The Green New Deal Is Like Cilantro
Vote Solar’s Adam Browning argues that the federal debate about a Green New Deal overlooks an avenue for real progress.
The Green New Deal is like cilantro, Hawaiian pizza, or peas in guacamole — it’s the kind of thing that, love or hate, everyone has an opinion about. The House Resolution, introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calls for a World War II-style mobilization to combat climate change by a rapid transition to a zero-emission economy, and has quickly become a fixture of the partisan news cycle.
But the fact is, most Americans find many of the goals of the Green New Deal appealing. Clean air and good jobs are up there with mom and apple pie in terms of public support. When Yale’s Program on Climate Change stripped the politics out and asked American voters about the key goals of the Green New Deal, researchers found an impressive 81 percent support among registered voters, which includes majority support among conservative Republicans.
Beyond the pundit-class divisiveness, there’s really a lot of unanimity. And while the headlines may be focused on Green New Deal’s path through Congress, there is another way that real progress is already being made: through state-level policy. States, which have the power to oversee their own electricity markets, have a proud tradition of cutting through partisanship, acting on voters’ wishes, and driving renewable energy progress in this country.
States are already working to advance the principles of a Green New Deal, although the ingredients may vary.
Last year, California passed a bill putting the world’s fifth-largest economy on a path to 100 percent clean electricity. The specifics differ, but this is broadly one of the key goals of the Green New Deal, and California’s not alone. The League of Conservation Voters cataloged 1,400 candidates for public office during the November elections that had 100 percent clean energy platforms, and of those, eight are now governors. Seeing the writing on the wall that 100 percent clean is popular, achievable and in fact necessary, major utilities in the Midwest like Xcel and Indiana’s NIPPSCO are already phasing out coal and committing to renewables.
Right now, at least 10 states are considering legislation to significantly increase their own renewable energy targets and boost economic opportunity, including a strong showing from the Midwest where Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota are all going for 100 percent clean. Last month, the South Carolina House unanimously — in a remarkable 110-0 vote — approved a bill to expand net metering and rooftop solar access.
Meanwhile, in California, Democratic and Republican state senators joined together to launch a Solar Bill of Rights to protect and expand consumer access to solar and other distributed energy resources as a resilience strategy in the wake of wildfires that have devastated communities across the state. California and South Carolina are two very different states, and yet they're both taking bold bipartisan action to empower families and businesses to go solar, take control of their energy bills and build a stronger, safer clean energy grid for all of us.
It was also a banner new year for community solar. We saw bills introduced in Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania, and New Mexico’s House passed their own bill designed to expand community solar opportunities to renters and others who can’t go solar on their own property. If you’re looking for a reason to be inspired about America’s clean energy transition, look to the states.
All of this investment in resilient 21st-century clean power infrastructure is already driving new economic opportunity in communities nationwide. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts solar installer and wind energy technician at the top of the list for our nation’s fastest-growing jobs over the next decade.
According to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Job Census, the U.S. solar workforce is already 242,000 people strong, employing twice as many workers as the coal industry. Those jobs are being created in states as politically diverse as this country of ours; California leads the nation, but Texas, Arizona, Ohio and North Carolina all break the top 10.
Consumers are feeling those economic benefits as well. Thanks to massive cost declines over the past decade, clean energy is helping families and businesses save on their energy bills, lowering their cost of living and putting money back in their pockets.
There’s a similar phenomenon afoot with the electrification — and decarbonization — of transportation. States around the country have been working to address the equitable build-out of charging networks, rethinking urban planning, electrifying public transportation and powering it with renewables. As a result, the cost of lithium-ion batteries has come down 85 percent in the past eight years, and the tipping point of cheaper ownership costs is nigh.
To be clear, more needs to be done at all levels of government to ensure an enduring, just and complete transition to a decarbonized economy that addresses social and economic inequity. But many of the building blocks are already available to state-level policymakers today, and astounding progress is being made.
So if you have an opinion on what a Green New Deal should include, you don’t have to wait for Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Mitch McConnell to come together and sing Kumbaya. States can make their own path to a clean energy economy and can include whatever elements they want.
And if you don’t like cilantro in your climate solution, don’t take it up with me — talk to your state elected representative about it. But so help me, keep your peas out of my guacamole!
Adam Browning is the executive director of Vote Solar.