This will happen again”: Residents of an Iowa town once fought but failed to save a levee meant to protect it from floodwaters. This week, much of the town is underwater. “Residents of Hamburg, wedged between the Nishnabotna and Missouri Rivers in Iowa’s fertile southwest corner, speak with pride about enduring nature’s whims, about living in a place where people volunteer to fill sandbags and donate meals and make a silly music video about a levee,” the New York Times reports. But many residents are also worried about the town’s future, especially after the latest flooding. “I have a gut, bad feeling that this might be the end of this little town,” resident John Hayes told the Times.

— California wildfire prep will involve National Guard: The state will call on its National Guard troops to help with preparation for the next wildfire season. California is pulling troops from Trump’s border protection efforts and will have 110 members start training next month in such things as using shovels, rakes and chain saws to help thin and clear trees ahead of the wildfire season, the Associated Press reports.

“They will be boots on the ground doing fuel projects alongside CalFire crews,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Mike Mohler said. “We’ve had them out for flood fighting, several different operations, but this would be the first time their mission would be fuels thinning and forest management.”

— Renewable goals at the state level: State lawmakers in Nevada have introduced a bill to require the state to have 100 percent carbon-free emissions by 2050. It would also double the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which mandates that a certain percentage of energy come from renewable sources, to 50 percent by 2030.

The state’s largest utility, NV Energy, has said it supports the measure and “aims to add over 1 GW of renewables to its power supply, which will double the state's renewable energy output by 2023,” Utility Dive reports.



  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds a meeting.

— That’s not a “few”: Nathan Hawkins, who owns a snake removal company, said he received a call from a homeowner who found a “few” snakes hiding under his home. But when he arrived, he said he “immediately” found there were more than just a few, The Post’s Lindsey Bever writes. There were 45.

In a Facebook video posted March 17, a snake removal company showed the expulsion of 45 rattlesnakes found under a home in Abilene, Tex., on March 13. (Video: Nathan Hawkins / Big Country Snake Removal)