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The Green New Deal Could Rise Again, Despite Current Politics

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
Energy & Environment
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Yesterday, we discussed how the Green New Deal has plenty of hurdles to overcome, including the fact that its critics are pouncing on and picking apart the plan before the exact details and costs are known. The conventional wisdom is that Senate Republicans will vote the proposal down, leaving egg on the face of proponents including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Rushing the Senate vote, however, could turn out to be a case of being careful what you wish for.

As Neil Donahue suggested on the politics blog The Hill yesterday, the business lens can apply to the conventional framing of a right-left political divide.

The U.S. public seems to be behind much of this plan

Public opinion researchers are already beginning to find evidence of support for the basic tenets of this Green New Deal. And while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was cautious in describing the plan as saying she appreciated the “enthusiasm,” polling data indicates that the American public is ready to have such a debate.

Last week, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication published a new survey that found a positive reaction when they presented this exact proposition to participants:

“Some members of Congress are proposing a ‘Green New Deal’ for the U.S. They say that a Green New Deal will produce jobs and strengthen America’s economy by accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. The Deal would generate 100 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean, renewable sources within the next 10 years; upgrade the nation’s energy grid, buildings, and transportation infrastructure; increase energy efficiency; invest in green technology research and development; and provide training for jobs in the new green economy."

Yale’s researchers found that 81 percent of registered voters either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” the plan. That included a 75 percent positive response from voters identifying themselves as moderate Republicans, and 57 percent who identified as conservative Republicans.

That is consistent with earlier surveys showing strong bipartisan support for renewable energy.

For example, a 2016 Pew Research survey question on solar farms found 83 percent approval by conservative Republicans.

Also in 2016, a Vanderbilt University study that same year found bipartisan support for renewable energy on a state-by-state basis as well.

The Business Case for the Green New Deal

Adding to this literature, a new survey by researchers at Washington State University underscores a powerful area of common ground between Democrats and Republicans. The researchers summarize:

“While conservatives and liberals tend to disagree on many environmental issues, they both view the development of solar power and other forms of renewable energy as financially savvy and a step towards self-sufficiency.”

The study, published in the journal Environmental Politics, found that “the study's conservative respondents were more likely to view [rooftop solar panels] as financially wise and a good use of resources.”

That message is certainly useful to stakeholders in the renewable energy sector. The near-universal attraction of financial savvy and self-sufficiency can also ripple out to provide leverage for other business that want to increase their renewable energy profile.

In other words, renewable energy has become a branding message that crosses party lines.

The bipartisan movement picks up steam

As for producing a political headache mainly for Senate Democrats, the picture is a little more complicated than it may seem.

Massachusetts and Maryland are two standout examples. Though both states currently have Republican governors, they are both members of the U.S. Climate Alliance, making them the only two Republican-helmed states in the 20-state body (21 including Puerto Rico).

If a “no” vote on the Green New Deal would not only be politically awkward for the four Democratic senators from those states, it would also put their Republican governors in a bad light.

Both governors are on record supporting clean power. Their states are also members of the U.S. Department of Energy’s new national wind energy R&D consortium, spearheaded by New York State. The new consortium is specifically aimed at accelerating U.S. wind development to create new jobs.

By putting the Green New Deal on the fast track for a vote, the Senate may also create an awkward moment for state-level Republican legislators.

In North Carolina, for example, the Republican party continues to hold a lock on the state’s lawmaking machinery. In the past that meant locking down renewable energy initiatives, too. Now the picture has changed.

In a recent interview, North Carolina Republican state Senator Bob Steinburg, observed, “. . . if you are a Republican and you are [against] renewable energy, you're in serious trouble.”

Steinburg would know. He attributes conservatives’ support for renewables with propelling him into office last year.

Pennsylvania provides another good example. Last year state lawmakers began working on bipartisan proposals that would commit the state to a 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2050.

Pennsylvania is an especially interesting case in terms of strong bipartisan support for renewable energy, because it is also a leading coal-producing state and it is the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer after Texas.

Nevertheless, it appears that fossil fuel stakeholders are losing their grip on policy making in the state, and Pennsylvania’s renewable energy profile is poised for rapid growth. Despite a downturn in solar job creation last year, Pennsylvania saw the ranks of its solar industry employees swell by 10 percent.

The bottom line is that the Green New Deal may die on the vine this year, but think of this debate as two steps forward, one step back: businesses in many U.S. states can and will rely on strong bipartisan support for state-level policies that create new jobs and accelerate the renewable energy trend.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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