Senator Bernie Sanders recently unveiled his $16.3 trillion plan for addressing climate change in the small Northern California town of Paradise. Senator Sanders’ plan is ambitious, and he linked it to the Apollo missions and the original New Deal. In fact, his proposal references the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Civilian Conservation Corps, two New Deal projects. The latter in particular was a work program that Roosevelt initiated whereby young men from ages 18-25 would build trails and otherwise act as custodians of the natural resources of the United States.
Senator Sanders is correct that such a project would aid in maintaining the environment and curtailing the effects of climate change. He also aims to utilize antitrust acts to break up the agricultural complex and thus enable a return to dry irrigation, which relies on merely rain and dew.
Furthermore, he discusses the necessity of batteries in order to ensure that renewables can compete with conventional means that don’t have limited windows of production. Ensuring that houses are built to minimize the cost of heating is another innovation he hopes to produce which would reduce the impact of population growth.
Despite the well thought out nature of his plan, it possesses a few flaws.
Firstly, the original New Deal was accused of unconstitutionality. If Democrats fail to retake the senate, how will the courts respond to challenges to the deal? Legislative approval would serve to reduce concerns of executive overreach. In fact, one of the concerns of the New Deal was the relegation of legislative powers to the executive, coupled with concerns over the federal state divide. Congressional approval combined with the courts would be essential to implementation of the plan since Article 1 Section 4 of the Constitution states that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” The power of the purse requires him to obtain congressional consent. Attempts to run around such requirements led to the shutdown in January, indicating that the president may not divert funds already approved.
One of his funding plans requires proving that Exxon was cognizant of the risk of climate change and actively attempted to defraud the people, which relies on sympathetic courts and an ability to successfully prove malicious intent. This is difficult, seen in the case holding PG&E accountable for wildfires has been for the state of California. It also relies on utilizing the antitrust legislation of the early 20th century, which has been abandoned in regards to airlines and may result in arguments about whether or not bonanza farming falls under the purview of Sherman.
Secondly, the presence of 20 million jobs may not arise and seems optimistic. Thirdly, he holds that the lack of political mobilization has killed High Speed Rail in the United States. This is true, but that included a fear that funding would evaporate if work not begun. This haste led to preventable mistakes such as underestimating land costs, neglecting to account for cars, overestimating ridership and failing to negotiate with utilities. Supposedly, this will be fixed in sanders’ plan through his public management of utilities and interagency cooperation. A lack of these killed HSR in California, as did the competition by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, which was viewed as an alternative to high speed rail in California. Eminent domain remains a hindrance in infrastructure, as the litigation involved when opponents to specific projects can lead to the defeat of the project. Musk’s actions also raise the possibility of a market solution, despite the failure of his experimental hyperloop.
Furthermore, Sanders holds that the plan will pay for itself, which is possible as it claims to cut spending and raise taxes which would be a means of funding such a plan. However, as stated above, a portion of that income will come from litigation. These may not result in convictions, which would prevent litigation from serving as a funding source. The proposed income from the union jobs could only be accessed through taxes and the projection of the number of jobs created and the wages involved may fail to materialize. High Speed Rail in California promised that it would not require subsidies but required higher estimates of ridership which failed to materialize.
Another point is the possibility that tax incentives could produce required outcomes. With regards to creating sustainably designed houses with better energy efficiency based on the environment, taxes could induce homeowners to prefer low impact houses in such a way that maximizes the sun input in the winter and minimize exposure in the summer. Rate hikes could incentivize consumers to such actions, although Macron’s riots show that such a path may not work.
Neoliberal attempts to induce behaviors through invisible hands may fail to achieve their aims. The middle class may not enthusiastically support more conservationist designs in housing, and Sanders’ attempt to develop without consent would be just as fatal as other litigation civilians could potentially utilize to block projects which they oppose. Litigation against civilians desiring to maintain the status quo would raise costs of the Green New Deal to levels prohibitive of financial solvency or cause progress on the plan to grind to a halt during continual appeals and challenges.
Senator Sanders’ plan emulates the original New Deal and the innovations of both Roosevelts. However, it inherits several of the risks that FDR’s plan possessed, assumes certain optimistic assessments of growth and requires the cooperation of the judicial branch due to the amount of litigation involved in such a plan. In this way, it fails to account for potential resistance.
Jacob Ningen is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org