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Nation & World

What's actually in the 'Green New Deal' from Democrats?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks during the third annual Women's March near Columbus Circle in New York on Jan. 19.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks during the third annual Women's March near Columbus Circle in New York on Jan. 19.

"I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called 'Carbon Footprint' to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military - even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!" - President Donald Trump, in a tweet on Feb. 9

"There are multiple doctored GND [Green New Deal] resolutions and FAQs floating around. There was also a draft version that got uploaded + taken down. There's also draft versions floating out there. Point is, the real one is our submitted resolution, H.Res. 109." - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in a tweet on Feb. 9

- - -

No one is proposing to "eliminate all planes, cars, cows, oil, gas and the military."

No one created "doctored" versions of the Green New Deal that included these outlandish proposals.

As a reader service, we're going to summarize what's actually in the Green New Deal from Democrats, and how we ended up with all this confusion.

The Green New Deal is a manifesto calling for sweeping changes to American society. Key goals include cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years and guaranteeing jobs for all. The plan has prominent Democratic backers, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, all of whom are running for president. Many liberal and environmental groups are on board. Republicans say it's a non-starter that reeks of socialism.

Climate change is a critical issue, but some experts say the Green New Deal is overambitious and unworkable. "I'm afraid I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year time frame," Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist and secretary of energy under President Barack Obama, told NPR. "It's just impractical. And if we start putting out impractical targets, we may lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution on the most rapid time frame that we can achieve," such as labor unions, Moniz said.

Sixty-nine percent of Americans are "somewhat worried" or "very worried" about climate change, according to a December survey by Yale University in Connecticut and George Mason University in Virginia. The percentage represents "the highest level since our surveys began in 2008, and an increase of seven percentage points since our previous survey in March 2018," the pollsers said.

The resolution in Congress from Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., calls for a "10-year national mobilization" that would include:

- "Guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States."

- "Providing all people of the United States with - (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature."

- "Providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States."

- "Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources."

- "Repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States, including . . . by eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible."

- "Building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and 'smart' power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity."

- "Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification."

- "Overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in - (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation; and (iii) high-speed rail."

- "Spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible."

- "Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible."

There's a real question of how much of this could be accomplished in 10 years or longer.

"In my own subjective assessment, getting to near-zero emissions over the next decade would be physically possible but sociopolitically infeasible," said Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science. "During World War II, up to 60 percent of national GDP was directed towards the war effort. If we were to mobilize around the climate problem the way we mobilized around the fight against Germany and Japan, then we could possibly do this."

Even if it passed, the resolution would not have the force of law. Resolutions like this are broad statements about policy priorities. Ocasio-Cortez's office says a formal legislative proposal would come later.

Nothing in the resolution eliminates "all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military," as Trump tweeted. Accomplishing some of the goals undoubtedly would affect the industries Trump mentions, but it's inaccurate to say the Green New Deal would "permanently eliminate" them. It might be accurate only for the oil industry, since the plan calls for "meeting 100 percent of the power demand" with clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources. It should be noted that some key provisions in the Green New Deal call only for "technologically feasible" changes.

The White House did not respond to an email Sunday seeking comment.

So where did all this talk about eliminating cows and airplanes come from?

As part of the resolution's rollout, Ocasio-Cortez's office released some accompanying literature in the form of "frequently asked questions." These FAQs included statements that went beyond the terms of the resolution itself, and they soon became fodder for attacks by Fox News commentators and Republicans. There were also signs that not all Democratic backers of the Green New Deal were on board with statements in the FAQs. Campaigning in Iowa, Booker noted that he endorsed only the "framework and the resolution."

One version of the FAQ from Ocasio-Cortez's staff said the Green New Deal sought "economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work." That's not in the resolution itself, which calls instead for "guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage." An adviser to the congresswoman, Robert Hockett, erroneously said on Fox News that the "unwilling to work" line was from a doctored document.

At another point, the FAQ called for building "high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary." This line also went beyond the terms of the resolution, which calls for high-speed rail investments but doesn't mention airplanes or air travel.

The FAQ also said:

Why 100 percent clean and renewable and not just 100 percent renewable? Are you saying we won't transition off fossil fuels?

Yes, we are calling for a full transition off fossil fuels and zero greenhouse gases. Anyone who has read the resolution sees that we spell this out through a plan that calls for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from every sector of the economy. Simply banning fossil fuels immediately won't build the new economy to replace it - this is the plan to build that new economy and spells out how to do it technically. We do this through a huge mobilization to create the renewable energy economy as fast as possible. We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren't sure that we'll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast, but we think we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, plant lots of trees and restore our ecosystem to get to net-zero.

Another version of the FAQ, which has been taken offline by Ocasio-Cortez's staff, said something similar: "The Green New Deal sets a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, at the end of this 10-year plan because we aren't sure that we will be able to fully get rid of, for example, emissions from cows or air travel before then. However, we do believe we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, restore our ecosystem, and more to get to net-zero emissions." (We pulled up an archived copy of this document using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.)

"It's literally - clearly - irony," Ocasio-Cortez spokesman Corbin Trent said in a brief phone interview Thursday when asked about the airplanes and cows.

On Saturday, however, Ocasio-Cortez walked back all the statements in the FAQs.

"Point is, the real one is our submitted resolution, H.Res. 109," she tweeted. Ocasio-Cortez also said: "There are multiple doctored GND resolutions and FAQs floating around. There was also a draft version that got uploaded + taken down. There's also draft versions floating out there."

The statements and FAQs at issue were not doctored. They were all produced by her staff. Now, Ocasio-Cortez is saying they were "draft" versions not ready for prime time.

"The only document our office is officially standing by is the actual resolution that we published," Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff, told The Fact Checker on Saturday. "The job guarantee is in the resolution. We are absolutely not backing off from that or anything else in the resolution, like getting to a greenhouse gas neutral economy in 10 years, massively building up new clean manufacturing or transitioning off fossil fuels as fast as possible by rapidly deploying renewable power generation."

There was at least one doctored version, which Ocasio-Cortez posted on Twitter. It was about "recycling urine."

Trump is misrepresenting the Green New Deal as the plan is currently written. The resolution in Congress is full of sweeping ambition and grand goals, but it's also vaguer and more moderate than he says. There's nothing in there about putting an end to cars or cows or air travel or the military.

It's also misleading for Ocasio-Cortez to mention "doctored" materials as she responds to these attacks. Most of the criticism she is responding to was based on documents from her office, not on fake plans for "recycling urine."

There's a case to be made that the criticism about ending airplanes and cows was a stretch to begin with, since the resolution didn't mention any of that and the FAQs were not definitive on those points. But Ocasio-Cortez has now disowned the FAQs and the statements that went beyond the resolution. The line about providing for people "unwilling to work" has been walked back completely. So we won't be awarding any Pinocchios in this kerfuffle.

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