Many green deals have merit

By : 
DAVID PHILLIPS
Reflections from my Notebook

Several of the new, young Democrats recently elected to Congress have proposed a Green New Deal, a comprehensive plan to address environmental and other issues. It’s ambitious, light on details and overly idealistic, yet the intent has some merit.

The platform has some components reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a 1930s-era package of policies to bring the United States out of the Depression, which raises objections by Republicans. There is good cause for questions as the cost of the proposals could cause problems down the road.

The “green” portion of the proposal is also raising objections. Republicans in particular are questioning the environmental push, although even Democrats are wondering if the objectives are even realistic.

Although the New Green Deal may not be a common sense approach to environmental problems, Republicans shouldn’t automatically dismiss realistic green goals. Other people are seeing the common sense in preserving our planet for our children and grandchildren. They don’t see protecting our environment as a partisan issue.

In fact, the partisanship surrounding environment policy is a relatively recent development.

A Republican president, Richard Nixon, started the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1960s. As recently as 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain advocated for strong measures to slow global warming.

Minnesotans had previously seen this as a bipartisan issue as well. When the Clean Air Act passed in the 1990s, Minnesota’s congressional delegation at the time, which included five Democrats and five Republicans, all supported the bill. Minnesota’s senator at the time, Dave Durenberger, was among its chief authors and was a driving force behind its acceptance.

Since then, the Clean Air Act has helped prevent more than 18 million child respiratory illnesses and 300,000 premature deaths of people, no matter their political party alignment.

More recently, Minnesota’s renewable electricity standard, which requires 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, had strong bipartisan support in its adoption by the Legislature. Republican Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s governor at the time, signed the bill into law.

The goal, one of the most aggressive in the United States at the time it was adopted, has already been met. Yet, Minnesota’s economy is humming along with low unemployment and strong job growth.

The economic consequences of environmental regulations is cited as the main stumbling block to gaining Republican support for green initiatives in recent years.

However, there is also a cost to not protecting the environment, as a new scientific report from 13 federal agencies about the anticipated ramifications of climate change on the United States shows.

Without significant steps to stem global warming, the disruption to exports, agriculture, trade, and supply chains, along with increases in the severity of natural disasters, could reduce by 10 percent the size of the American economy at the end of the century. Specific projections include: $141 billion related to increased heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rising and $32 billion in infrastructure damage.

The report, which was mandated by Congress and made public by the White House on Friday, has 1,656 pages of analysis about the devastating effects of a changing climate. Record wildfires in California, drought in portions of the Midwest and flooding in the South are all symptoms of the changes.

Voters are also realizing steps need to be taken. Although not all environmental ballot initiatives made it through midterm elections, in Nevada a measure that requires 50 percent clean energy by 2030 was approved while Florida voters backed a measure to ban offshore drilling in state waters.

Many businesses now realize that green practices can contribute to the bottom line. The transition is often due more to economic factors than social factors.

Coal use has been declining, a trend that started even before Democrat Barack Obama took office, because cleaner options, particularly natural gas, and increasingly renewable energy, are more cost-effective.

For example, Xcel Energy, one of the Midwest’s, and Minnesota’s, largest utilities, has retired 25 percent of all the coal-fired power plants it operated in 2005. The company’s goal, according to a plan filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in 2015, is to cut its climate pollution by 60 percent by 2030.

Xcel already has five Upper Midwest wind farms, including one near Grand Meadow. The company recently announced plans to increase its wind generation because wind power has significantly declined as turbine technology has improved, making the cost to construct a wind farm low enough to offset future fuel savings.

It has also invested in solar, as Xcel now has more than four times the amount of solar energy it had in 2011. Its solar rewards program, which has helped 35,000 Minnesota customers install solar panels, is the largest such program in the nation.

We will likely never see a Green New Deal, but scientists, voters and businesses have already discovered that becoming greener makes sense. Now politicians need to see that even small, bipartisan, green deals can be first steps toward a more robust, and environmentally responsible, economy in the future.