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Opinion Readers react to the Editorial Board’s Green New Deal

Protesters rally for action on climate change in Berlin on Feb. 22. (Omer Messinger/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

On Sunday, the Editorial Board published its version of a Green New Deal, arguing that the one proposed by congressional Democrats falls short. Here, we are publishing readers’ critiques and comments regarding the board’s plan. Add your thoughts in the comments section.

The Feb. 24 editorial “Want a Green New Deal? Here’s a better one.” made good points about the power of market forces to help solve the climate crisis. But it endorsed the wide use of a particular fossil fuel — fracked natural gas — that scientists say could help doom the planet.

The editorial said natural gas is “far less damaging” than coal. But the editorial linked to a Union of Concerned Scientists memo that includes a rebuttal of this argument. Greenhouse-gas benefits, it turns out, depend on the life-cycle leakage rate of the methane being drilled and compressed and piped to market. Those leakage rates in the United States can be as high as a catastrophic 9 percent of the total gas exploited, according to UCS.

Indeed, using publicly available data from sources ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Energy Department to local utility Dominion Energy shows that fracked gas is as bad — if not worse — for the climate as coal.

Or, as one Cornell University scientist has famously said, fracked gas is not a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future. It’s a “gangplank” to a climate calamity.

Michael Tidwell, Takoma Park

The writer is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

The editorial board’s proposed Green New Deal has much to commend it, but the basic sequence it proposed is backward. The United States should focus first on driving down the costs of climate-preserving solutions, then turn its attention to carbon pricing. Market-stimulating policies such as smarter regulation, standards and incentives, along with significantly increased public investment in energy infrastructure, research, development and demonstration, can dramatically reduce the carbon price required to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions. 

The policies that have driven dramatic reductions in the cost of wind and solar power, which are now competitive without subsidies in many markets, show the way. A modest carbon price would be a great way to raise revenue to pay for these policies, but its use as the primary mechanism for carbon reduction should be postponed until low-carbon energy is much cheaper than it is now for most end uses.

David M. Hart, Arlington

The writer is director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

The editorialWant a Green New Deal? Here’s a better one.” and the Green New Deal have missed the boat. The fastest and most cost-effective approach to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is high-value energy. What is missed is the 8,000-pound gorilla: massive high-value energy efficiency in vehicles, commercial-industrial practices, government, buildings and electric power generation. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy think tank, 18 percent of U.S. energy has been saved, representing a huge component of U.S. energy.

In my university classes, I teach my students that energy efficiency is the fastest and highest-payback option that reduces the most carbon and methane emissions. Sadly, the Trump administration is trying to undo some of the bipartisan drivers to save consumers billions of dollars. It is sad that most analysts are overlooking what will produce the most disposable income for consumers and businesses that not only significantly reduces greenhouse-gas emissions and use of fresh water but also will rev up the U.S. economy.

Scott Sklar, Washington

The writer is energy director of the Environment & Energy Management Institute at George Washington University.

Of course we need a Green New Deal. It is past time that our society seriously addresses the most pressing issue we face. However, we don’t need more vague, nonbinding resolutions. If we want market forces to help solve this problem, we need the cost of burning fossil fuels to include the cost in damage to our planet. This means we need a carbon tax and regulations with teeth. Only when it costs more to emit greenhouse gases will enough people be motivated to find alternative ways to do business, to make things and to go places. 

Policymakers need to insist on transparent analysis of the best available data to facilitate decision-making that prioritizes decreasing greenhouse-gas emissions. Voters need to hear from candidates for election at all levels of government not whether they have signed on to a long list of utopian goals but what mechanisms they will put in place to decrease harmful emissions. I hope The Post will keep this important issue front-and-center in its coverage. Please, continue to shed more light on answers to the urgent question, “How will we decrease greenhouse-gas emissions?”

 Janet Gingold, Upper Marlboro

The Our Green New Deal editorial asserted that “economists know that companies that invest in research and development do not get rewarded for the full social value of their work.” As Geoff Mulgan pointed out in an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, economists do not know this because they have yet to agree on how to define the term “social value” of work, let alone how to assess or measure it. 

The editorial’s wrongheaded statement was followed by a non sequitur: “Others benefit from their innovations without paying.” Who are these “others,” and what did they not pay for? But the worst was yet to come. After explaining a few of the complexities associated with applying and managing a fair national carbon tax, the editorial let the regulatory cat out of the bag: “In the fight against climate change, the government must enlist the whole economy.” Precisely. Once government bureaucrats are ceded control over all activities related to the use of energy in the name of carbon reduction, they will literally control the entire economy. This is the dirty little secret that is all too often swept under the rug by the climate lobby. Now the secret is out.

Paul Rankin, Rockville

The writer is president of the Reusable Industrial Packaging Association.

I agree with the idea of carbon pricing, especially concerning transportation.

