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A downed transformer in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 10, 2018. Photo: Randy Vazquez/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images

The sweeping ambition of the Green New Deal (GND) has raised questions about how it will be paid for. But it’s important to consider how its potential outlays might intersect with investments that will need to be made anyway to replace aging U.S. energy infrastructure.

The big picture: The U.S. already needs to increase its infrastructure investment by more than $3.8 trillion by 2040 in clean water, energy and electricity, transportation networks and telecommunications. The GND could offer a way for policymakers to direct the infrastructure repair and upgrading that already needs to be done in service of fighting climate change.

Background: In the wake of natural disasters, there have been many missed opportunities where federal dollars have gone to restoring, rather than rethinking, poorly designed infrastructure. PG&E’s history of constantly replacing hundreds of residential electricity transformers that fail during heat waves instead of installing new technology is a case in point. This started to change with the October 2018 Disaster Recovery Reform Act, which allocates 6% of disaster funds to improve resilience, not just to replace destroyed facilities.

Moving forward, the GND could serve as a roadmap for ensuring federal dollars get spent wisely and fairly. Spending on resiliency and decarbonization could overlap via new technologies, as New York, Hawaii and other states are investigating.

  • Instead of spending $12 billion on sea walls to protect every critical refining facility on the Gulf Coast, a portion of that money could be diverted to construct electric charging infrastructure or landfill gas programs for alternative fuel vehicles.
  • The Pentagon and Congress could rethink how to secure U.S. military bases threatened by climate change in ways that align with the GND. Ditto for the Pentagon’s research and development programs on future fuels, logistics and automation.
  • Restoring wetlands, mangroves and green space is also a cost-effective way to reduce climate-related damage.
  • GND legislation could also facilitate private-sector tie-ins for federal green infrastructure investment with green bonds and investment vehicles.

What to watch: As politicians stake out their response to the GND, look for some legislators to tie in GND themes to programs that must be funded anyway or address multiple goals at once, like employment, energy innovation and decarbonization, especially in rust-belt regions. This proved a successful formula for governors the 2018 midterms, and will likely reappear in the 2020 election cycle.

Amy Myers Jaffe is the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Go deeper

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Axios AM Deep Dive: America’s murder surge

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Homicides rose at the fastest rate in at least six decades last year. This Axios AM Deep Dive, led by Future correspondent Bryan Walsh, looks at the state of gun crime.