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The Facts on the ‘Green New Deal’


On Feb. 7, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced her Green New Deal in the House and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced a companion resolution in the Senate.

The text of the legislation, which is a nonbinding resolution, lays out a broad vision for how the country might tackle climate change over the next decade, while creating high-paying jobs and protecting vulnerable communities.

Unlike a bill, this type of legislation is not presented to the president and cannot become law. Even if the Green New Deal passed in one or both chambers of Congress, separate legislation would have to be introduced to make any of the resolution’s goals a reality.

Much of the response to the proposal has focused on details that don’t appear in the resolution text. President Donald Trump, for example, suggested on Feb. 9 in a tweet that the plan would “permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military.”

Two days later, at a rally in El Paso, Trump repeated some of those claims, saying that he really doesn’t like “their policy of taking away your car, taking away your airplane flights, of ‘let’s hop a train to California,’ of ‘you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!’”

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming made similar claims when she warned in a subcommittee hearing on Feb. 12 that the Green New Deal would “outlaw” plane travel, gasoline, cars and “probably the entire U.S. military.”

The Green New Deal doesn’t call for any of these prohibitions. But documents about the resolution released by Ocasio-Cortez’s office did address some of the issues raised by Trump and others.  

In a Feb. 8 interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, an adviser to Ocasio-Cortez incorrectly said that an FAQ document promising all Americans economic security, even if they were “unwilling to work,” was doctored, and was not put out by Ocasio-Cortez’s office. Although the resolution does not include that language, it was part of a fact sheet Ocasio-Cortez provided to media outlets and at one time was available on a blog post on the representative’s website. Her adviser, Robert Hockett, later admitted he was wrong. 

Here we explain what the Green New Deal includes — and doesn’t — and why there is confusion over some of the content.

Goals of the Legislation

The Green New Deal is modeled in part after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was a large federal program designed to stabilize the economy and recover from the Great Depression. The Green New Deal focuses on tackling climate change, but isn’t concerned just with reducing emissions.

There are five goals, which the resolution says should be accomplished in a 10-year mobilization effort:

  • Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers
  • Create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States
  • Invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century
  • Secure for all people of the United States for generations to come: clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; healthy food; access to nature; and a sustainable environment
  • Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (“frontline and vulnerable communities”)

The primary climate change goal is to reach net-zero greenhouse emissions in a decade. “Net-zero” means that after tallying up all the greenhouse gases that are released and subtracting those that are sequestered, or removed, there is no net addition to the atmosphere. The goal, then, is slightly less ambitious than calling for no greenhouse gas emissions at all.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in a special report that in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — and thereby avoid many climate change impacts — the world would have to reach net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide by the year 2050.

The resolution goes on to propose additional aims and projects to accomplish these overarching goals, but generally does not stipulate how the country will reach them. The resolution is also silent on cost and funding mechanisms.

We’ll go through some of the specific topics that have received the most attention.

Electricity

One of the most ambitious and prominent goals of the Green New Deal is to meet “100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

The resolution doesn’t offer any more details, other than to say that this would include “dramatically expanding and upgrading renewable power sources” and “deploying new capacity.”

One point of confusion has been what sorts of energy sources the Green New Deal would allow for electricity generation. Ocasio-Cortez’s office released an FAQ document that specifically said that new nuclear plants would not be permitted, although existing nuclear plants could stay. And in response to a question about carbon capture, utilization and storage, or CCUS, the fact sheet read, “We believe the right way to capture carbon is to plant trees and restore our natural ecosystems. CCUS technology to date has not proven effective.”

But the text of the resolution does not mention nuclear power or carbon capture, and as written, does not prohibit either method of generation.

In a press conference on Feb. 7 announcing the proposal, Markey told reporters that the fact sheet’s thoughts on nuclear power were not part of the resolution. He also added that while the resolution doesn’t mention carbon capture, “we are open to whatever works.”

The power sector is one of the biggest contributors to the nation’s carbon footprint, although in recent years emissions have begun to fall. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, generating electricity accounts for about 28 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation

If the country wants to reach net-zero emissions in a decade, one of the most important areas in which emissions reductions need to occur is transportation. Transportation recently surpassed power generation as the sector with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, and is responsible for about 28 percent of the U.S. total.

As with electricity generation, the text of the resolution that discusses transportation is open-ended. The Green New Deal requires “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in— (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transit; and (iii) high-speed rail.”

Some people, including the president, have said that the Green New Deal gets rid of cars or air travel. And as we’ve detailed elsewhere, some popular memes online have even suggested that the plan advocates building “trains over the oceans.”

The resolution does not call for that. It only states that transportation emissions should be reduced “as much as is technically feasible,” and suggests three ways of reaching that goal, including high-speed rail and zero-emission vehicles, which would include electric cars. There is no mention of air travel.

