Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Zoning Makes the Green New Deal Impossible

A bad idea is made worse by its inability to grapple with local land use restrictions.



Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D–N.Y.) Green New Deal is as ambitious a policy proposal as they come, demanding a complete conversion to net-zero carbon emissions within a decade. One means of achieving that goal is the rebuilding or replacement of every single building in the country.

Through a 10-year national mobilization, Ocasio-Cortez's plan calls for "upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification."

A FAQ released alongside the Green New Deal (which has since been deleted from the Congresswoman's website) included as one of its 14 "infrastructure and industrial projects" a promise to "upgrade or replace every building in US for state-of-the-art energy efficiency."

This, combined with a conversion to 100 percent renewable power, and massive investments in transit, is the Green New Deal's strategy for getting us to zero net-emissions in ten years.

Replacing all the buildings in the country over 10 years is a tall order, to say the least.

The U.S. Census Bureau pins the number of housing units at 137,407,308 as of 2017. That count overstates how many residential buildings there are in the U.S. given that roughly 30 percent of these units are contained in larger apartment buildings.

Nevertheless, the Green New Deal would likely require the renovation or replacement of close to 100 million residential structures. Add to that the roughly 6 million commercial buildings in the U.S., plus all the public schools, government offices, and industrial buildings in the country, and we're talking about a lot of retrofitting.

The price tag for all this would be astronomical. It's also somewhat beside the point. Even if the money were available (I suppose we could always print it), local and state land use policies would stop any such green development bonanza in its tracks.

"Current zoning absolutely stands in the way of allowing more people to live in high cost areas that are already close to transit," says Emily Hamilton, a scholar at George Mason University's Mercatus Center.

Most major American cities have imposed single-family zoning—which allows for a single dwelling per property to be built—on a majority of urban residential land, says Hamilton. This puts an artificial cap on the number of new homes that can be built.

It forces people to live farther away from each other than they might otherwise want to, making it harder to service all of them effectively by transit. That presents a problem when one's vision is so dependent on people giving up their carbon-spewing cars.

This restrictive zoning presents more problems still when one considers that the federal government is not going to be able to force people to rebuild or retrofit their homes—there's going to have to be some buy-in from the property owners themselves.

Yet if a property owner is prohibited by zoning codes from adding new units or more space to a building they own, then there're less likely to go in for the kind of retrofitting called for by the Green New Deal.

"In most cases it's not going to make sense to knock down a single-family home and replace it with a newer, energy efficient single-family home because you're not getting much more space," says Hamilton.

If a property owner is able to knock down said home to make room for a new energy efficient fourplex which the owner could then sell off or operate for profit, they're much more likely to put up with the cost and disruption, Hamilton tells Reason.

In addition to single-family zoning, a host of historic preservation laws would make any attempt at even modest, energy-saving renovations either difficult or impossible.

Historic preservation districts across the country come with an incredible number of rules designed to preserve the original aesthetic and architectural features of older buildings. That means everything from energy-saving doors and windows, to a more efficient HVAC system could be prohibited.

Depending on the locality, more major renovations could require discretionary permits from a local planning board, slowing things down, and potentially even stopping them in their tracks.

To be clear, I'm not saying that a massive federal plan to encourage or even force people to live in dense apartment buildings is appropriate. But some of the things it calls for—more density, more energy efficiency—are things that many free marketeers and property owners also want, but can't have due to government regulations.

That Ocasio-Cortez's proposal doesn't mention these impediments at all, while also proposing some pretty outlandish goals, undercuts the seriousness of her proposal, and is yet another example her plan's inability to grapple with the practical hurdles it will inevitably face.

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  1. Even if the money were available (I suppose we could always print it)…

    You’re not the only one who supposes that.

