The concept of a Green New Deal – a massive public works program aimed at reducing emissions in part through massive, rapid deployment of zero-carbon generation – is not new. The proposal has been in the public sphere since at least 2007, and has been promoted by author and non-profit founder Van Jones as well as being on the platform of the Green Party in several presidential campaigns.
However, for the past decade the idea was certainly not a mainstream policy proposal. That is changing. As of December 12, 35 members of Congress had signed on to support Sunrise Movement’s call for the creation of a select committee for a Green New Deal.
This is rapid progress since a November 13 sit-in at the office of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) which catapulted the group and the demand to national attention. At the time the call for a Green New Deal – which includes a call for 100% renewable electricity by 2030 – was backed by only a small group of mostly incoming members of Congress, coming from the far Left of the Democratic Party.
However, the Sunrise Movement has shown an ability to both mobilize large numbers of youth and to remain in the media spotlight, helped in no small part to charismatic backer and U.S. Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-New York).
And following continuing pressure on members of Congress, support for the proposal had risen to 18 U.S. Representatives by early December, and then increased in spurts to reach 35 yesterday.
Diversity and power
As previously noted, the group of representatives supporting this call is much more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and gender than the largely white Protestant male Congress. It also stretches geographically across much of the United States, with representatives from the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest and even the U.S. South joining in.
However, there are limitations. These supporters tend to hail from some regions more than others. While half the combined congressional delegations from six New England states back the proposal, only two from the South do, and none from the Plains States.
And while they comprise 15% of Democrats in the U.S. House, they are only 8% of the overall membership. But more of a concern is that many of these representatives are relatively new to their positions and largely do not hold the reins of power in the Democratic Party.
A significant exception is Representative James McGovern (D-Massachusetts), who serves as ranking member of the House Rules Committee, and Sunrise Movement may be relying heavily on McGovern to push their proposal for a committee for a Green New Deal.
Influence on policy
But even if Democratic Party leadership doesn’t explicitly back this proposal – which includes a wide range of ambitious social measures including full employment and possibly even a universal basic income – some of these ideas appears to have resonance in policy proposals.
On December 6, House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) sent a letter to President Trump stating that any new infrastructure program must include policies to move the nation to a clean energy economy. These not only included a proposal for permanent extension of clean energy, energy storage and EV tax cuts among a range of decarbonization measures, but also stressed workforce provisions.
As such, whether or not Sunrise Movement achieves its stated goals, it may already be influencing policy positions in the Democratic Party.
However, in many ways Democratic Party leaders are talking out of both sides of their mouth on these issues. A week after Schumer sent his letter to President Trump, he announced the appointment of pro-coal Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Viriginia) as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a move which was widely denounced by climate groups.