Opinion: Green New Deal destined for failure

Peter Z. Grossman

We’ve been here before.

The place where energy policy is supposed to solve everything.

According to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., her version of the so-called “Green New Deal” will solve everything from climate change to racism, income inequality to unemployment, this last at a time when there isn’t an unemployment problem. Most of this is to be achieved by 2030.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-New York) waves to the crowd as she steps onto the stage at the Women's Unity Rally organized by Women's March NYC in Lower Manhattan, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in New York.

Back in the late 1970s, when we did have an energy crisis, President Jimmy Carter believed that his energy program would offer ways to solve energy shortages, but it would also reduce the U.S. trade deficit, aid farmers, build U.S. manufacturing capabilities, provide world technological leadership, strengthen the dollar, reduce inflation, add millions of jobs, boost economic growth, protect the American way of life and restore America’s confidence. The key was spending billions of dollars to turn coal into a substitute for gasoline.

It solved none of the above and never produced a gallon of ersatz gasoline. Except for undoing some past policies, especially price controls, Carter’s energy policies wasted billions of tax dollars and actually harmed some of the industries he was trying to help.

The more grandiose GND, should it be enacted, is destined to fail as well.

Ocasio-Cortez expects to spend a trillion dollars on a project to turn the entire U.S. energy system into one that is 100 percent renewable. The GND is based on the work of Mark Z. Jacobson who has in the past claimed the U.S. could go to a 100 percent wind, water and solar energy system by 2050.  Even those sympathetic to action on climate change think he is seriously mistaken. A lengthy analysis in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that Jacobson’s assumptions were unrealistic and his conclusion, impossible.

Yet the GND, embraced by a growing list of Democrats, has gone further in claiming benefits more extraordinary than any claims Jacobson ever made. They are much closer to Carter’s. Such expectations for a government energy program are a blind pursuit of failure.

In fact, the GND is economically, technologically and historically illiterate. It purports to prevent an existential crisis that will come about in a dozen years without radical decarbonization of the world’s economy, but this is not believed by most climate scientists. 

It’s questionable what the GND would achieve even if passed in its entirety and deployed. It would not come close to mitigating enough carbon dioxide to prevent rising temperatures. American CO2 emissions (because natural gas is replacing coal) have fallen while those of China and India have skyrocketed — and they won’t come down just because we are upending our economy in an effort to make some sort of statement.

Many of the technologies GND proponents tout are not viable commercially or technologically. Carbon capture and sequestration, for example? It’s a long way from economic viability. Or utility-scale battery storage? It isn’t even practical technologically.

Nor will those technologies miraculously appear because of government largesse. In the past, however much money government spent on a technology didn’t necessarily (or even likely) lead to viability of any sort.

Most recently we had the rush for cellulosic ethanol. It was given priority under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, and President George W. Bush said technical and economic achievability would come by 2012, especially with the government showering entrepreneurs with tax benefits and outright grants. 

We’re still waiting.

And the GND would be even less likely to meet its 12-year timetable. Some compare the GND to the Apollo program. But most likely, the GND wouldn't even get off the launch pad.

Peter Z. Grossman is an economics professor and the author of "U.S. Energy Policy and the Pursuit of Failure."