Monday, August 26, 2019

Bernie Sanders' GND Plan Will Nationalize Power Generation in the U.S.


"You can't nibble around the edges any more," says Sanders in explaining his plan to essentially nationalize electricity production in the U.S. The full interview is here.

by Thomas Neuburger

Bernie Sanders recently released his plan for implementing the Green New Deal. These include such comprehensive goals as transitioning to 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030 and decarbonizing the entire economy by 2050 (full details here).

To get there, Sanders plans a number of ambitious projects, including massive and job-creating infrastucture spending and "declaring climate change a national emergency." The implications of the latter are not entirely spelled out. A number of candidates have proposals that "declare a national emergency" regarding climate change, but not in the same sense that George W. Bush, for example, may have meant had he declared the 9/11 attacks a national emergency (he didn't, but he could have).

That kind of national emergency, a Bush-Cheney kind, implies an exercise of presidential power that approaches martial law, something that most pro-climate Democrats don't contemplate. Does the Sanders plan contemplate a stronger-than-rhetorical response to climate change? It's not clear yet from Sanders camp messaging.

Nevertheless, the subject of emergency federal power does come up because of the breadth of the Sanders plan, and in particular, because of one key component:
  • Build enough renewable energy generation capacity for the nation’s growing needs. Currently, four federal Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) and the Tennessee Valley Authority generate and transmit power to distribution utilities in 33 states.We will create one more PMA to cover the remaining states and territories and expand the existing PMAs to build more than enough wind, solar, energy storage and geothermal power plants. We will spend $1.52 trillion on renewable energy and $852 billion to build energy storage capacity. Together, with an EPA federal renewable energy standard, this will fully drive out non-sustainable generation sources.

  • We will end greed in our energy system. The renewable energy generated by the Green New Deal will be publicly owned, managed by the Federal Power Marketing Administrations, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Tennessee Valley Authority and sold to distribution utilities with a preference for public power districts, municipally- and cooperatively-owned utilities with democratic, public ownership, and other existing utilities that demonstrate a commitment to the public interest. The Department of Energy will provide technical assistance to states and municipalities that would like to establish publicly owned distribution utilities or community choice aggregation programs in their communities. Electricity will be sold at current rates to keep the cost of electricity stable during this transition.
The whole plan (again, I urge everyone to read it) has been called by some a "new Manhattan Project" and compared to FDR's reshaping of U.S. industrial policy and capacity during World War II. As Juan Cole writes, "Sanders intends to push [fossil fuel] corporations aside and institute a Federal industrial policy that can make things happen. The analogy is what Franklin Delano Roosevelt accomplished during World War II, when US industrial capacity vastly expanded and 16 million men were mobilized and Social Security was implemented."

The plan has rightly been called a nationalization of electric power generation. Chris Hayes noted this fact in his recent interview with Sanders, calling it "a federal takeover of the whole thing," to which Sanders essentially agrees (see video at the top). Other writers have said the same. For example, In These Times, under the headline "Bernie Sanders Calls To Seize the Means of Electricity Production" accurately describes the plan as "moving toward 100% public ownership of power."

So there really is no doubt. Sanders, if he's elected, plans to nationalize electricity generation in the U.S. 

What are the implications of this proposal? A few thoughts:

1. Bernie Sanders is serious about addressing climate change. Simply speaking, Sanders is right. It's long past time for tinkering around the edges of the problem. This chart shows CO2 emissions per capita per country:

Yes, the rest of the world bears responsibility as well, but you have to start with what you can directly control, and the U.S. government can directly control U.S. carbon emissions, if it chooses to. (Dealing with the need for global response is also addressed in Sanders' Green New Deal plan. I'll take a separate look at how Sanders plans to globalize the U.S. initiative.)

Are the other candidates as serious about addressing and mitigating climate change at the fastest possible rate? I think several other candidates are sincere in wanting to, but I don't see any of them willing to act as forcefully, at least not so far in the campaign. This plan, therefore, lays down a marker for other pro-climate Democrats.

2. The institutional Democratic Party will respond to Sanders' plan with fear and derision. In addition, their criticism will get widespread and supportive media coverage.

Sanders' Green New Deal plan allows institutional Democrats to take the charge that Sanders is a "socialist" and part of the "hard left" to eleven, and they will not miss the opportunity to go all out. "Socialism" already smacks of communism, though the connection is usually made in Democratic and mainstream media circles by implication. (This incident, engineered by the producers of the early CNN Town Hall, is a rare counter-example.)

But a planned and federally directed "U.S. industrial policy" can be made to sound very much like a Stalinist "five-year economic plan," and it wouldn't be surprising if this comparison is made. It will be especially interesting to hear Elizabeth Warren's response, since she's made a point of saying "I'm a capitalist"; I'm almost certain she'll be asked to give one.

3. The response on the Right will be "government takeover!" I've seen hints already that those who set the agenda for frightened and agitated right-wing base voters are positioning the Green New Deal as a backdoor, left-wing plan for "government takeover" of the economy. In this, their language exactly parallels the language that markets Second Amendment fears to frighten right-wing voters.

The cry on the right will also be cranked up to eleven, including by that master of marketing, Donald Trump, who has already started with the "we're not socialist" rhetoric. Note that the clip at the top is sourced to a YouTube channel called "GOP War Room." Expect a lot more of the same from sites with "liberty," "freedom" and "Fox" in the name.

