Green New Deal seeks to create large-scale government-led investments in clean energy and infrastructure

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Rising Democratic star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Senator Ed Markey on Thursday laid out the goals of a “Green New Deal” to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, setting a high bar for Democrats, who plan to make climate change a central issue in the 2020 presidential race.

The resolution is the first formal attempt by lawmakers to define the scale of legislation to create large-scale government-led investments in clean energy and infrastructure to transform the U.S. economy.

The platform outlines more-aggressive climate and socioeconomic goals than sweeping climate change legislation introduced by Markey a decade ago, which passed in the House but stopped short in the Senate.

“The Green New Deal fully tackles the existential threat posed by climate change by presenting a comprehensive, 10-year plan that is as big as the problem it hopes to solve while creating a new era of shared prosperity,” according to a summary of the resolution released by the lawmakers on Thursday.

Ocasio-Cortez said she will immediately begin to work on legislation that would “fully flesh out the projects involved in the Green New Deal.”

Republicans have been quick to criticize the initiative, waving off any kind of proposal as heavy-handed. The Trump administration does not believe action on climate change is necessary and is focused on increasing production of oil, gas and coal on federal and private land.

Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, said at a climate change hearing in the House natural resources committee on Wednesday that the policy was akin to a “Soviet five-year plan.”

The non-binding resolution outlines several goals for the United States, including meeting 100 percent of power demand from zero-emission energy sources.

The goals outlined in the Green New Deal respond to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said global temperatures must be kept less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels to avoid the most severe impacts of a changing climate, its authors said.

The plan also calls for new projects to modernize U.S. transportation infrastructure, de-carbonize the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, make buildings and homes more energy efficient and increase land preservation.

The Green New Deal also aims to create an economic safety net for “frontline” communities that will be affected by the impacts of climate change and by a radical shift away from fossil fuel use. In addition, it calls for universal healthcare and federal job and training guarantees.

“We… need to be sure that workers currently employed in fossil fuel industries have higher-wages and better jobs available to them to be able to make this transition, and a federal jobs guarantee ensures that no worker is left behind,” according to a summary of the plan.

The Green New Deal was put into the media spotlight by a youth coalition called the Sunrise Movement and Ocasio-Cortez, 29, the youngest woman to serve in Congress.

Members of the group have already put pressure on Democratic presidential hopefuls over the last few weeks.

Sunrise activists showed up at California Senator Kamala Harris‘ presidential campaign launch last month and dropped a banner urging her to back the Green New Deal. Sunrise activists also showed up with signs and banners at a recent event in New York for former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

Harris and other Democratic presidential hopefuls – Senators Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand – as well as Julian Castro and independent Michael Bloomberg, have endorsed the Green New Deal concept, without outlining specific policies.

Sunrise activists will turn their attention to members of Congress next week and urge them to support the resolution. If they fail to support the resolution by Feb. 26, the group said its members plan to storm their offices, hold rallies and make “it clear that young people are ready to hold our politicians’ feet to the fire.”

Greg Carlock, Green New Deal director of think tank Data for Progress, said lawmakers who seek middle ground policies that fall short of Green New Deal goals will lose youth support in future elections.

“The GND movement are way smarter than that – they will not accept vague endorsements,” Carlock told Reuters.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dan Grebler)