Climate resolution seeks to transform transportation

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, February 11, 2019

Promotional materials for the much-hyped “Green New Deal” resolution released yesterday contain some pie-in-the-sky claims about the future of transportation, providing ammunition for critics of the progressive policy.

The nonbinding resolution from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) calls for a complete reworking of the country’s transportation system.

An accompanying FAQ document proclaims the need to “totally overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary, create affordable public transit available to all, with [a] goal to replace every combustion-engine vehicle.”

Those lines were met with mockery among some Republicans and their conservative allies.

House Republicans said on Twitter yesterday: “Dems released their so-called Green New Deal today. Among their plans as part of this socialist takeover: upgrade or replace EVERY SINGLE building in the U.S., eliminate air travel, ‘plant lots of trees,’ put charging stations ‘everywhere.'”

Other conservatives took to Twitter to circulate a Fox News story stating that Ocasio-Cortez “aims to make air travel obsolete.” The freshman lawmaker is a frequent punching bag for the conservative news outlet.

Even Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) acknowledged that ending air travel would present logistical challenges for her home state, which is separated from the mainland United States by nearly 2,500 miles of ocean. “That would be pretty hard for Hawaii,” Hirono told Fox News reporter Chad Pergram yesterday.

But Dan Becker, executive director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said he thinks the ambitious proposals are justified by recent warnings from scientists. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cautioned last year that the world has just 12 years to halve greenhouse gas emissions for any chance of avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

“I don’t think this is very crazy at all,” Becker said. “These are the kinds of goals that are necessary to do what the scientists say we have to do about global warming.”

He added, “If we haven’t massively expanded EV production by 10 years from now, we’re going to be in very serious trouble. And any increase in EVs is going to require more charging stations, so that makes sense.”

As for building out high-speed rail to replace air travel in 10 years, Becker conceded that the goal is “aspirational.” But he noted that “air travel is massively increasing, and we can’t afford to do that without destroying the atmosphere.”

The FAQ document initially appeared on Ocasio-Cortez’s website, but it was taken down yesterday afternoon. Her office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about why it was removed.

The actual text of the resolution takes a scaled-back approach. It calls for “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; clean, affordable and accessible public transit; and high-speed rail.”

The FAQ document contains echoes of the aspirational rhetoric used by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-driven grassroots effort to hold elected leaders accountable for global warming. The group has staged several protests on the Hill to drum up support for the “Green New Deal,” and its leaders heralded the resolution yesterday.

“In 2018, young people put the Green New Deal on the national agenda. The historic support for this resolution, especially among 2020 contenders, shows how far the movement has shifted the political conversation,” Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, said in a statement.

“The Green New Deal is now a litmus test for progressive leadership in 2019,” she added. “Any politician who wants to be taken seriously on climate and earn the support of young people needs to support Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s resolution.”