Making Cents Of the Green New Deal

Patrick Donohue, contributor for Going Green, gives his take on Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal proposal.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2020 presidential candidate, waves while arriving on stage during the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. Joe Biden invoked the legacy of former president Barack Obama in arguing the expansive healthcare proposals from Elizabeth Warren and Sanders would be too costly for the nation. Photographer: Callaghan O’Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In late August, Vermont Senator and Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders released his ‘Green New Deal’, a comprehensive plan to address climate and social reform in America.  While the term has been floating in the public consciousness since March, when a resolution of the same name was co-sponsored in Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, Sen. Sanders proposal is the first of the major Democratic Party candidates to ride its wave and apply the ‘Green New Deal’ title to his vision of collective action.

Sen. Sanders’ Green New Deal’ is ambitious.  16.3 trillion dollars over 10 years ambitious.  16,300,000,000,000. Just look at all those zeros! For some context, 16.3 trillion dollars is enough to pay for the US involvement in WWII four times over, to purchase 108 International Space Stations, or fill a football field with stacks of $100 bills over 160 feet high.  

How is he planning to spend this money?

The proposal outlines initiatives and public investment packages intended to transition our nation to 100% renewable energy by 2030, completely decarbonize by 2050, modernize infrastructure/agriculture, create living wage jobs for millions, and ensure a social safety net for the underprivileged, unemployed, and those hit hardest on the frontlines of climate change.

The Breakdown

There’s a lot to unpack here, and you’d need a legion of accountants and auditors to run the numbers.  At 35 pages in length, the plan reads as more of a visionary blueprint than a budgetary statement; a canvas of campaign promises painted in broad strokes. Of the $16.3 trillion called for in the plan, nearly every dollar is earmarked to a specific cause. That said, no supplementary data is provided in the proposal explaining how each figure was reached, and though we have allocations for specific purposes–say 2.18 trillion for the weatherizing of homes–we lack the nuts and bolts of how this spending will be directed, and will absolutely need to see how he plans to fill in the gaps. 

 For reference, I’ve made a shorthand itemized list below.

InvestmentCost
Green Climate Fund$200,000,000
Renewable Energy Projects$1,520,000,000,000
Energy Storage Capacity Improvements$852,000,000,000
Modernizing Electric Grid$526,000,000,000
Weatherizing/Retrofitting Homes$2,180,000,000,000
Transition from Fossil Fuels to Electric Heating/Cooling in Homes$964,000,000,000
Grants for the Trade-in of Fossil Fuel Vehicles to Electric Vehicles$2,090,000,000,000
Trade-In Incentives to Replace Older Automobiles$681,000,000,000
Electric Charging Station Infrastructure$85,600,000,000
Electrification of Buses/Public Vehicles$407,000,000,000
Transitioning Trucking Industry from Diesel to Electric Vehicles$216,000,000,000
Public Transit Investments$300,000,000,000
High Speed Rail Development$607,000,000,000
Storage Shot Battery R&D$30,000,000,000
Electric Vehicle Cost Reduction R&D$100,000,000,000
Decarbonization of Shipping/Aviation R&D$500,000,000,000
Fully Decarbonize Maritime/Aviation Shipping Industries$150,000,000,000
Creation of Climate Justice Resiliency Fund$40,000,000,000
WATER Act Programs$34,850,000,000
Affordable Broadband Infrastructure$150,000,000,000
Road Repair Projects$77,000,000,000
Freight/Passenger Rural Network Developments$5,000,000,000
Weatherizing and Modernizing Road Infrastructure$636,100,000,000
Climate-proofing All New Infrastructure Built Over 10 Year Period$300,000,000,000
Preparing Coastal Communities for Sea Level Rise$162,000,000,000
Wildfire Restoration/Disaster Preparedness$18,000,000,000
FEMA Disaster Mitigation Program$2,000,000,000
Reauthorization/Expansion of CCC & Public Lands Projects$171,000,000,000
Permanently Fund Land & Water Conservation Fund$900,000,000
National Park Restoration Projects$25,000,000,000
Transitioning Fossil Fuel Workers to Green Industry$1,300,000,000,000
Black Lung Fund Investment$15,000,000,000
Training Programs for High-Risk Industrial Workers$100,000,000
Appalachian Regional Commission Investment$2,530,000,000
Delta Regional Authority Investment$506,400,000
Denali Commission Investment$304,000,000
Northern Border Regional Commission Investment$405,000,000
Southeast Crescent Regional Commission Investment$94,000,000
Economic Development Assistance Programs Investment$2,020,000,000
Climate-impacted Counties Infrastructure Investments$130,000,000,000
Expansion of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program$25,000,000,000
Universal School Meals Program$215,800,000,000
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program$311,000,000,000
Fossil Fuel Well & Mine Cleanup$100,000,000,000
Cleanup of Superfund Sites$238,000,000,000
Cleanup of Brownfield Sites$150,000,000,000
Agricultural Transition to Regenerative Practices$410,000,000,000
Confined Animal Farms Transition to Regenerative Practices$41,000,000,000
Socially Disadvantaged/Beginner Farmer Assistance$41,000,000,000
Soil Health Improvements$160,000,000,000
Regional Appropriate Farming Technique Investments$1,480,000,000
Farmland Conservation Fund$24,850,000,000
Organic Farming Transition Assistance$500,000,000
Rural Energy For America Program$1,400,000,000
Disadvantaged/Beginning Farm State Coordinator Program$50,000,000
Tribal Land Access and Extension Programs$1,120,000,000
Farmer Opportunity Training and Outreach Program$1,000,000,000
Victory Lawn and Garden Initiative$36,000,000,000
Co-Op Grocery Store Investments$14,700,000,000
Local Food Processing Investments$31,000,000,000
On-Farm Processing Investments$263,000,000
Food Recovery/Composting Investments$160,000,000,000
Total:$16,245,772,400,000

Show Me the Money

Now that we’ve gaped at the price tag, and seen just whats under the hood, how do we go about paying for it? 

For starters, getting rid of subsidies to fossil fuel companies.  According to the International Monetary Fund, it was reported that the United States spent an estimated $650 Billion on subsidies for fossil fuel companies in 2015. That number exceeds defense spending in the same year by about $50 Billion.  While it’s debatable how much damage removing these subsidies would have on the market, when scaled to a 10 year period between 2020 and 2030, assuming static subsidization with a fixed inflation rate of 2%, that figures to be roughly 7.53 trillion in recouped federal spending.

On top of this, Senator Sanders expects to net around 6.4 trillion in revenue over 10 years from selling renewable energy via regional power marketing authorities (perhaps nationalizing the energy grid?), 2.3 trillion in income taxes from the jobs created under the plan, and save an estimated 1.2 trillion in military expenses connected to the protection of oil routes.  Not to be forgotten however, are those income taxes lost when the oil industry is taken apart.  Crunched together, these numbers give us an extremely rough total of 17.43 trillion in funding for the Green New Deal. 

Bottom line:  are there doubts as to whether Mr. Sanders plan can actually pay for itself in 15 years as pitched?  No question. Is it economically feasible for the richest nation on the planet to raise the amount given the right circumstances?  It looks like it. Is it necessary? You be the judge, but as his plan warns, ‘‘If we do not take action, we will lose $34.5 trillion in economic activity by the end of the century.’’ 

To Wrap

FDR once said in a 1932 address, ‘The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.’ 
We’ve reached a point where sweeping governmental action is necessary if we’re to have any hope of curbing climate change. Senator Sanders ‘Green New Deal’ is objectively bold, expensive, and far-reaching, but you gotta give the man credit–he’s trying his moonshot.      

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