The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Green New Deal is alive and well in liberal cities and states

with Paulina Firozi


LOS ANGELES -- The Green New Deal may be floundering in Washington. But it is alive and well in left-leaning states and cities across the country.

From Maine to California, Democratic politicians have begun adopt the Green New Deal brand -- a progressive movement to dramatically tackle climate change over the next decade -- to describe their own contributions to address global warming.

Lawmakers in New York City are doing so when compelling landlords to cut climate-warming emissions from their skyscrapers. And Los Angeles leaders in this car-clogged, smog-choked town are doing it when pushing residents to drive electric vehicles.

All told, lawmakers in at least seven states have proposed various pieces of local legislation explicitly under the Green New Deal banner, according to the environmental group the Sierra Club, which is tracking the proposals.

So, too, have the Democratic mayors of the nation’s two biggest cities, Bill de Blasio of New York and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, taken up the Green New Deal mantle to push their own climate proposals.

The popularity of the Green New Deal among young Democratic voters — even after its defeat in the GOP-controlled Senate in March — gives local lawmakers a clear way to cast state and municipal energy and transportation projects as part of a nationwide effort to halt the crisis of a changing climate.

In many cases, politicians are using the label to describe what they have already been doing to address global warming.

“Green New Deal is a perfect articulation of our philosophy and our strategy,” Garcetti said in an interview last month. “So it was, I thought, a brilliant way to summarize what we held as our core values of healing the environment [and] helping the economy.”

“So when I heard that, I was like,” he added, pausing to snap his fingers.

The idea of what, exactly, a Green New Deal is supposed to be has always been fuzzy. In a way that is on purpose in order to include the ideas of lots of lawmakers under the umbrella term.

“If I asked 10 legislators across the country, including in Rhode Island, what's the Green New Deal, we’d probably have all 10 different connotations of what it is,” said Rhode Island state Sen. Louis DiPalma (D), who sponsored that state’s Green New Deal-related resolution.

At the national level, the Green New Deal resolution from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) calls for the United States to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within a decade. They want to do so all while checking off a number of other progressive priorities, like increasing access to health care and high-paying jobs.

Such broad and nonbinding goals have left local lawmakers largely up to their own devices when deciding what a Green New Deal means writ small.

In many cases, local proposals hew closely to the national version.

The resolution in Rhode Island, for example, calls for an assessment of what the national Green New Deal may mean for the place officially nicknamed the Ocean State, which faces both the opportunity of building more offshore wind turbines and the challenge of dealing with eroding coastlines.

A bill in Minnesota, meanwhile, proposes getting all of the state’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2030 — the same deadline as the national Green New Deal.

In other cases, these Green New Deals have taken distinct regional flavors.

In New York City, the city council passed a suite of bills compelling the owners of apartment and office buildings over 25,000 square feet to retrofit their structures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. De Blasio went so far as to hold a press conference in one of those buildings — Trump Tower — to promote the legislation.

And in Los Angeles, Garcetti introduced a sweeping sustainability plan that seeks to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles in this car-crazy city to 25 percent by 2025 and 100 percent by 2050. The Los Angeles mayor also wants to have all electricity provided by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to come from renewable sources by 2045.

Garcetti’s proposal ratchets up previous goals under his first sustainability plan issued in 2015. But at that time it went by a name — “Sustainable City pLAn” — that is much clunkier than its new moniker.

The patchwork of executive and legislative actions under the same Green New Deal banner has left the climate activists who first brought the idea to the fore in the position of policing of what is, and is not, a legitimate Green New Deal.

The Los Angeles chapter of the Sunrise Movement, the environmental organization whose protests in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office garnered national headlines, flatly wrote in a blog post that the plan “is not a Green New Deal.”

The green group felt Garcetti is not moving quickly enough, especially for a city as liberal as Los Angeles. They point to a much-cited report from a panel of United Nations scientists that says the world needs to drastically cut carbon emissions by 2030 to forestall dangerous warming.

“The values that the mayor has expressed align with the actual Green New Deal,” said Ethan Senser, the Sunrise Movement’s Los Angeles hub coordinator.

But he added: “We think ultimately L.A. can do better."

Garcetti said he has no objection to trying to move faster to reduce emissions. But he added, “I don't ever want to make a promise I can't deliver.”

“I feel confident that a lot of those dates will be accelerated,” he said. “But today it's a snapshot of what we know we can do.”

The same sort of intraparty tiff is happening in New York state.

A bill from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) aims to make the state’s electricity sector carbon-free by 2040. But a bevy of environmental groups, along with liberal lawmakers in Albany, backed another measure aimed at eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the entire economy by the middle of the century.

