Beto O'Rourke Made A Plan For A Thing, Everybody Happy Now? (It Is A Climate Plan!)
Beto O'Rourke went from pretty much zero concrete policy proposals to wow! yesterday with the release of an ambitious plan to leverage five trillion dollars toward getting America to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 -- the reduction in greenhouse gases needed to prevent the very worst outcomes of climate change. The plan aims to get us halfway to that goal by 2030.
It's not exactly the Green New Deal -- and in terms of actual policy proposals, it's actually more detailed than that resolution, which at this stage is more about setting goals than the actual mechanics of reaching them. O'Rourke's plan immediately became the most detailed 2020 Democratic candidate's plan for addressing climate, if only because others are still on the way. It also looks very very doable, although of course the Usual Suspects will proclaim it the end of America.
O'Rourke's plan (here's the PDF version if you prefer) has four basic elements. He pledges on the first day of his presidency, he would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement framework and issue executive orders undoing all the anti-climate executive actions Donald Trump has taken. Beyond that, he'd order new rules to reduce emissions of the very worst greenhouse gases like methane and hydrofluorocarbons, which cause more warming than carbon dioxide, and restore pre-Trump efficiency standards for auto and power plant emissions. All federal contracts would be subject to "buy clean" requirements (similar to the "buy American" provisions already in place). And like Elizabeth Warren, he'd immediately stop new oil and gas leases on all public lands.
Plank Two would get Congress into the act with a bill to spend $5 trillion over a decade on green energy and carbon reduction, including $1.5 trillion in direct spending and $3.5 trillion in tax incentives, loans and the like. O'Rourke would cover the direct spending part through eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels, as well as tax increases on corporations and rich fuckwads. The funds would go toward research and development as well as grants to improve efficiency in public housing and transportation, plus grants to train people for green jobs. O'Rourke would also fund pensions and transitional training for fossil fuel workers who'd be displaced by the switch to green energy.
Part Three would get into the regulatory framework of actually reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with half of that to be achieved within a decade. Vox has a good summary:
[Rather] than a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, O'Rourke is anchoring a legally-binding net-zero emissions standard by 2050. "This standard will send a clear price signal to the market while putting in place a mechanism that will ensure the environmental integrity of this endeavor — providing us with the confidence that we are moving at least as quickly as we need in order to meet a 2050 deadline," according to O'Rourke's proposal. This doesn't rule out pricing carbon but instead focuses on setting definitive goal posts.
So maybe some kind of carbon tax, but the exact mechanism isn't yet specified -- and in fact, the plan promises to build in constant fine-tuning to make sure the goals are being met, by "[r]igorously measuring our progress, scaling what works and scrapping what does not." That's reminiscent of how Franklin Roosevelt suggested the original New Deal would try a variety of methods and discard those that didn't result in economic recovery.
Finally, O'Rourke would work to help prepare communities for the very real effects of climate change that are already happening, like increased extreme weather events, sea level rise, droughts, and fires. He wants a tenfold increase on "pre-disaster mitigation," since that would save money over rebuilding, and calls for changes in the law to ensure that when disasters do strike, recovery won't simply "leave communities vulnerable to the next fire, flood, drought or hurricane." Hey, how about NOT rebuilding expensive coastal homes just like they were, and ensuring that poor communities aren't located in floodplains?
Throughout the plan, O'Rourke takes care to note that poor people and communities of color have historically borne the brunt of pollution, and insists the path away from a carbon-based economy must address such environmental racism. Even so, the O'Rourke plan differs from the Green New Deal in one significant aspect: while O'Rourke has a substantial investment in green jobs and infrastructure, his plan lacks the full employment goals (and the shift to national healthcare) that makes up the "New Deal" part of the Green New Deal. His is a plain and simple climate action plan (as if anything about addressing the climate were either of those), not the GND's more fundamental restructuring of the economy outside the energy sector.
As soon as O'Rourke released the plan, it was denounced as not ambitious enough by the Sunrise Movement, a group pushing for the Green New Deal. A Sunrise spokesperson says we have to aim for full net zero emissions by 2030, not 2050. Vox offers a pretty good overview of the arguments there, which we won't get into, although we'll just note that the GND's Senate sponsor, Ed Markey, says the resolution doesn't have such an advanced timeline. Yes, the sooner we reach greater emissions reductions, the better, obviously, but even getting halfway there by 2030 seems enormously challenging.
And now that Beto O'Rourke has a plan out there, we're looking forward to what the rest of the field comes up with. For the first time in years, it's finally looking like this country is getting serious about making the changes necessary to keep this planet livable for large mammals like us.
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