Legislative Note: Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal

by Anna Katherine Sherman

Last November, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress in the record-breaking midterm elections of 2018. She represents New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes the Bronx, Queens, and Rikers Island. Since her election, Ocasio-Cortez’s presence in the White House has been somewhat controversial, with some news outlets even calling her “ignorant of everything”. Nevertheless, her support is substantial, as she won her election over the incumbent of 20 years, Joseph Crowley, who was expected to become the next Minority Leader.

Ocasio-Cortez’s newest legislative proposal is what she refers to as the Green New Deal. While this term is not new, she and Senator Ed Markey have now taken the lead in advocating for this resolution in Congress with their current version of this idea. The propositions of this deal are revolutionary, and essentially call for a complete remodeling of our country’s environmental policies. The primary goals of the resolution are to “[achieve] net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, [establish] millions of high-wage jobs and [ensure] economic security for all, [invest] in infrastructure and industry, [secure] clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, health food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for all, and [promote] justice and equality” by the year 2030.

While the claims in this are definitely ambitious to achieve in one decade, I think most Americans would agree that becoming more environmentally-conscious is an important goal for our country to work towards right now. In fact, the Green New Deal has achieved a great number of supporters from both sides of the aisle. In fact, a recent study done at Yale University indicates that the majority of registered voters would support the deal. With the environment predicted to be one of the most important topics in the 2020 general election, legislators of both parties are having to establish their own plan for improving our nation’s impact on the environment. When Ocasio-Cortez presented her deal to the press, she also noted that the resolution has “over 60 original co-sponsors in legislation” and is “thrilled” with the interest that the plan has received from both the Republican and Democratic caucuses. At the same time, she claims the support of “the Environmental Subcommittee on Oversight, the entire Energy and Commerce Committee, the Judiciary Committee,” with Markey adding that they also have “the Chairman of the Rules Committee.”

However, there are still a lot of people concerned with the logistics of this resolution. One of the primary criticisms that has been made of the proposed legislation is that there are no practical solutions that can be applied. That is to say, the Green New Deal does not include specific strategies on how they are going to make this plan a reality in our country. However, the legislators behind it do not see this as a negative thing. In fact, when the two congress members presented the deal to the public in a press conference earlier this month, Markey stated that “The resolution is silent on any individual technology,” and avoided commenting on the use of nuclear power as a solution. Ocasio-Cortez’s stance is that “small, incremental policy solutions are not enough.” Their perspective is that the proposal is purposefully ambitious because they feel as though that’s what the country needs right now with regards to environmental policy changes.

Another criticism that we are seeing of this proposal is with regards to funding. The cost estimates are “$1 trillion annually,” and many Americans want to know where this money is going to come from. Ocasio-Cortez’s response to this concern is that it is an investment into our country’s economy that will be paid for “with public money appropriated by Congress.” The Green Party’s position on the cost of the plan is that it would essentially be the same cost to convert to completely renewable energy as it is to continue using “dirty energy.” They also note, though, that the plan requires a significant cut from military spending, which may cause further push-back from the resolution’s opposition.

It is important to note that the Green New Deal is not a bill being proposed, but rather a resolution. That means that it will not have to be approved by the president, but it also means that it “does not have the force of law”. Essentially, the Green New Deal is Ocasio-Cortez’s call to action, and a way to gain legislative support for improving our environmental efforts in the country. She also adds that any action taken from this resolution can be done so in a much more targeted manner, dealing with one issue at a time, rather than a complete and immediate restructure of our country’s environmental policies.

The Green New Deal may be more attainable if Ocasio-Cortez and other legislators like her would withdraw a bit from the all-or-nothing mentality, but she has often reiterated her strong aversion to incrementalism. Her remarks about the country’s need for radical change may be true, but the critics of the plan emphasize that practicality must also be taken into account, especially with regards to funding this plan. The fact that the specifics about implementation of and payment for the resolution are not included makes it seem like a proposal of ideals for the environment rather than a plan on how to change it, but Senator Markey’s explanation is that “All issues go through three phases: political education, political activation, and political implementation,” and that we are still in the phases of education and activation for this issue of climate change. Thus, as Congress begins to hear this proposal, the next step will include a lot of questions from this practicality standpoint about the specifics of this implementation.