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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Green New Deal "Leaves the Door Open" for Nuclear Energy

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Nuclear Power Policy Activist Independent

I am a passionate advocate for the environment and nuclear energy. With the threat of climate change, I’ve embarked on a mission to help overcome the fears of nuclear energy. I’ve been active in...

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  • May 26, 2020

When the Green New Deal ("GND") of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) was introduced in Congress last year, critics seized upon the resolution's attempt to bridge environmental goals with overarching social ones. What was green about "providing all people of the United States with...high-quality health care" and "affordable, safe, and adequate housing," after all? Though similar non-binding resolutions are passed on a daily basis, they amount to unenforceable position statements, a way to show constituents where they stand in the political spectrum. Resolutions honoring someone's lifetime of public service, or creating a presidential library, are often passed unanimously.

When they threaten interpretation of past or future legislation, however, they're often promptly dismissed - and for good reason. Overarching, vague goals invite "legislating from the bench", i.e., permitting judges to write law by way of judicial precedent. In so doing, they transfer the responsibility of an entire branch of U.S. government to one judge, with dire implications for resolution of complex issues. Though progressive Democrats rallied around the bill, it was promptly defeated by a Senate vote of 57-0 (many Democrats voted "present" to protest the bill being brought to a hasty vote by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell).

GND did bring the issue of climate change to the fore, setting a goal of "meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources." Debate swirled around how those terms might be interpreted: does the requirement sources be "renewable", a term generally reserved for solar, wind, and geothermal energy, rule out zero-emission nuclear energy? A preliminary version of the bill required "the gradual phaseout of nuclear energy", but the stipulation had mysteriously vanished in the final version submitted to Congress.

During a debate last week Ocasio-Cortez, who had previously argued for a "100% renewable future", clarified her position in response to a question. "You bring up an important element of our energy mix, which is nuclear...the Green New Deal does leave the door open for nuclear."

Whether Ocasio-Cortez arrived at her position by deliberation or pressure from her Republican rival hardly matters. The importance of a statement in support of nuclear energy, from a progressive mainstay of the Democratic Party, can't be overestimated.



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