Dear New Midwest Governors: The Green New Deal and You

December 20, 2018 | 2:53 pm
Photo: Andreas Gücklhorn/unsplash
James Gignac
Midwest Senior Policy Manager

Getting traction on Green New Deal policies at the federal level won’t be easy—but new governors in the Midwest can make progress on climate and economic priorities right away. Here’s how.

What is this Green New Deal?

Chances are you have seen one of the numerous articles recently buzzing around about the concept of a Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal is not necessarily a new idea. Folks have been talking about it since at least 2007. And there are different formulations for what the suite of policies might include.

The youth-led Sunrise Movement says a Green New Deal “would transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis.” Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York has proposed a select committee be formed in Congress on the topic. And politicians, pundits, and thought leaders have been weighing in across the spectrum.

The core idea of any Green New Deal proposal is to act on climate issues while addressing economic and social issues at the same time.

A Green New Deal is about reducing emissions while increasing jobs. It’s about getting more clean energy onto the system while increasing equity, fairness, and justice in economic opportunity and public health. A Green New Deal values the voices of youth and immigrants and of the under-employed.

While new research shows these themes are popular in principle, the current challenges to enacting any such policies at the federal level remain challenging.

What about state governments, can they do anything to advance the spirit of a Green New Deal? Should they?

[Spoiler Alert: they can, and they should!]

New leadership in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin

Last month several Great Lakes states elected new governors to take office in January 2019: J.B. Pritzker in Illinois; Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan; Tim Walz in Minnesota; Mike DeWine in Ohio; and Tony Evers in Wisconsin. DeWine is a Republican; the others are Democrats.

These new governors have a chance to lead their states on climate and equity issues from day one.

Below I highlight important clean energy developments in each state that are the building blocks for further progress—and how facets of the Green New Deal concept can be incorporated as these states move forward under new leadership.


In 2016, Illinois enacted the Future Energy Jobs Act with bipartisan support. In addition to driving new utility-scale wind and solar development, the legislation created the Illinois Solar For All program and clean energy job training to enable all communities to benefit from clean energy. In combination with programs from the City of Chicago, the state’s drive to solar inclusiveness is succeeding in places like the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood, where unemployment is five times the city average. Incoming Governor J.B. Pritzker can build on this momentum through partnering with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition and other stakeholders on comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation in 2019.


This year, Michigan’s two major electric utilities both announced important carbon reduction and clean energy goals. Many of the state’s old and inefficient coal-fired power plants have been retired, and there are plans to close additional polluting facilities in the coming years.

Governor-elect Whitmer has proposed to create a state climate office and emphasized infrastructure improvement and clean drinking water issues in her campaign. Integrating these important issues with continued progress on clean energy will open more job opportunities for Michiganders in the solar and public infrastructure sectors—and help ensure that all communities have access to healthy air and water.


Last week Xcel Energy announced a goal of being carbon-free by 2050. Minnesota has also been a pioneer in renewable energy policies and is considering measures to increase energy storage in the state. Governor-elect Tim Walz can work with the Minnesota 100% Campaign on formulating additional policies for an equitable clean energy future for the state.


New Governor Mike DeWine should continue opposition to any proposals from FirstEnergy to bail out its coal-fired power plants. And he can lead the state forward by supporting efforts to defend and expand Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency policies, especially by adding measures to ensure clean energy development benefits all communities through creating jobs and keeping energy bills affordable.


Wisconsin utilities are moving away from coal-fired power plants toward cleaner forms of energy, especially wind and solar. Incoming Governor Tony Evers can work with agencies and the public utility commission to re-focus the state on climate issues and environmental protection.

Moving forward in the Midwest in 2019

In addition to policies in their individual states, Midwest governors can also work together in a regional way to advance clean energy across several states; for example, by advocating for transmission grid operators to open up more access for wind and solar power.

The newly-elected Midwest governors have a chance to join leaders like Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, who last week announced an ambitious climate change agenda for his state. And this week Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced a goal of 100% carbon-free electricity for his state by 2040.

Let’s make sure our new Midwest Governors follow suit and look to the popularity of Green New Deal policies as central features of the climate and energy policies we need in 2019 and beyond.