Opinion: Save the planet without destroying the economy

Jerri Ann Henry

More than 250 environmental groups recently petitioned House Democratic leaders to embrace the Green New Deal. They claim banning fossil fuels is the key to ending climate change. 

We certainly need a plan to fight climate change. But the Green New Deal is the wrong approach. A total shift to renewable energy would cost Americans trillions of dollars in new taxes and increased energy costs.

Fortunately, we have the ability to reduce emissions without bankrupting American families. Counterintuitively, fossil fuels can help us fight climate change without hurting the economy.

Introduced in 2018 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the Green New Deal is a radical plan to reduce emissions. It would require every home and business in the United States to draw power from “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., testifies before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.

That’s an expensive goal. Transitioning the nation’s power sector to entirely renewable sources would cost $4.7 trillion over the next 20 years. That works out to about $2,000 a year in added energy costs for the typical American household.

One study found that the Green New Deal would cost the typical household in Florida more than $70,000 in its first year. The same goes for households in New Hampshire, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. The bill would cost those households around $45,000 for each of the subsequent four years, and then $37,000 every year after that.

The plan would also wreak havoc on the economy. A radical reduction of fossil fuel production would destroy 5.9 million jobs over the next two decades, according to one analysis. And that’s after factoring in newly created “green jobs.” 

Over the same period, such a plan would reduce GDP by a whopping $11.8 trillion.

Luckily, we don’t need the Green New Deal to fight climate change. Recent breakthroughs in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” have made natural gas both abundant and cheap. This has encouraged the energy industry to transition from coal to gas-burning plants.

Recent breakthroughs in hydraulic fracking have made natural gas both abundant and cheap, says Henry.

That’s good for the environment since natural gas emits roughly half as much carbon dioxide as coal. In fact, carbon-dioxide emissions from energy production have fallen for six of the last nine years, according to the Energy Information Administration. The EIA also found that since 2005, natural gas has done more to reduce the power sector’s carbon-dioxide emissions than all renewable energy sources combined.

Robust domestic energy production also benefits the economy. The natural gas sector currently supports more than 10 million jobs across the country. And as a result of lower energy costs brought on by the fracking boom, disposable household income in the United States rose by more than $1,300 in 2015. That figure could increase to $3,500 within a decade.

Climate change is a serious threat that demands a serious response. But there’s nothing serious about the Green New Deal. Lawmakers can do more to lower emissions and boost the economy by embracing fossil fuels, not banning them.

Jerri Ann Henry is a board member of the Women’s Public Leadership Network. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.