Democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) today introduced a House resolution outlining her long-awaited Green New Deal. The resolution, as Reason's Ron Bailey reported earlier today, cites climate change concerns as justification for a plan that would remake the U.S. economy over the next 10 years.
The resolution's aims include "overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and 19 greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible." According to an overview of the resolution, this will be accomplished, in part, by "build[ing] out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary."
In other words, the Green New Deal wants to make commercial air travel obsolete. Is this in any way feasible? The short answer is no. "It's actually probably even dumber than it seems," says Baruch Feigenbaum, assistant director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.
Paul Blair, director of strategic initiatives at Americans for Tax Reform, was even blunter. "The Green New Deal reads like word vomit from a 13-year-old child asked to scribble out their bold new thoughts for a radically different America than we have today," Blair said in a email to Reason. "This includes the phasing out of American air travel."
From both a financial and practical standpoint, replacing planes with high-speed rail lines makes little sense. For one thing, "high-speed rail projects cost billions and billions," Feigenbaum says. Consider the proposed Texas line between Dallas and Houston, which could cost as much as $20 billion. Both cities, notably, are in the same state, separated by less than 300 miles. Replacing air travel with high-speed rail would mean lines connecting every major city in the country, at least. "The amount of money you'd actually need to build these lines would be so far in the trillions, I don't see how you would possibly get it done," Feigenbaum says.
Ocasio-Cortez, though, doesn't seem to care about the Green New Deal's fiscal cost. She told Business Insider last month that Modern Monetary Theory—which says the government can essentially print and spend as much money as it wants, regardless of budget deficits or national debt—should "absolutely" be "a larger part of our conversation" about paying for her plan.
Putting this dubious reasoning to the side, her goal of eliminating air travel still makes no sense. "The reason why people take air travel is generally because it's fast," Feigenbaum says, explaining that there are very few corridors where rail travel could realistically compete with planes. "If you're going across the country," he adds, then "obviously high-speed rail is not going to be compatible with air travel."
And it certainly wouldn't be too effective if you wanted to travel to, say, Hawaii. A high-speed rail between the West Coast and Hawaii would require underground tunneling, which would itself cost an astronomical amount. "I can't think of a number that's high enough," Feigenbaum says. "You're talking about more than trillions, I think, in order to build a line."
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D–Hawaii) seems to realize the impracticality of ending air travel. "That would be pretty hard for Hawaii," she said of Ocasio-Cortez's plan, according to Fox News' Chad Pergram.
There's another issue. Truly replacing air travel with high-speed rail lines would require connecting all the countless cities in the U.S. that, while they wouldn't be classified as major, still have airports. Feigenbaum pointed to Casper, Wyoming, and Provo, Utah. Both have populations under 500,000. "Are we really going to build high-speed rail to places like [these]?" wonders Feigenbaum.
In fact, there are more than 5,000 public airports in the U.S. It's hard to imagine the planning and money that would go into connecting even half of them with high-speed rail lines, or serving the hundreds of millions of people who fly in the U.S. each year. "To suggest that it's even remotely possible to transition our transportation system in this way, to handle not only the capacity of air travel but get near its efficiency is a pipe dream," says Blair.
Considering that California officials have proven themselves incompetent when it comes to constructing a high-speed line through that state, a similar project on a much larger scale would probably be disastrous. The California rail is "a waste of money" that's "ruining farms and highways, and will never work," Blair explains.
"That's what Democrats want to take national," he adds, "the abysmal failure of boondoggles that shackle taxpayers to the pipe dreams of socialists with no concern for its failures right here in America."
Ocasio-Cortez has admitted that completely eliminating air travel within the next 10 years might not be possible.
Still, Feigenbaum suggests Ocasio-Cortez and her allies in Congress have shown their ignorance in this area. "The folks who are proposing [the Green New Deal] don't really know much about transportation," he says. "It's more designed for political purposes than it is for actual implementation."