A 2030 deadline to convert the United States electricity and transportation systems to 100% renewable energy is a centrepiece of a US$16.3-trillion Green New Deal platform released last Thursday in Paradise, California, site of last year’s devastating Camp Fire, by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The proposal landed a day after Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) announced he was ending his run as the “climate candidate” seeking his party’s 2020 presidential nomination. “It’s become clear that I’m not going to be carrying the ball. I’m not going to be the president, so I’m withdrawing tonight from the race,” he told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. But “I’ve been fighting climate change for 25 years, and I’ve never been so confident of the ability of America now to reach critical mass to move the ball.”
Vox says Sanders is pushing faster than any of the other candidates in the still-crowded Democratic primary, with a strategy he says would cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 71% by 2030. “The plan also calls for the U.S. to help developing countries curb their emissions 36% by 2030,” through a badly-needed, $200-billion infusion to the UN Green Climate Fund.
“The climate crisis is not only the single greatest challenge facing our country; it is also our single greatest opportunity to build a more just and equitable future, but we must act immediately,” Sanders said. In a statement, he added that his program would deliver “a 10-year mobilization to avert climate catastrophe during which climate change, justice, and equity will be factored into virtually every area of policy, from immigration to trade to foreign policy and beyond.”
While a new administration that took office in 2020 would have just under a decade to deliver on a massively ambitious promise, the proposal says it’s doable. “The New Deal provided inexpensive electricity to America through efforts like the Rural Electrification Administration and the Federal Power Marketing Administrations,” the Sanders campaign states. “If the federal government was able to electrify America under FDR [President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] without computers or any of the modern technologies we have available to us today, think of what we can do today.”
“The plan sets some of the most ambitious goals announced by any candidate yet,” InsideClimate News reports. “The price tag for the Vermont senator’s plan is far higher than the climate plans announced by any of his rivals, but it’s also more wide-reaching. It describes how the money would be spent across the economy, from grants for new electric vehicles, to funds to help farms capture carbon in the soil, to job training, including $1.3 trillion in support for workers in the fossil fuel industry.”
Of all the candidates, Sanders is also the only one proposing to pay for the entire transition with public funds, rather than a combination of public and private dollars, Vox notes. The Sanders campaign says the plan “will pay for itself over 15 years through a combination of new taxes, fees, and litigation against fossil fuels companies, new taxes on corporations and wealthy people, together with cuts in military spending related to U.S. reliance on oil and savings across the economy,” InsideClimate reports.
Sanders’ transition in both electricity and transportation is based largely on phasing out fossil fuels within a decade, InsideClimate adds. “Sanders proposes investing nearly $2.5 trillion in new renewable energy and energy storage—all of which would be publicly owned—$500 billion on upgrading the electricity grid, and more than $2 trillion in grants for energy efficiency and weatherization. To convert the nation’s vehicle fleet, he would spend some $3 trillion to help people and businesses buy new electric cars and trucks, and $900 billion on public transport and high-speed rail.”
And the release says the program would rely entirely on renewable energy sources, not “on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.”
The plan promises to create 20 million new, high-paying, union jobs, commit to poor and minority communities, and “provide five years unemployment insurance, wage guarantees, health care, job training, and other support to workers in the fossil fuel industry whose jobs would be eliminated,” InsideClimate writes.
While the release lists the revenue sources it says will pay for the plan, ICN says there’s no indication of how the income will add up to more than $16 trillion. “Conspicuously absent is any mention of a carbon tax, something Sanders has supported in the past. Some of the activists who helped shape the Green New Deal have come out against a carbon tax, saying it could push costs onto the poor.”
Not all observers are thrilled with the plan or its framing.
“When you’re really thinking about the transition to a decarbonized power grid, what is essential to that, to maintain a cost-effective switch, is having a wide portfolio of options at your disposal,” said Nader Sobhani, climate policy associate at the centrist Niskanen Center. “I find it very difficult to imagine that we can reach a completely decarbonized electricity and transport system by 2030, especially if we’re limiting our options exclusively to wind and solar, as well as geothermal.”
“Competition in the power industry can be good, but he seems opposed to anyone making a profit there and is focused on creating more federal entities to transform the power sector,” added Brookings Institution fellow Samantha Gross, who said she was troubled by the “anti-business sentiment” in the plan.
“They have evaded taxes, desecrated tribal lands, exploited workers, and poisoned communities,” the proposal says of the private sector. “President Bernie Sanders will ensure that his Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigate these companies and bring suits—both criminal and civil—for any wrongdoing, just as the federal government did with the tobacco industry in the 1980s.”