The roll out of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution was a disaster, it put way too much non climate related policy into the legislation while ignoring useful emission reduction policies that will be needed. I used the Energy Policy Simulator to write up my own climate change plan that was based on as little intervention into the daily lives of Americans as possible, while still more than meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. The following include those policy recommendations, how to pay for them, and the amount of emissions said polices would reduce.
How to Pay For It:
Eliminate Fossil Fuel Subsidies: I’m not a fan of a carbon tax as it would place a tax on the front end while subsidizing it on the back end. I would rather stop subsidizing pollution on the back end as the effect would be the same, but it could be framed as eliminating corporate welfare and still raise $200 billion over ten years and lower emissions by 2%. In context, a carbon tax would raise $1 trillion over ten years and reduce emissions by 10%. So for the following plan on addressing climate change, I’m estimating that the whole plan will cost $200 billion and the following energy subsidies would disappear 10 years after enactment.
Renewable Portfolio Standard of 40% — an RPS is legislation that mandates utility companies to increase their production of renewable energy up to a certain amount by a certain date. It gives maximum flexibility to how it is done while also reducing emissions, producing domestic energy, creating jobs in hard hit areas, and promoting energy choice. We already produce roughly 20% of our electricity from renewable sources and many states have increased their Renewable Portfolio Standards to 40% (or higher) by 2040. This seems reasonable with federal support, wouldn’t effect the federal budget, and reduce emissions by 10% according to the Energy Policy Simulator.
Geothermal Grants — I think the best criticism of expanding renewable energy is that it’s unreliable and that’s what would increase public fear of any big changes. It’s an overrated criticism since it is often windy or sunny in certain places and you could conceivably power entire states with renewable energy like South Dakota which has a lot of wind or Arizona which has a lot of sunny days, but for the most part you’re going to upset a lot of people if blackouts are common. People are used to being able to turn on the lights with the flick of a switch and brown outs or black outs would definitely upset them. Geothermal presents the best opportunity for reliable, 100% clean power generation, and it’s estimated that we could get to 20% of our energy needs with this energy source if not for drilling costs. The federal government should provide $50 billion in grants to subsidize the cost of geothermal energy exploration since that is the main downside to geothermal power. I’m not adding any emissions reduction to this policy as it would likely be a part of the 40% Renewable Portfolio Standard.
Smart grid — aside from a tax on pollution, a smart grid is the single greatest step we could take to reducing greenhouse gas pollutants. Upgrading the electric grid to significantly reduce the $1 trillion dollars a year of wasted energy, facilitating better use of electric cars, and making it easier to accommodate the pitfalls of renewable energy would all hugely benefit both the planet and the economy. Emissions would come down by 12% through direct and indirect benefits of the upgraded grid. The grid would also make it easier for electricity to travel long distances too, making geothermal generation in the Mountain states more feasible and lower the overall emissions reduction required in manufacturing states. This is the one item on my list that will not come out of our $200 billion dollar budget as I don’t have a way to pay for the $20 billion a year over the course of 20 years in upgrade costs. That would have to be paid for by ratepayers or a comprehensive infrastructure bill at the federal level.
Ban Fluorocarbons — “F-gases” are ~600 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and are mostly used in cooling systems like air conditioners or freezers. They make up a small part of total emissions, but do to their potency make up a large portion of potential “low hanging fruit” emissions cuts. They could be phased out for a less harmful alternative and doing so would cut the equivalent of ~5% of GHG emissions. The Kigali accord, an amendment to the Kyoto protocol, which was approved by every nation except for the United States, would phase this chemical out of manufacturing purposes. Manufacturers are already on board.
Methane Capture/Destruction — methane is ~20 times more powerful of a GHG than CO2 and the technology already exists to capture or limit its flaring as well as turn it into methanol or be mixed in with natural gas fuels. The Obama administration tried to implement the rules necessary to require this, but the regulations were eliminated by the Trump administration. Re-enacting them would cut emissions by ~3% and increase oil & gas severance tax revenue for states and the federal government.
Industrial Energy Efficiency Standards —voluntary standards were already put into place legislatively and stand to cut emissions by ~2%, I’m still going to add them to the overall goal of emissions cuts.
Food waste — we waste a lot of food in America and as the food decays and releases methane we increase our pollution footprint. If we could cut wasted food in half we could reduce emissions by 4%. This can be done by switching out “sell by” dates for “eat by” dates on food labels, encouraging schools, corporate/government cafeterias to buy ugly fruits and vegetables (weird looking foods that just get thrown away), and increasing liability protection for companies and farmers that donate food to food banks.
Improved Forest Management — increasing reforestation to sequester pollution, reducing timber harvesting on federal lands for more sustainable plants like bamboo, and improving how we currently cut down trees would lead to a 2% reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Research & Development
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) — I don’t believe that we need a Green New Deal, but a new Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project was an R&D undertaking by the federal government to develop nuclear weapons and what we need now is a new project that provides large scale federal support for CCS technology that can capture fossil fuel emissions from manufacturing and power plants, reuse the pollution for energy, or bury it deep underground. The technology is out there, but its not ready for widespread use and isn’t commercially viable. The Manhattan Project costed about $20 billion in today’s dollars, we should allocate part of the savings (~$20 billion) from eliminating fossil fuel subsidies towards a big R&D project for burying our pollution.
Energy Efficiency Grants
Liesl Clark, an expert on energy policy and Director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and the Energy, once told me that energy efficiency should be seen as a source of energy. If we look wasted energy as a potential energy source, it is the cheapest, most readily available source as well as one of the easiest ways to reduce emissions. The Stimulus package of 2009 included a block grant to state and local governments called the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant and costed about $3.4 billion. The grants gave money to state and local governments to upgrade their lighting, heating, and cooling systems to be more efficient, save money, and reduce emissions. For example, a prison upgraded to all geothermal heating which cut their need for natural gas. If this same program was replicated but on a larger scale of ~$50 billion, we could see a reduction in emissions by ~7%.
Making It Politically Feasible
This is the hardest part of any legislation to address climate change. There’s nothing that can be done to appease the oil, coal, timber, and gas companies so I’m not going to bother. Any environmental legislation raises costs for whomever it effects and the main losers in any action on climate would be all low income households and everyone in the coal states. Coal has been dying anyway, but it’s still a popular source of jobs, economic development, and pride in coal producing communities. Since coal would likely cease to be used under the above pieces of policy suggestions it’s likely that all of the coal states would suffer localized mini-recessions. Here are some ways to address this.
Expand LIHEAP — The Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program provides grants to states to support low income households with their electric bills. This program should be expanded so even small increases in electric bills are unnoticed or not relevant to the very poor. Let’s say $2 billion per year or a 50% increase in funding.
Coal State Stimulus — I mentioned the stimulus package earlier, we should send the remaining $70 billion to the top ten coal producing states in the form of lifetime pensions and health care for coal miners, job training and scholarships to go to college, and support for local emerging industries and universities to expand what they offer. It’s likely that the coal states would see expanded geothermal and nuclear power as well as some of the money from the energy efficiency grants as well, but anything that is going to pass in Congress would require votes from Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and other energy state Democrats since Republicans are never going to come on board.
The policies presented would cost $200 billion dollars, reduce emissions by ~43% by 2050, prevent large increases in utility bills, and rebuild states hard hit by the loss of coal jobs. There would not be mass disruption in regards to the typical person’s utility bills, how they drive their cars, food production would remain untouched, and air travel would all roughly stay the same.