Connecticut’s path to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is paved with financial obstacles. A recent report from the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis estimates that the state will take a decade or more to reverse the pandemic’s economic blows. Before the pandemic, Connecticut’s recovery from the 2008 Great Recession was the worst of any state. Now, with converging health, economic, and housing crises, the state needs transformative, radical change.
In other words, Connecticut needs its own Green New Deal.
The Green New Deal is a comprehensive set of ideas that recognizes the link between health, the environment, the economy, and jobs, refusing to address one without the others.
In 2019, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) introduced a Green New Deal resolution. This resolution centered the policy around justice and investment in the public sector. It demands a transformation to a low-carbon economy, a right to clean air and clean water, restoration of natural resources, and urban sustainability. It also goes beyond environmental demands, calling for “providing all members of society with high-quality health care, affordable, safe and adequate housing, economic security, and access to clean water, air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.” The Green New Deal, then, is a promise to transform systems of oppression in addition to improving environmental standards.
According to the CCEA report, a quarter of a million people in Connecticut lost their jobs in April 2020 alone. Before the pandemic, Connecticut was one of only three states where the workforce decreased since The Great Recession. Job creation is a crucial part of the versions of the Green New Deal implemented at state and city scales. As part of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s 2019 Green New Deal, he included a target of creating 300,000 green jobs by 2035 and 400,000 by 2040. In Washington D.C., The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018 sets robust building-performance standards which also creates jobs. California’s Buy Clean policy stimulates employment in its manufacturing sector by sending tax dollars to manufacturers who meet certain environmental standards.
Connecticut would not be the first to pass a state-wide Green New Deal as an economic and environmental strategy. Maine’s 2019 “Act to Establish a Green New Deal for Maine” was described by representative Chloe Maxim (D) as “basically an economic and job growth strategy for Maine.” The act creates jobs in renewable energy and manufacturing in addition to requiring Maine to reach 80% renewable electricity by 2040 and guaranteeing a just energy transition. The Maine AFL-CIO has praised the policy for its focus on working class people.
While President Joe Biden’s plan to address climate change is heavily influenced by the justice principles of the Green New Deal, the bill is unlikely to pass on a federal level.
Meanwhile, Connecticut’s communities of color cannot wait. The University of Connecticut’s Health Disparities Institute has found disproportionately higher mortality rates of COVID-19 among Black and Hispanic/Latinx residents. Employed people of color in Connecticut are more likely to work in high risk “essential jobs,” such as in nursing homes and grocery stores. They are more likely to rent rather than own their homes, especially a problem in a state where 19 percent of state renters reported being behind on their rent in November 2020. The Economy Policy Institute found that the Black-white gap in unemployment rate widened and the Hispanic-white gap persisted in the summer of 2020.
Connecticut must address its health and economic disparities in the terms of those most affected by them. The Green New Deal enjoys widespread support from grassroots communities of Black, brown, Asian American/Pacific Islander, indigneous, and working class individuals. The New Haven Climate Movement, an “intergenerational grassroots organization of New Haven residents”, is currently using art and media to mobilize coastline residents about the need for a Connecticut Green New Deal.
How to pay for it? New York State, with the highest income inequality in the nation, just passed a top marginal income tax rate of 52% for its wealthiest residents for funding its investments in the public sector. In September 2020, New Jersey signed into law a bill which increased the tax rate on those who earn more than $1 million annually. With income inequality in Connecticut almost as high as in New York and higher than in New Jersey, the time is ripe for this politically challenging, but economically necessary, move.
The 2018 Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) report “Building a Low Carbon Future for Connecticut,” which outlines 61 comprehensive recommendations, established the state as an environmental leader. In 2018, the state legislature signed into law the GC3’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, which are among the most ambitious in the nation. While the report includes recommendations on everything from transportation to carbon pricing, it is missing the Green New Deal’s key recognition of these policies’ connections to healthcare, housing, and the economy.
Gov. Ned Lamont and the Connecticut General Assembly are debating a bill, HB 6440, to incentivize job growth and business expansion in Connecticut. Lamont has announced his plans for Connecticut to lead in clean energy and carbon footprint reduction, especially present in his push for the Transportation Climate Initiative. Why not expand and ensure these goals’ achievement with the realization of The Green New Deal?
Even with the COVID-19 vaccine now widely available in Connecticut, CCEA economists warned of the prolonged damage to the economy due to lack of trust in the vaccines’ efficacy. Connecticut has no time to waste.
Nora Massie attends Yale University.