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Moderate Democrats voice misgivings with Green New Deal, seek alternatives

A group of moderate Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives wants to find alternative ways to tackle climate change, saying the Green New Deal is ambitious but is not the right approach.

The New Democrat Coalition is a group of over 100 House Democrats committed to "pro-economic growth, pro-innovation and fiscally responsible" policies that can "bridge the gap between the left and right."

The coalition's climate task force recently released its goals for the 116th U.S. Congress, which include supporting "market-based mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas pollution" and eliminating federal policy "inequities" for clean energy. The group also seeks to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which is aimed at keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels to avoid what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said could be catastrophic impacts.

The task force's new mission statement does not mention the Green New Deal, a climate change strategy some Democrats are promoting. It calls for the U.S. to meet all of its electricity demand with "clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources" within 10 years. The GOP-majority U.S. Senate is set to vote in the coming weeks on a resolution supporting the Green New Deal and is almost guaranteed to reject the measure.

Although Republicans have been the most outspoken critics of the proposal, some Democratic leaders in Congress have also expressed reservations about the plan, which includes healthcare and jobs guarantees for all Americans.

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Three of the New Democrat Coalition's climate change task force co-chairs, from left to right: U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Va.; Don Beyer, D-Va.; and Sean Casten, D-Ill.

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"The Green New Deal is aspirational, but what we plan to do is offer tangible, achievable things, not just a resolution that states our vision," U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said at a March 14 press briefing hosted by the climate task force's four co-chairs. Although Luria said Democrats care about the issues in the resolution, "We're not going to do 100% [renewable and zero-emission energy] in 10 years."

Both Luria and fellow co-chair Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia said they would not vote for the Green New Deal resolution, although Beyer later hedged his statement, saying "I don't want to really be on the record as against fixing climate change."

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., said she would not rule out voting for the Green New Deal resolution but wanted more details on how such goals would actually be achieved. "I don't think it's the right approach to climate change."

Sean Casten, D-Ill., was more emphatic. "I'm not supporting the Green New Deal," he said. Although the resolution is "wonderfully ambitious" and has "galvanized the conversation" around climate change, "you still have to figure out how to actually get there, and you have to figure out how to get there with policies that work."

Casten also said Congress should work to lower emissions rather than favoring certain energy resources or climate remedies. "Picking paths at the expense of goals leads to huge distortions," Casten warned.

Potential solutions

The task force has not formally met during this Congress, but its co-chairs offered their own ideas on addressing climate change.

"I'm a firm believer in cap-and-trade," Casten said, referring to an approach — rejected by prior Congresses — where the government sets a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allows regulated entities to trade carbon allowances to achieve compliance.

Beyer also expressed support for a carbon cap, while Luria said nuclear power must be part of the discussion.

"The challenge is that the cost of providing nuclear power ... is very high," Luria said. While not directly promoting a carbon tax, she said the "types of things that incentivize energy sources that do not produce CO2 emissions ... could potentially be a way to push back some of that into investment in nuclear power."

Beyer added that the nuclear fleet could be helped through lower permitting and licensing costs, support for small reactor development, and developing microgrids that run on small nuclear reactors.