In Los Angeles, Garcetti is feeling the heat from the other side of the debate as well.

While he unveiled his Green New Deal outside of the Getty House — the official mayoral mansion, once owned by the Getty Oil Company, in the city’s stately Hancock Park neighborhood — a raucous crowd of union protesters interrupted his speech with chants.

The same story is playing out at the national level. The energy committee of the AFL-CIO lambasted Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal as “not achievable or realistic.”

Both locally and nationally, unions representing heavy-industry workers see such an aggressive energy transition as a threat to their members’ jobs.

That has led some local lawmakers, like Democratic state Rep. Chloe Maxmin in Maine, to seek the buy-in of labor early on when crafting their own takes on the climate proposal.

Maxmin began meeting with union executives in January, near the start of the legislative session, about her own plan.

Her bill, unveiled in March, would ultimately create an apprenticeship program for the construction of grid-scale electricity generation — a win for labor — along with taking steps to add solar panels to school buildings.

“Economic development and workforce is at the center of it, so it makes sense that labor should be a leading voice on this issue,” Maxmin said.

Those early talks paid off when the Maine chapter of the AFL-CIO publicly supported Maxmin's measure.

“The transition can either happen to us or with us,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO. “We feel like we got to shape it.”


— "It reminds me of the Soviet Union": The U.S. Geological Survey, the main science arm of the Department of the Interior, has "ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously," the New York Times reports.

Why? The Trump administration is trying to tamp down the use of what it sees as "inaccurate modeling." But such a policy would undercut how far into the future the National Climate Assessment, an interagency report on the state of climate science produced about every four years, could forecast. The report could be used in litigation against the federal rollbacks of environmental rules, the Times notes.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) on May 24 blocked a unanimous consent request to pass a disaster aid package before the Memorial Day recess. (Video: House of Representatives)

— A lone Republican stalls $19.1 billion worth of nationwide disaster aid: On Friday, House leaders tried to pass a long-sought disaster-aid bill during a “pro forma” session or one with few lawmakers present. But that meant that a single lawmaker could derail the bill — which is exactly what Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) did. Roy objected to the measure's cost and the fact that it didn't include money for Trump’s border wall, The Post’s Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis report.

What's next: Since the full House is not due back in Washington until June 3, House leaders will try to pass the bill again during another “pro forma” session on Tuesday. When Roy was asked whether he would object again, he said: “We’ll see.”

— U.S. Forest Service lays off 1,100 federal workers: The Trump administration is killing a program, called Job Corps, that trains disadvantaged young people for wildland firefighting and other jobs in rural communities, The Post’s Lisa Rein reports. The end of the program, which is rooted in the New Deal, is believed to constitute the largest federal job cut in a decade.

The Trump administration’s reasoning: “Officials said many of the Forest Service operations are low-performing, with inefficiencies and high costs, and that a reboot was necessary,” Rein writes.

But the decision is eliciting bipartisan criticism: “This organization has changed the lives of men and women across the country who otherwise might not have had a chance,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who has a Job Corps center in his district.

— Here's the latest in energy and environmental news from the 2020 campaign trail:

  • Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington state who wants to win the White House on a relentless climate message, said he would join student protesters in September in a worldwide strike.

And Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio in oil-rich Texas, became the latest Democrat running for president to refuse money from fossil-fuel executives.

Potential nuclear developer's hefty donation to Trump's inaugural comes under scrutiny (Associated Press)


— “They’re going to get a lot more than dinosaurs:” The Smithsonian’s renovated fossil hall is trying to send a message about climate change, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports. The new “David H. Koch Hall of Fossils — Deep Time” will feature "all the classic beasts of a traditional paleontology hall: a colossal mammoth skeleton, a long-necked diplodocus, a ferocious new T-rex. But every fossil is presented in the context of Earth’s past climates and its present crisis.”

Why is it happening? The Smithsonian gets more than 60 percent of its funding from tax dollars, but it not officially part of the government. “We have a responsibility to present that science to the nation . . . and to make clear the implications for the future,” said Kirk Johnson, the museum’s director.



  • Rep. Paul D. Tonko (D-N.Y.) will hold a climate town hall at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y.

Coming Up

  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry is scheduled to speak at the Governor’s Energy Summit on Thursday.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds a briefing on the Nuclear Regulatory Research program on Thursday.
  • The Carbon Utilization Research Council, the Global CCS Institute, and the Carbon Capture Coalition continue briefings on carbon capture on Friday.
  • EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks at the National Press Club on June 3.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on climate preparedness on June 5.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is scheduled to give the keynote address at the 5th Washington Oil & Gas Forum, which will be held on June 5 and 6.