  2. Yeah, Zoning Laws are the problem, morseo than the Laws of Thermodynamis, Physics, Finance, Economics and Human Behavior

    1. It’s easier to change the laws of physics than zoning regulations.

      1. Unless you have a dictator. That’s what the left really, really wants …. someone to make everyone do the right thing.

  3. I do like to think of the impact massive demolitions for renovation would have on landfills. That seems like it would be an interesting shade of green.

    1. Everything will be upcycled!

  4. AOC is really a Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl).

    1. Don’t be talking about my Baby Ice Dog…?.

  5. It doesn’t qualify as a policy proposal because most of its demands/claims aren’t things even possible within the framework of govt.

    Its a steaming pile of nonsense wish-fulfillment, and anyone citing it as a basket of ideas should be considered either a completely dishonest hack or a retard.

    Even Matthew “completely dishonest hack” Yglecias argued today that he’s in favor of ‘bad ideas’ provided they help move the overton window farther left. He stated outright that the “green new deal” isn’t supposed to be treated as any literal body of ideas, but rather just a bundle of vague messaging to push people more-leftward.

    Failing to condemn obvious stupidity is as bad as endorsing it. Basically the problem with people like Suave. You all simply slow-pitch criticism of the biggest threats to liberty. As though your real fear is that you’ll be confused for ‘conservatives’ rather than watered-down progs who recognize markets are ‘somewhat useful’

    1. Both Sides, Gilmore, both sides….

    2. He stated outright that the “green new deal” isn’t supposed to be treated as any literal body of ideas, but rather just a bundle of vague messaging to push people more-leftward.

      Huh. So in essence Yglesias thinks we should take AOC’s words “seriously but not literally”. Where have I heard that before.

      1. From other idiot progressives like yourself.

    3. Failing to condemn obvious stupidity is as bad as endorsing it. Basically the problem with people like Suave. You all simply slow-pitch criticism of the biggest threats to liberty.

      I haven’t seen a single positive article on the Green New Deal here at Reason. Every single one is scathing with criticism. What more do you want?

      1. Hey I know. Maybe Soave can join in the conservative circlejerk and say “AOC IS STALIN IN A SKIRT, AND GND PROVES IT”

        1. She’s never going to fuck you.

    4. It doesn’t qualify as a policy proposal because most of its demands/claims aren’t things even possible within the framework of govt.

      The “renewable energy” proposal isn’t possible within the framework of physics.

      1. It is as long as we meet the death quota.

  6. Obviously her proposal is based on the idea that the federal government is an omnipotent entity in command of unlimited resources, and with a cudgel like that local laws are of little consequence

    1. It’s based on what I call the thermostat fallacy. “So let it be written, so let it be done.” Just pass a law and your work is done, problem solved.

      A thermostat shows the current temperature and the desired temperature. Most people understand that changing the desired temperature does not literally change the room temperature, but tells the furnace or a/c to get to work, and sometime later the temperature will be changed.

      Statists in general do not understand either the distinction between the two temperatures, or that there is a mechanism involved. They think that merely changing the temperature is all it takes.

      Thus all they have to do is say it, write it down, presto, done.

      1. Nicely written. The difference between the “wanting” and “achieving” of a things is hard, hard work … or a dictator who will get others to do his (or her) bidding.

  7. OT: A second ‘accuser’ against Fairfax has come forward (on Twitter).

    IANAL but, ‘accuser’ as the regular definition of accuser seems presumptuous. Despite the fact that there’s not statute of limitations on rape in VA or N. Carolina; she’s not calling for him to be brought to trial or convicted and punished but is instead issuing a request, via her attorney, that he step down as Lt. Gov. ‘Requestor’ or ‘Demander’ may be the more appropriate label. Possibly ‘extortionist’ or ‘blackmailer’. Time and evidence will tell.

    Interesting that she specifically site Tyson’s allegations as motivation for her coming forward. Seems like the sort of thing that would/could fall under slut shaming if you found out someone liked rough sex.

    1. You seem to have mixed your threads up

      1. cueless, threadless, what’s new?

