On Monday, former Rep. Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke (D-Texas) released a climate change plan rooted in big government, based on utterly unrealistic expectations, and stuffed with intersectional pablum. In fact, O’Rourke’s plan is arguably worse than the Green New Deal sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). O’Rourke’s Alt-GND suggests a complete revamp of the economy is easy, comparatively cheap, and will bring more prosperity without any trade-offs.
Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is a resolution, a first step toward pushing climate change legislation geared toward rebuilding every building in America (who said anything about property rights?), making energy production net-zero by 2050 (cave men lived without electricity, after all), and leveling out America’s many inequalities.
Yet O’Rourke’s plan brings the veneer of possibility to the Green New Deal’s ridiculous promises. “Beto” is running for president, after all. As president, he could issue executive orders, send bills to Congress, and actually make something like the Green New Deal a reality — and that’s exactly what he’s pledged to do.
O’Rourke released his “four-part framework” ahead of a trip to Yosemite National Park in California. He called it “the most ambitious climate change plan in the history of the United States.” The plan champions red tape, extensive government hand-outs, an unrealistic timetable for energy transformation, and a revamping of relief efforts to address the climate disasters that even this “ambitious” plan considers unavoidable.
Here’s Robert Francis campaigning in the woods. Those trees are rather reliable voters…
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) April 29, 2019
1. Executive actions
President Donald Trump famously withdrew from the Paris Agreement, but O’Rourke would reverse that decision. He would champion regulations to reduce methane leaks, strengthen clean air and hazardous waste limits for power plants, force all federal permits to account for climate change impacts, and force all federal lands to hit a non-zero carbon emissions standard by 2030.
These regulations would make it much harder to produce energy in America and make the permitting process even longer and more expensive (remember the Keystone XL Pipeline, which still hasn’t been fully approved?).
Yet O’Rourke would also “leverage $500 billion in annual government procurement to decarbonize across all sectors for the first time, including a new ‘buy clean’ program for steel, glass, and cement.” O’Rourke does not explain where this money will come from, but that sum does approximate the $496.3 billion it would take to decarbonize U.S. steel, cement, ethylene, and ammonia production.
That does not cover all U.S. industries, and it remains unclear whether decarbonization is fully possible, even at this cost.
2. Beto’s first bill
If O’Rourke becomes president, his climate change plan will be the very first legislation he will suggest.
“In the very first bill he sends to Congress, Beto will launch a 10-year mobilization of $5 trillion directly leveraged by a fully paid-for $1.5 trillion investment — the world’s largest-ever climate change investment in infrastructure, innovation, and in our people and communities,” the plan explains.
Following the lead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), O’Rourke proposes raising the $1.5 trillion by “structural changes to the tax code that ensure corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share and that we finally end the tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks currently given to fossil fuel companies.”
His Alt-GND calls for investing $300 billion in tax credits and $300 billion in direct investments to “mobilize” $4 trillion in capital: more than $1 trillion in tax incentives “that accelerate the scale up of nascent technologies enabling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions;” and more than $3 trillion through financing institutions, including a “new dedicated finance authority, which will have on its board not only the brightest minds in finance but also members of the unions that would help build this infrastructure.”
O’Rourke’s plan also involves “$250 billion in direct resources that will catalyze follow-on private investment, creation of new businesses, and discovery of new science.” The bulk of these funds (80 percent) would bankroll research “to dramatically and rapidly achieve net-zero emissions while growing our economy.” The rest would fund climate science.
The Alt-GND also calls for $650 billion to “mobilize at least $1.2 trillion to invest in “Our People and Communities.”
“Together, we will invest in the poor and minority communities that so often bear the brunt — both those on the front-lines of a changing climate and those disrupted by the forces of an economy in transition,” the plan explains.
The intersectional pablum continues: “Not only will those communities be the focus of our investment, they will also be the source of our inspiration and leadership. After all, we cannot, and will not be able to address this challenge without organized labor, farmers and ranchers, communities of color, businesses, or the young people who have the most to lose and the most to contribute.”
This money would go to housing grants, transportation grants, health grants, AmeriCorps, and more.
3. Net-zero emissions by 2050
The last two parts of O’Rourke’s plan are far less detailed. The Alt-GND promises that “Beto will work with Congress to enact a legally enforceable standard — within his first 100 days. This standard will send a clear price signal to the market while putting in place a mechanism that will ensure the environmental integrity of this endeavor — providing us with the confidence that we are moving at least as quickly as we need in order to meet a 2050 deadline.”
O’Rourke’s legislation will demand America hits net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and reaches the halfway point of that goal in 2030, in less than ten years (if he becomes president in 2021).
4. Defend communities
Finally, the Alt-GND promises new initiatives to defend “communities — across states, territories, and tribal nations — that are preparing for and fighting against fires, floods, droughts, and hurricanes.”
O’Rourke would increase pre-disaster mitigation grants ten-fold, change the law to force post-disaster construction to be stronger, manage ecosystems to defend against climate-related risks, expand federal crop insurance, train first responders for climate disasters, and strengthening military bases against climate danger.
This final part of the Alt-GND suggests that no amount of big government climate-focused reform can prevent disasters fueled by climate change. Is this a tacit acknowledgment that the entire effort is wrong-headed? Why are investments to fight climate disasters still necessary even after remaking the entire economy to prevent climate change?
The Green New Deal would cost at least $49 trillion — some estimates place it at $93 trillion. Ocasio-Cortez’s plan is a resolution, however, not a bill. By contrast, O’Rourke’s plan — which adopts many of the Green New Deal’s worst proposals — is a presidential candidate’s platform, spelled out in executive orders, government grants, and legislative proposals.
O’Rourke seems intent on repurposing the Green New Deal as his own, and visiting Yosemite National Park to prove his love for the environment.
This radical new proposal comes at a tough time for the former congressman, however. Shortly after he entered the presidential race, another fresh-faced candidate stole his thunder. Pete Buttigieg, the military veteran and Rhodes scholar who serves as the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., outpaced O’Rourke in the media and in the polls. In many ways, Buttigieg was the better Beto.
Perhaps the Alt-GND will help O’Rourke get his mojo back. It is far more likely to unleash a flurry of Democratic proposals, however, as each presidential candidate seeks to prove himself or herself more radical, more intersectional, and more obsessed with the impending climate crisis than his or her opponents.
Americans should not forget that predictions of climate disaster date back to the 1970s, when global cooling was the threat. Last year, predictions that the Maldives would sink beneath the waves proved just as hollow.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.