Update: In the vice-presidential debate on October 7, Vice President Mike Pence attacked Sen. Kamala Harris for supporting the "radical" Green New Deal, saying it would "crush energy jobs." This is a nonsensical line of attack. Both counts are false: Joe Biden and Harris have not officially endorsed the Green New Deal. But the Green New Deal — and their plan — both aim to create millions of jobs.
This story was originally published on September 30, 2020.
During the first (and, we wish, last) presidential debate between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump last night, Trump repeatedly lied about his record on climate change and made it crystal clear that he has zero plans to address the crisis. He also attacked Biden for supporting the Green New Deal, fear-mongering that it’s a socialist proposal from the “radical left.” But Biden, who has issued his own climate change plan, said that he does not support the Green New Deal. So what’s actually true? The answer is a little more complicated than the format of the debate — and the constant insults and interruptions from Trump — would allow.
The Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed. Markey as a nonbinding resolution in 2019, is a broad document that diagnoses and attempts to heal two of the biggest crises facing the U.S.: the threat of climate change and income inequality. It acknowledges the critical importance of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 worldwide, as well as aims to create millions of federal jobs along with strengthening union protections, tackle the housing crisis, and provide universal access to healthcare. To wean us off carbon emissions, it envisions sourcing 100% of U.S. electricity from renewable and zero-emissions power, achieved by upgrading buildings and digitizing electricity grids, and investing in electric vehicles and high-speed rail. The Senate has blocked the resolution, but Ocasio-Cortez has subsequently worked on smaller, more targeted pieces of legislation including the Climate Equity Act.
Although Biden has not officially endorsed the Green New Deal, he has essentially embraced its goals, including its jobs guarantee, in a plan of his own, which was developed after meeting with environmental justice advocates and labor unions. “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” it reads. “It powerfully captures two basic truths...the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge” and “our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.”
The Biden plan pledges to end carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 2035 with a broad investment in jobs and infrastructure, including helping coal miners transition to clean-energy jobs. But, unlike the Green New Deal, his plan would only limit, rather than ban, natural gas and oil fracking; it also wouldn’t seek to phase out nuclear power, which progressive politicians, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, want to do. And, his plan does not embrace universal healthcare, as the Green New Deal does.
Still, Biden’s plan is far more visionary than anything Republicans have come up with. Trump, for one, has repeatedly lied about and vilified the Green New Deal, saying it will take away our “airplane rights,” while other Republicans have falsely claimed that the proposal would make things like cheeseburgers and milkshakes a thing of the past. The president repeated these inaccurate talking points in last night’s debate, because he didn’t want to address the fact that he has consistently scaled back environmental protections, withdrawn from the Paris Climate agreement, and denied that climate change even exists. While Biden’s plan does not address the entire scope of the Green New Deal — a plan that progressives have praised for its urgency, comprehensiveness, and ambition — it at least offers workable solutions to the climate crisis.