What is the Green New Deal and What Could It Mean for DC?

By David Schwartzman, 6/17/2020

First, what is the “Green New Deal” and who is proposing it?

“The Green New Deal (GND) is a proposed package of United States legislation that aims to address climate change and economic inequality. The name refers back to the “New Deal,” a set of social and economic reforms and public works projects undertaken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. For example, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) put millions of people to work repairing bridges, roads, buildings and even creating forest reserves. The Green New Deal combines Roosevelt’s economic approach with modern ideas such as renewable energy and resource efficiency. In the 116th United States Congress, the GND is a pair of resolutions, House Resolution 109 and Senate Res. 59, sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_New_Deal.)

The Green New Deal (GND) apparently first entered the U.S. political discourse with an opinion piece by Thomas Friedman’s in the New York Times in 2007 in which he proposed what he called an energy new deal, a national initiative to phase out fossil fuel with “clean” energy.” This was followed by Howie Hawkins’ GND platform in his 2010 Green Party campaign for New York Governor. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate for president of the United States, later invoked the idea in her 2012 and 2016 campaigns. On the international stage, a GND deal was first put forward by the United Nations Environment Program in 2009.  (See sources below.)  

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All of these GND ideas included components such as the production of clean energy power capacity, especially wind and solar to replace fossil fuels, and the repair of infrastructure – all made possible with massive job creation.

Implementation of a Green New Deal is now being vigorously discussed at all levels of power, local to national, receiving the most national attention when put forward as the two resolutions in Congress, as well as with Bernie Sanders, Hawkins, and others pushing for its inclusion in a new domestic agenda during the 2019 campaigns for presidential candidates. The current Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, also has proposed his version of the GND framework (the Republican candidate has not.)  An excellent article highlights campaigns and the GND: https://forgeorganizing.org/article/energy-democracy-campaigns-building-green-new-deal-ground. But what is/was the GND Congressional framework?  The two Congressional resolutions mainly stated that Congress should create a study on what a GND would consist of, but no details were listed as to the specific components – some details were being worked on, and more were due if the resolutions passed. Unfortunately, AOC and Markey’s GND combined resolution was not passed by the Senate.

How does the GND affect DC?

Photo by Annette Olson

The GND vision has influenced programs at the state and city levels, where programs like DC’s recent clean energy legislation (the Clean Energy Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018; https://doee.dc.gov/service/clean-energy-dc-act) already invokes some of its components:  in particular, an aggressive shift to renewable energy-powered electricity replacing fossil fuel by 2032, along with electrification goals for transportation and increased energy efficiency in buildings.

Here is another article I have written on the subject in August 2019:  “What a Green New Deal for DC could mean for the city’s working-class residents” https://www.gp.org/green_new_deal_for_working_class_residents, which proposes some components for a GND by building off of DC’s great achievement with its 2018’s Clean Energy DC legislation.  We’ve updated them here:

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  • Curb air pollution and carbon emissions by addressing so as to accelerate the transition to fully renewable energy supplies (wind and solar).  This could be conducted by funding Solar for All (https://doee.dc.gov/solarforall) to make possible its promise and to go beyond.
  • In addition to the DC Green Bank being created from the 2018 legislation, form a DC Public Bank as the recipient of DC revenues, to partner with local banks and credit unions to help finance affordable, especially social housing, green jobs etc. (see https://www.dcpublicbanking.org)
  • Implement DC “public” power: take over utilities supplying electricity and natural gas, transferring them to public ownership — an idea that gained attention during the struggle to block Exelon’s takeover of Pepco.  For example, Councilmember Mary Cheh proposed a feasibility study to municipalize our utilities.  Given the fact that two thousand community owned utilities in the U.S. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Public_Power_Association) have public power, this should be on the agenda of a GND for DC.
  • Given the fire hazards and greenhouse gas footprint caused by leakage of natural gas into the environment, implement a rapid phase out of its use in DC, replacing it as an energy source for cooking and heating with heat pumps fueled by renewably generated electricity.
  • Promote a regional coastal ocean wind farm, starting with studying the surrounding jurisdictions. 
  • Increase the budget subsidy for urban farming and green manufacturing cooperatives.
  • Implement 100 percent recycling of food waste so it can be converted to compost for DC’s urban farms.
  • Implement comprehensive apprenticeship programs in DC high schools and in high-poverty neighborhoods for 21st-century employment, especially in the renewable energy and agroecology/organic agriculture sectors.
  • Regarding green space Last but not least, incorporate the GND into the future of McMillan Park and other green spaces in DC.  As it stands, the Mayor’s Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) development plan for McMillan Park (https://mayor.dc.gov/release/mayor-bowser-breaks-ground-mcmillan-redevelopment-ward-5) should be terminated and replaced with an open bid process to create a truly great park/mixed use development, with maximum green space (see http://friendsofmcmillan.org/about-us/; https://dcist.com/story/20/01/27/mcmillan-d-c-s-most-cursed-development-project-explained/). Green space is imperative for climate justice and preparation for climatic adaptation, and construction and maintenance can provide green jobs.
  • Finally, provide free public transit and incentivize the transportation sector so as to transition to renewable energy, perhaps building funded, community projects. It should be mentioned that Councilmember Charles Allen recently proposed free public transit (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/dc-council-member-proposes-free-public-transit-for-residents/2020/03/01/62a5a2ca-5a8f-11ea-9000-f3cffee23036_story.html), financed by the DC government. Free, electrified public transit would be an important component of a GND for DC, with great benefits to residents, commuting workers, and visitors via its reduction in air pollution and car congestion.

Current status:

Due to the current economic crisis, calls for a Green Stimulus are becoming stronger on local and national levels, with components that are similar to and could become part of the GND.  The main call comes from a multi-organizational, academic, and nonprofit letter that notes strong potential programs that could be utilized.  See:  https://medium.com/@green_stimulus_now/a-green-stimulus-to-rebuild-our-economy-1e7030a1d9ee.

Green Neighbors DC will seek to keep abreast of how the GND is and will affect DC as components become implemented.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, the Wikipedia article gives a great overview of the GND at the national and international levels.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_New_Deal.

Sources (in order from article):

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