With all of the time and energy being spent debating and discussing the Green New Deal, whether by its enthusiastic supporters or by its many detractors, you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t realized that the entire discussion was much ado about nothing. The vast majority of those talking about the proposal, whether they’re claiming that it would outlaw air travel or that it’s necessary to save the planet, conveniently gloss over the fact that it hasn’t even been introduced as actual legislation.

Instead, its proponents introduced it in the form of a congressional resolution that directs the government to do things – but only in the vaguest possible terms that completely duck the question of cost. That may be why it reads more like a love letter to the liberal base rather than a practical solution, and why Senate Democrats were willing to pretend it didn’t exist when the Senate’s Republican leader Mitch McConnell brought it up for a vote.

The Maine version of the Green New Deal, formally unveiled by its proponents recently and facing a public hearing this week, was at least introduced as actual legislation. That makes it a little less vague than its federal counterpart, albeit only slightly so. Its two most concrete components require electricity providers to switch to 80 percent renewable electricity by 2040 and require the Public Utility Commission and Efficiency Maine Trust to write legislation that lets public schools use a system of credits known as “virtual net metering” to discount their electric bills by participating in off-site community solar farms.

Given that state government can barely figure out a budget that works for two years at a time, it seems a little grandiose for the Legislature to require private companies to plan two decades down the road – after all, even the Soviets only had five-year plans. By 2040, we might be using entirely new forms of power or power transmission technology, or the public utility companies currently operating in Maine might not even exist. Long-term planning isn’t a terrible idea in and of itself, of course, but it seems silly for a government that operates in two-year cycles to make private companies come up with a two-decade plan. It’s especially ridiculous when one realizes that any future Legislature may eliminate or modify that statute at any time.

Encouraging public schools to utilize solar power (and, hopefully, other forms of renewable energy as well) may indeed be a good idea, if it can be done in a cost-effective way for the state and local school districts. However, if it is such a great idea, why didn’t the legislators sponsoring the Green New Deal introduce that legislation themselves this session, rather than directing staff to, essentially, do their work for them? It’s bad enough when legislators introduce vague, one-paragraph concept drafts and let others flesh out the details, but this is even worse, since the legislation wouldn’t be introduced until after the next elections.

The rest of Maine’s Green New Deal is similar to the federal, in that it doesn’t actually do much at all. There’s a longstanding tradition in Augusta that, when legislators don’t want to pass a bill but can’t quite bring themselves to kill it, they amend it into a study. This tactic lets them duck responsibility for voting for or against a particular bill while not offending their colleague or whatever special interest group is pushing for it. They can then count on a future Legislature to ignore whatever report is produced, because ignoring studies is another proud tradition in Augusta.

This bill outdoes itself by not only starting off with the establishment of a task force, but also establishing a commission. The Task Force For a Green New Deal would be tasked with recommending a strategy to implement that renewable energy mandate, a job creation strategy, and a residential energy strategy. The bill also establishes the Commission on a Just Transition to a Low-carbon Economy, who would advise on how to help low-income households move toward clean energy. In a blow to bipartisanship, neither the task force nor the commission would have any appointees from the minority party.

Like its federal counterpart, the Maine version of the Green New Deal is mostly a vague smorgasbord of ideas more fit for a campaign flier than a bill. If its sponsors were serious about combating climate change, they’d be offering specific proposals and working with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass them.

Mainers deserve real solutions from their legislators, not feel-good ideas designed to help them get re-elected.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel

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