President Trump’s claim that the Green New Deal would cost $100 trillion can be traced back to the Manhattan Institute, a think tank backed by fossil fuel investor Paul Singer and companies like ExxonMobil.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey made waves at a press conference in February when they rolled out a Green New Deal resolution that called for the nation to transition to 100 percent clean energy in ten years.
Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the New York-based Manhattan Institute, attempted to “cost out the Green New Deal” in a Twitter thread the next day. Riedl admitted he had “No idea” how much things like “Installing renewable energy everywhere” would cost.
Riedl nonetheless floated his own guesstimate that the cost of the Green New Deal “… must be heading towards $100 trillion.”
The claim reverberated across social media and right-wing media outlets like Townhall.com, and soon found its way onto President Trump’s bully pulpit.
“They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home, and put millions of Americans out of work, spend $100 trillion, which, by the way, there’s no such thing as $100 trillion,” President Trump said a few days later at a rally in El Paso, as he attacked the Green New Deal.
Marc Thiessen, a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, then cited Riedl as the source of a slightly more conservative estimate that the Green New Deal would cost between $46 and $81 trillion.
The American Action Forum run by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Manhattan Institute fellow, later put out an “Initial Analysis” that Republicans have used to falsely claim the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion, a similarly massive number that was not quite big enough for some pundits.
“We should make it an even $100 trillion,” wrote Allahpundit, an anonymous blogger for the conservative blog HotAir. “People love round numbers. We’ll find another $7 trillion in the couch cushions.”
President Trump stuck with the $100 trillion number during his speech at CPAC last week.
“But perhaps nothing is more extreme than the Democrats’ plan to completely takeover American energy and completely destroy America’s economy through their new $100 trillion Green New Deal,” Trump said at CPAC.
The $100 trillion guesstimate that originated with a Manhattan Institute fellow’s Tweet remains a fixture of the debate over the Green New Deal. Charles Payne of Fox News used the figure during an interview last week with Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s EPA administrator.
Others like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have preferred to say that the Green New Deal will cost $93 trillion, a “bogus figure” according to an analysis by Politico reporter Zack Coleman.
The Green New Deal’s supporters have noted that the resolution is a series of ambitious goals to decarbonize the economy, not a detailed set of policy proposals, which are to be developed via “democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers,” according to the resolution itself.
“Right now the focus really needs to be on what are the policies that allow us to decarbonize and also reduce inequity and inequality in our economy … the math will come once the policy is ready,” Green New Deal architect and New Consensus Policy Director Rhiana Gunn-Wright said this week on MSNBC.
The goals of the Green New Deal resolution and similar moves by states like California, Hawaii, and New Mexico to adopt 100% clean electricity standards represent a threat to the Manhattan Institute’s backers in the fossil fuel industry.
Paul Singer, the founder and CEO of Elliott Management, is the chairman of the Manhattan Institute’s board of trustees. His Paul E. Singer Foundation contributed $3.725 million to the Manhattan Institute from 2011 to 2017, according to annual reports the foundation filed with the IRS that can be found on GuideStar and Citizen Audit.
Elliott Management is now the top shareholder in Peabody Energy, a major producer of coal, with a 26 percent stake valued at more than $850 million. Elliott Management’s financial interest in Peabody Energy dates at last as far back as 2015 and the coal company’s bankruptcy.
In its latest annual report to Wall Street, Peabody Energy listed clean energy policies and competition from alternative sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, as well as renewable energy “mandates and subsidies” among the factors impacting coal demand and pricing.
Elliott Management’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission also reveal current investments in fossil fuel producers like Devon Energy and ExxonMobil, and electric utilities like FirstEnergy Corp and Sempra Energy.
Singer is known in energy circles as an activist investor who has pushed utilities like NRG and Sempra Energy to divest from their renewable energy assets. In 2015, DeSmog revealed that the Paul E. Singer Foundation had contributed $200,000 to climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg’s think tank.
Singer was once a leader of the Never Trump movement within the Republican party, but more recently he was spotted talking “amicably” with Trump at a political fundraiser. Singer has also contributed money to the pro-Trump super PAC Future45.
ExxonMobil itself has contributed over $1 million to the Manhattan Institute since 1998, and its CEO Darren Woods has predicted that popular support for the Green New Deal will wane.
The Manhattan Institute has also draws support from the Koch donor network, which counts Singer among it members. Koch foundations have contributed over $1 million dollars to the Manhattan Institute over the years.
Much of the Manhattan Institute’s work on energy and environmental issues is geared to benefit its fossil fuel industry funders. The think tank has railed against the Martin Act, a securities law the New York attorney general has used to investigate the accuracy of ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy’s statements to investors about climate change. The Manhattan Institute has also targeted climate science, electric vehicles, and renewable energy with disinformation.
The same day that Brian Riedl posted his “$100 trillion” tweet, the Manhattan Institute responded to the Green New Deal roll out in Congress with statements from senior fellows Robert Bryce and Jonathan A. Lesser.
In one op-ed titled, “The Green New Deal Is the Antithesis of Green,” Bryce argued that renewable energy projects like Lighthouse Wind in upstate New York are facing:
… a growing rural backlash, and that backlash is already limiting the growth of renewable sources and in particular, the growth of wind. The obvious conclusion is that renewable energy alone cannot meet our economy’s enormous energy needs, and no amount of populist spin can change that fact.
The Lighthouse Wind project just happens to be located nearby a struggling coal power plant located in Somerset, New York. Peabody Coal Sales supplied coal to the plant as recently as 2017, according to fuel receipts data published by the Energy Information Administration. Bryce has been criticizing that wind project for years.
Just last week, Bryce joined the echo chamber of climate skeptics and renewable energy opponents who have piled on to attack a 500-megawatt solar farm planned for Spotsylvania County in Virginia. Among the early opponents of that solar project was Arthur “Randy” G. Randol III, a former lobbyist for ExxonMobil and consultant for Peabody Energy, who has been involved in climate denial campaigns since the 1990s.
It’s an example of how local concerns about renewable energy projects are often exploited by political operatives and special interest groups tied to the fossil fuel industry as part of a broader war on clean energy technologies and policy ideas like the Green New Deal.
In reality, wind and solar are the largest source of new electricity capacity in the U.S., and more popular with the public than fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects are getting built, and communities that support them are reaping economic benefits.