It’s time to get smarter about this in the 21st century by looking forward, not backward. We need to get solo drivers out of their cars and onto mass transit. One way to do this is by financial incentives. I suggest a yearly increase of 10 cents per gallon in the federal gasoline tax, perhaps indexed to inflation. Now would be a good time for this because gas prices are low. I propose that the income from this be split three ways. Six cents would go to fix existing roads and bridges (this money may NOT go to new construction), 3 cents toward mass transit (rail, bus rapid transit, van/car pools, local shuttle buses), and 1 cent for hiker/biker trails and other human-powered transit.

Michael Marceau, Rockville

The Post’s editorials have supported the same moderate approach to climate change for a decade. But a decade of mild solutions hasn’t gotten us anywhere, and in that time the climate crisis has grown only more urgent.

We now have the political momentum to push for legislation that could stop the worst of the climate crisis. Genuflecting to moderation for the sake of moderation — or worse, to placate the fossil-fuel industry and the politicians it funds — won’t help front-line communities already feeling the effects of climate change.

There is simply no way to pull us back from the brink if we don’t end subsidies, halt all extraction and stop building new infrastructure for fossil fuels. And nuclear energy, a failed and dangerous experiment that has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, has no place in our clean-energy future. The exploitation of workers, communities and our natural resources are driven by a system that prioritizes polluter profits over people. To fight climate change, we must remake the system that fosters social inequities.

A radical Green New Deal — one founded on a just transition for workers and communities that ends use of fossil fuels and nuclear power — is exactly what we need. The same moderate, weaker plans we’ve seen for a decade distract us from the bold solutions we need.

Nicole Ghio, Washington

The writer is fossil fuels program manager for Friends of the Earth.

The “Our Green New Deal” editorial derided the congressional Democrats’ plan as being impractical unless “there is a revolution in emissions capture technology.” But a relatively cheap technology for “carbon capture and storage,” namely carbon capture and storage with biomass, principally trees, already exists. 

On average, trees can capture 40.3 to 80.7 total metric tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year and, when mature, provide dry wood, which can be used for renewable energy or other purposes. It provides much more employment in sequestration and use than through carbon capture and storage from power plants. Our New Green Deal could be achievable using existing cheap technology.

Keith Openshaw, Vienna

The writer is a retired forest economist.

I am an economist and subscribe to the view that a carbon tax would be the best way to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Realistically, however, because we live in a democracy, voters need to accept this approach. Several European countries and Canada have adopted some form of carbon taxation. Their implementation has had limited, if any, impact on the use of fossil fuels. Why? Because to change individuals’ energy-use habits, the carbon tax would need to be multiples greater than it is today. The tax levels today are feel-good taxes with no bite and no value.

Carbon taxes will never work in our Western democracies. Therefore, we must focus on education and, sadly, government-imposed rules and regulations.

Art Willms, Vancouver

Seriously? The plan to use fracked gas, laid out in the editorial board’s vision, is a better plan than the Green New Deal? 

The huge ships are still coming in, docking a mile offshore, and fracked gas is piped into the holding tanks. Let’s not forget one of the starting points, the fracking wells in Pennsylvania, which will turn huge tracts of fertile farmland into poisoned wasteland where — who knew? — people actually live. The wells are poisoned from fracking contamination, the air is nauseating, and the massive trucks move in and out, bringing ruin and irreversible damage to land and lives. 

The toxic fracked gas gets piped through our communities, passing through massive compressor stations, showering local residents with tons of toxic emissions and unrelenting noise. Its final destination is Cove Point, where it is refined — call it what it is, the plant is a fracked gas refinery — spewing more than 20 tons of carcinogenic chemicals into the air, land and Chesapeake Bay per year. The plant guzzles fresh water from our aquifer at a rate of 250,000 to 350,000 gallons per day and is voiding its wastewater — 149,000 gallons per day — into a creek that feeds into the local marshes that kiss the bay. 

Happy thoughts when you feast on crabs, oysters, rockfish and bluefish in the coming summers, presuming they, and we, survive the onslaught. 

Leslie Garcia, Lusby

I note with dismay that the editorial “Our Green New Deal” advocated leaving it to “the market” to best decide how to stop using fossil fuels, in particular when and where to export the United States’ excess supply of natural gas. The only safe and sensible thing to do with this “excess supply” is to leave it in the ground. Does anyone seriously imagine that the market, left to itself, would come up with this solution?

If we let the greenhouse gases in natural gas into the atmosphere, we have no proven technology for their removal. Estimates of the likely cost, if such a technology could be developed, range from $100 to $600 per ton of carbon dioxide. Each ton of carbon equals 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide. Truly, in using fossil fuels, the market is borrowing from our grandchildren.

Wilfred Candler, Annapolis

Read more:

The Post’s View: Want a Green New Deal? Here’s the Editorial Board’s vision.

Eugene Robinson: Yes, the Green New Deal is audacious. But we have no choice but to think big.

Robert J. Samuelson: Most of the Green New Deal is make-believe

Charles Lane: Democrats are invoking FDR in their Green New Deal. It’s historically misleading.

Megan McArdle: ‘We’re nuts!’ isn’t a great pitch for a Green New Deal