But air travel was mentioned in various FAQ materials produced by Ocasio-Cortez’s office. 

In one FAQ that was given to NPR, one of the highlighted projects was to “totally overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary, create affordable public transit available to all, with goal to replace every combustion-engine vehicle.”

At another point, the FAQ was trying to explain why the goal was net-zero emissions, rather than none at all, and said that was “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”

Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director, said in a phone interview that any such interpretation of the fact sheets was not intended. “Obviously, no, we’re not trying to ban air travel,” he said.

Trent iterated that the Green New Deal does not include details in any other documents. “The resolution is what we’re focused on,” he said.

Agriculture

A third major industry the Green New Deal targets is agriculture. About 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases stem from agricultural activities, including the release of nitrous oxide from soil and methane from livestock.

Once again, the agriculture section of the resolution is vague, stating only that one of the goals of the Green New Deal is “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including— (i) by supporting family farming; (ii) by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and (iii) by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”

Although the resolution doesn’t say anything about cows, the animal is frequently mentioned by critics of the Green New Deal. The president referenced cows twice — once in his tweet, and again in El Paso. 

And on Feb. 12, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming incorrectly said livestock would be banned and that ice cream was “another victim” of the proposal. “Say goodbye to dairy, to beef, to family farms to ranches,” he said. “American favorites like cheeseburgers and milkshakes will become a thing of the past.”

Cows were discussed in two FAQ documents, which likely explains the preoccupation. As mentioned earlier, the fact sheet sent to NPR reads, “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”

The same idea also appeared in a blog post on Ocasio-Cortez’s website, although the language was tweaked to omit “farting.” The post was taken down and no longer appears.

Cows are one of several animals that produce methane as a result of digesting food. In a process known as enteric fermentation, microbes in the cow’s stomach help break down cattle feed, releasing the gas. The majority of the gas is actually exhaled from the mouth, or belched, not released from the back end.

In the U.S., methane production from livestock accounts for almost a third of the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and more than a quarter of all methane emissions. Methane is about 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a century.

Economic Security

Along with its environmental goals, the Green New Deal aims to provide economic security for Americans.

One of the proposal’s key goals is to “create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.” The plan also guarantees “a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”

Both FAQ sheets — the version sent to NPR and the one posted to Ocasio-Cortez’s website — however, go further, and include a provision guaranteeing economic security to “all who are unable or unwilling to work.”

There is nothing in the Green New Deal about providing for people who are “unwilling to work,” but the inclusion in the FAQ materials has proven to be one of the most contentious aspects of the Green New Deal’s rollout.

In his Feb. 8 interview on Fox News, Hockett, a Cornell law professor and adviser to Ocasio-Cortez, falsely said that no materials released by the congresswoman included the “unwilling to work” language, and must have come from a doctored version.

He later told the Daily Caller that he had been mistaken, and had been thinking of a doctored version of the Green New Deal that Ocasio-Cortez had tweeted about. That fake version of the Green New Deal falsely claimed that men would be required to urinate in “an empty milk jug instead of a toilet.”

On Feb. 9, after a Washington Post reporter noticed the disconnect, Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter, noting that there were various versions of the Green New Deal and the FAQs.

Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, also replied, saying that “an early draft of a FAQ that was clearly unfinished and that doesn’t represent the GND resolution got published to the website by mistake.”

“Mistakes happen when doing time launches like this coordinating multiple groups and collaborators,” he added. “But what’s in the resolution is the GND.”

Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director, told us, “There was a mistake on the FAQ,” and said that he was personally responsible, but would not comment further. He pointed us to Chakrabarti’s Twitter thread and the resulting Washington Post article, which he said explained things well.

Whether done accidentally or not, much of the confusion about what the resolution contains originates from discrepancies between the official resolution and documents that Ocasio-Cortez’s office distributed to news outlets and posted on her website, not because of “doctored” copies.

Military

The president’s Feb. 9 tweet also suggested that the Green New Deal would “permanently eliminate” the military. But the resolution does not mention the military at all, and neither do any of the FAQ materials Ocasio-Cortez’s office released or posted.

Where did the idea come from? When we contacted the White House, the press office did not provide us with an on-the-record explanation. But one possibility is a separate proposal by the Green Party of the United States. The party’s policy also goes by the name “Green New Deal” and includes cutting military spending “by at least half” and closing military bases overseas, although it does not call for a complete end to the military.

Despite some similarities, the two plans are distinct and should not be conflated.

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The Green New Deal would "permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military."
Twitter
Saturday, February 9, 2019
 
Share the Facts
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FactCheck.org rating logo FactCheck.org Rating:
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A Green New Deal FAQ document promising all Americans economic security, even if they were “unwilling to work,” was doctored, and was not put out by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office.
Fox News interview
Friday, February 8, 2019