The Green New Deal has its share of supporters and critics, but the often-misunderstood plan is just the start of environmental politics. We explain. USA TODAY


WASHINGTON – What do public housing and climate change have in common? The Green New Deal.

As part of the sweeping progressive program to confront global warming, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Thursday held a Capitol Hill news conference to unveil the first plank of the ambitious plan: a bill designed to make housing cheaper, safer and more environmentally friendly.

The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would set aside $180 billion over 10 years to repair existing apartments, upgrade health and safety features and eliminate carbon emissions.

The measure would also provide money to electrify all public housing buildings with clean energy, add solar panels, and start powering apartments housing low-income Americans using renewable energy sources.

Ocasio-Cortez said it was no accident that the first legislation to implement the Green New Deal would center on poorer communities in urban and rural areas where widespread droughts, powerful hurricanes and strong tornadoes pose the greatest threat.

"This is how we show that tacking the climate crisis is an opportunity for us to create an economic stimulus and an economic boon not just for Wall Street but for working people," she said at the news conference.

Backers say the bill "dramatically improves" living conditions for nearly 2 million people living in roughly 1 million public homes. Sanders said the Green New Deal isn't "just about climate change. It is an economic plan to create millions of good-paying jobs."

Democratic pushback: After Green New Deal goes down, Democrats try less ambitious approach to climate change

One of the co-sponsors of the public housing bill is Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is vying with Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. The bill's prospects appear dim given that the Senate is currentcontrolled by Republicans and most House Democrats have yet to sign on to the Green New Deal.

Thursday's announcement comes less than a month after Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Sanders for president, a move that was seen as a key boost for the Vermont senator struggling to overtake Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden in the polls.

More: Scientists want to help save the Earth by storing carbon dioxide in the ground

Unveiled earlier this year, the Green New Deal calls for shifting completely from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the coming years and prescribes a broad social justice platform that includes free housing, medical coverage and higher education for all Americans.

Mocked by Republicans as a socialist program that would end air travel and demolish the economy, the program has also faced pushback by moderate Democrats who have argued for smaller steps such as having the U.S. rejoin the Paris accord on climate change.

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