The fictional number at the center of the GOP's Green New Deal attacks



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Mitch McConnell

Republicans have said the Green New Deal would cost $ 93 trillion – more than enough to "buy a Ferrari for every American," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. | Somodevilla / Getty Images

Energy & Environment

Republicans estimate that the climate plan would cost $ 93 trillion. They are based on a study that does not support this total.

By ZACK COLMAN

Republicans say the Green New Deal would cost $ 93 trillion – a figure that would overshadow the economic output of every country in the world.

The figure is wrong.

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But this does not prevent the public from getting noticed in the Senate, at the Conservative Political Action Conference and even at "Saturday Night Live," while the broad and vague declaration of vision of Democrats -progressists strengthens the political debate on climate. change.

The figure comes from a report by a conservative think tank, American Action Forum, which has made huge assumptions about how Democrats would proceed to implement their plan. But the $ 93 trillion figure is nowhere to be found in the think tank report – and AAF President Douglas Holtz-Eakin confessed he had no idea of ​​the exact cost of the New Deal green.

"Is it billions or billions?" Asked Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "Any clarification that is illusory."

The Green New Deal is not even a plan yet. For now, this is a non-binding resolution calling for major steps to stop greenhouse gas pollution while reducing income inequality and creating "millions of good well-paying jobs ". But the biggest Republicans have subscribed to the price of $ 93 trillion, using it to argue that the climate plan would result in the bankruptcy of the United States.

Democrats say Republicans use this figure to try to dodge responsibility for decades of denial of climate science, while the White House continues to neglect evidence linking human activity to rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions.

Republicans added the costs estimated by the authors of the AAF report on various aspects of the Green New Deal platform. Most of them were based on assumptions about universal health and employment programs, rather than the costs of transitioning to electricity and carbon-free transport.

"Scientists, analysts and academics are competing to be the first to come up with a number, and you can understand why. Look at how many people have accumulated this $ 93 trillion figure, "said Nick Loris, economist at conservative Heritage Foundation. "Often you only see the number and you do not have a lot of background behind the number."

Holtz-Eakin told POLITICO that he was only interested in "ballparks", adding that the study was best interpreted as "a sincere but heroic estimate of a proposal. not very well specified ". When asked if he had a problem with the way The Republicans had characterized his study and his figure of $ 93 trillion. Holtz-Eakin said: "We tried to play directly here, we never did it."

Green New Deal supporters acknowledge that their favorite policies will not be free, but they say Republicans are acting in bad faith trying to paint the resolution with a brush so early and refusing to acknowledge that uncontrolled climate change is putting its finger on the wall. own economic risks. For example, a United Nations report last fall estimated the global cost of even modest increases in global temperatures at $ 69 billion.

"We all knew that this void was there, but you can not afford the price until you have a bill to mark," said Greg Carlock, director of research at Green New Deal. the progressive Data for Progress think tank. He said that the AAF study "was an attempt to fill that void, but it does so in a petty manner."

Yet this figure is already part of the GOP's discussion points on the Green New Deal – echoing his party's attacks on decades-old environmental regulation.

"This has always been at the heart of the Republican argument against all these changes," said Rory Cooper, Republican strategist and general manager of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan consulting firm. "This lifestyle change is important in exchange for an undefined benefit."

The GOP's reliance on price estimation highlights the importance of climate change in Washington for the first time in nearly a decade.

Holtz-Eakin and his associates did not have a policy or plan to evaluate, so they decided to make some calculations in the background. The analysis of AAF was extrapolated from the various ideas set out in the non-binding resolution of the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) – such as the complete removal of the fossil fuel power grid and creating jobs and health care for all.

Democrats reject the study of the AAF as a fabrication. On Wednesday, as Republican senators criticized the $ 93 trillion estimate and the dangers of socialism, several Democrats interrupted them to ask the GOP to acknowledge the reality of climate change.

"It's a figure completely invented by the Koch brothers," said Markey, who also co-sponsored the 2009 cap-and-trade bill in the Senate.

Markey interrupted the speech of Senator Thom Tillis (CR), who should be among the main targets of Democrats in next year's elections.

"It does not matter if it's $ 93 billion, $ 43 billion or $ 10 trillion-it's unsustainable," Tillis retorted. "We can stay here and question the sources, but at the end of the day, we all know that it was theater."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also insisted that $ 93 billion represents "more than the combined annual GDP of all countries in the world", and more than enough to "buy every American a Ferrari ".

This figure has been an integral part of GOP messages since the AAF report released on February 25th.

Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.) Used the $ 93 trillion figure at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. Senate Speaker for the Environment and Public Works, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Has published an editorial with USA Today on Price Estimate. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) proudly displayed it on a poster of the Senate Chamber. It made its way into an online "Saturday Night Live" skit that parodied the interaction of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) With a group of young climate activists.

The number is so important that it is almost incomprehensible, but it defeats huge efforts such as the construction of the interstate highway network, which costs $ 241 billion in current dollars, for example. And the AAF study does not distinguish between government and private sector spending, nor does it attempt to quantify the benefits of pollution reduction or other policies. For example, Mark Jacobson of Stanford University estimated that eliminating carbon emissions from the electricity sector would avert $ 265 billion in annual damage from 2050.

"Climate policy development presents a major challenge: there are immediate costs and benefits are emerging over time," said Michael Greenstone, economist and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. "But the fact that the benefits manifest themselves over time does not mean it's not real."

In fact, $ 80.6 billion of AAF's study costs come from a guarantee of employment and universal health care. The Green New Deal resolution calls for "guaranteeing employment" and providing "high quality health care" for everyone, but it is primarily aimed at defining a set of goals to reduce net carbon emissions from the American economy by mid – century. . While liberal activists believe that economic justice should be part of any resolution-based policy, most of them see the Green New Deal itself as a vehicle for energy transition and industrial economic policy, rather only as a more radical solution, such as "Medicare for All". "

"Since the [Green New Deal] At this stage is simply a set of long-term goals, with no specification on how these goals would be achieved, any cost estimate is itself likely to be unusually speculative, "said Robert Stavins. , environmental economist at Harvard University. E-mail.

According to a review of environmental policies by Pew Charitable Trusts, many studies warning of disastrous economic effects exaggerate potential damage.

Nevertheless, quoting a specific figure can define the contours of a political discussion, said Margo Thorning, Senior Economic Policy Advisor at the American Council for Capital Formation. Mr. Thorning was a staunch Capitol witness when Congress debated a cap-and-trade legislation in the early years of the Obama administration. She was coveted in part because her organization had published an influential study using statistics from the US Energy Information Administration to show that this policy would slow economic growth by $ 3.1 billion between 2012 and 2030.

Similarly, a study supported by the National Association of Manufacturers on the potential effects of tighter standards on ozone would cost $ 1 trillion and give up $ 1.7 trillion in economic growth between 2017 and 2040.

"I think that helped to shape the debate because if people realized that we were going to lose 2-3% of our GDP or more, but not other countries, we would lose a lot," Thorning said. the study of his organization on cap and exchange.

Climate hawks say Republicans have dismissed the Green New Deal as unaffordable, ignoring the cost of inaction, such as the material damage caused by extreme weather and the public health effects of persistent pollution. due to fossil fuels. The AAF study does not attempt to address the potential benefits of avoiding these consequences.

"Not talking about the cost of inaction is incredibly misleading," said Rhiana Gunn-Wright, director of policy at New Consensus, one of the groups working on the Green New Deal. "It's about knowing how, when and where you want to spend your money because you are going to spend it."

The United Nations panel of intergovernmental experts on climate change said in October that the overall cost of raising the temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius – the goal of the Green New Deal – would be 54 000 trillion dollars in 2100. That figure would rise to 69 trillion dollar degree scenario. These goals also served as a basis for the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, which Trump announced plans to abandon.

According to Trump administration forecasts, global temperatures are expected to rise by at least 4 degrees by the end of the century. This would lead to even greater economic devastation – for example, damaging $ 3.6 trillion in coastal properties by 2100 without measures to adapt to climate change, according to the National Climate Assessment published in last November.

Some GOP strategists see a long-term risk in a dismissive approach to climate policy.

"With the Green New Deal, Republicans are excited to be talking about climate change for the first time because we can emphasize how stupid Democrats are," said Alex Conant, GOP Strategist and Partner at Firehouse Strategies. "It's probably not a long-term position. In the end, Republicans, if we want to be taken seriously about climate change, we will have to come up with some conservative solutions. "

At least one Republican has kept her criticism of the Green New Deal more subdued: the Alaskan Senator, Lisa Murkowski, whose homeland is warming faster than the rest of the country. In chairing a climate committee hearing on energy and natural resources Tuesday, Ms. Murkowski highlighted the dwindling fishing and melting permafrost, which her constituents are already busy with. She has never publicly quoted the American Action Forum study.

"This must be a priority for all of us," she said of the fight against climate change. "It has a direct impact on our way of life."

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