4. Finally, this is a conversation that absolutely must be had. Before the U.S. can begin to address climate change meaningfully, we must be open about what's actually needed so voters can consider those courses of action, even if they end up rejecting them. Calling any discussion of the breadth of needed reform off-limits — whether done perniciously or with good intention — is like hiding a small elephant under a rug, then throwing a cocktail party using the lump as a drinks table; the thing you're avoiding adds fuel to your blindness.

Put simply, American voters must be allowed to choose whether or not to address climate change meaningfully, regardless of the possibility that they may choose not to address it at all. An honest conversation is the least we owe voters whose descendants will ultimately thank them or hate them for what they finally decide. Letting voters choose for themselves is called democracy.

Despite the fears of many though, there are reasons for optimism. If voters are given a realistic discussion of the alternatives and a realistic presentation of the way to get there, they could easily choose well. They certainly chose well under FDR, when war raged in Europe and the Imperial Japanese wolf was at the door. It's at least even odds they would choose as wisely again, when all of nature seems poised to cause their demise.

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At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) the parallel for a GND "national emergency" is trump's wall. he secured supreme court blessings to override the constitution's definition of what the house is for. That kind of power was only dreamed of by cheney.

2) the democrap PARTY will not deride the plan. It will refuse to address it. Look at what Pelosi is refusing to do now. Sure, the media will be employed to convince the population of retarded flora to react viscerally as well. But the parties (both of them) will only use this to suborn more and bigger bribes from carbon. They'll both get them. And that will be all there is to that!

3) "Despite the fears of many, though, there are reasons for optimism. If voters are given a realistic discussion of the alternatives and a realistic presentation of the way to get there, they could easily choose well. They certainly chose well under FDR."

horse shit! there are no reasons for optimism. voters haven't chosen well SINCE FDR. Well, maybe LBJ. Certainly not since. And the irrational fear of socialism, given the past 20-year media blitz and the plummeting IQ of voters, is at least as great as ever. If these voters are given a realistic discussion of the sitchie and functional alternatives, you can bet the ranch they'll do the dumbest possible thing... like elect more democraps to refuse to do shit about everything.

And you fail to mention that Bernie would have to get elected and the fix is in so that Bernie never sniffs the nomination.

So all this is a pointless academic exercise -- what COULD happen if americans magically increased their average IQs by 80 points, the media were not corporations and the democrap party was long dead and buried and replaced by something very much like the Democrats of FDR's time.

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mother Nature will sweep humanity into the dustbin of Earth's history long before the Republicans give up defending the fossil fuel industry. The Democrats are 99% useless and completely ineffective.

Enjoy what few years you have left, for the End Is Near.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to put it a different way, if energy is nationalized, it would be controlled by the government.

you really want anything at all controlled by THIS government? Or a democrap government?

the Nazis keep trying to privatize/profitize all that still works. The democraps have already OFFERED to sacrifice it to keep the debt flowing... thrice. The FAA let Boeing build and sell hundreds of lethal lawn darts (the CMIC in action).
How long before they blew the crap out of energy?

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely you are aware more than anyone that Bernie's plan is both insufficient and a non-starter all at once. You yourself said we have about 10 to 12 years and that's it. Taking as long as 2030 will be far, far too late. Bernie, I'm afraid, is as blind as anyone as to the extremity of the emergency. We don't have until 2030.

At the same time, the Democrats and Republicans profit from despoiling the planet through fossil fuel exploitation and seemingly have no compunction about destroying even more to enrich themselves even further. They will not go for Bernie's plan, as insufficient as it is.

At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

5:36, truth. It's already too late.

But Bernie must try to appeal to the few who liked Inslee by articulating a plan that should have been applied in the '50s or '60s when it might have been able to make a difference.

That's the democrap party. appeal to the 10% of their voters who are sentient with plans that are already 50 years too late and that they have no intention to actually do. marriage equality. MFA. etc. all the same thing.

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Gaius Publius said...

@5:36 — It's not too late to mitigate. It's never wrong to alleviate as much human suffering as possible.

Mes centimes...


At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

T/GP, I understand your position. Let me respond anecdotally.

My father was stricken with inoperable lung cancer. 6 months of chemo and misery at 9 on the 1 - 10 scale and his tumor had disappeared. months later, spots showed up on other internal organs. More chemo, misery at 10 and those tumors also went poof.

months later, tumors on the liver, pancreas, spleen...

Rather than endure misery at 11 or more for another year, he chose hospice and morphine for a couple of weeks.

12 years later, my mother endured a very similar series of events and ultimately chose the same path.

It's one thing to advocate for infinite rounds of mitigation even though it's a lost cause. It's another thing to do so knowing that humankind just won't ever do it and won't ever control itself. Humankind will continue its suicidal expansion, consumption and cruelty to itself and its home world. There will be no mitigation. Capitalism, other religions and greed are averse to it. Humankind worships at the altar of capitalism, religion, greed, hate and fear. It will never change its principles to any kind of humanism or earthism or whatever. That capacity does not exist. It's a product of evolution and relentless stupidity.

Sometimes, allowing a dying off is the most compassionate option.


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