  8. This Green New Deal is so catastrophically bad that it’s hard not to believe that it’s all an elaborate joke. But if zoning makes it impossible, then it’s only one small part of a pretty large list that is topped off by things like the limitations of human knowledge and certain basic truths about the nature of reality and human behavior.

    Given the massive violations of human rights that this nightmare would require, then we can only hope that zoning laws stop it from ever getting off the ground. Because make no mistake about it – if the zealots ever seriously tried to make this thing a reality, we’d be looking at the potential for Great Leap Forward levels of evil and human suffering. And I say that as someone who doesn’t engage in hyperbole on serious issues.

  9. So… there’s a shortcut. Say we didnt need 100 million homes because there are no longer 300 million Americans. If we get rid of the kulacks and the wreckers and the deplorables, then we’re half way there.

    1. If we get rid of the other half then the “problem” completely goes away.

      1. Well, of you get rid of both halves, then who are the buildings for?

        1. They are for your betters, the elected few.

        2. They are for your betters, the elected few.

  10. “the federal government is not going to be able to force people to rebuild or retrofit their homes”

    What gives you that idea?

    1. Everybody knows that, if only Tsarist Russia had had a 5th Amendment, the Ukrainian famine would never have happened.

    2. Just like the Obamacare Penalty, this will be the Ocasiocare penalty

  11. “Zoning Makes the Green New Deal Impossible”

    Reality has that effect, also.

  12. Actually, Matty Iglesias gets the idea. This is nothing close to a serious legislative proposal. It is all propaganda. AOC doesn’t care if it can be passed, nor does she care if it is practical, nor does she care if it can be paid for. All she cares about is using the legislative platform to advance her socialist agenda. Nor is she alone. We have entered a dangerous new era, where vacuous propagandists like her have full access to the public microphone and people of sense are relegated to the back benches.

    1. I agree with that and the Pelosi democrats are just going to smile and say “you go girl”.

    2. “and people of sense are relegated to the back benches.”

      Someone should tell these people of sense about private microphones.

  13. My god, Ed Markey is a fucking dolt. I remember when, on the Senate floor, he publicly called for the prosecution of then Indiana University student and security researcher Christopher Soghoian for the crime of notifying an airline of a security flaw in their boarding pass software that allowed him to acquire a legitimate pass for any flight with any name. Just another of the greatest hits for this piece of shit.

    1. And you brought him up why? You’re the only mention of him on this entire page.

      1. Co-sponsor of the bill. LMGTFY

  14. Life in the future will be in tents.

    1. Made from the hides of all the used-to-be milk cows and beef cattle?
      What is the carbon footprint of killing all cattle? How much CO2 does a decomposing body generate?

  15. ” local and state land use policies would stop any such green development ”

    Should read “local and state land use policies would stop”.

    We can’t have a few petty local politicians impeding the great leap forward.
    Welcome to the revolution.

  16. the Green New Deal would likely require the renovation or replacement of close to 100 million residential structures.

    For comparison, googling suggests the US currently builds 1M new homes every year. To ramp up by an order of magnitude for ten years running is preposterous.

  17. AOC doesn’t care about hurdles. What she has to do to make a splash is sell something that no on otherwise would buy. Her response is to make glowing promises and align herself with an uncritical press that will blabber repeats of her banalities and never mention that all she really wants to do is get into power and kill people who dare to make a wry face.

    But, then, isn’t that how all the socialist-terrorists of the Twentieth Century operated?

    1. “But, then, isn’t that how all the socialist-terrorists of the Twentieth Century operated?”

      Not quite. Old Soviet joke: It’s after midnight. The NKVD comes aknocking at your door. The guy inside says “you’ve got the wrong apartment. The communists live upstairs.”

      Another one, this one true, concerns the renowned Soviet musician, Shostakovitch. He was being investigated by the NKVD and asked at the end of the week to show up at HQ first thing on Monday and meet his case officer. He left his home Monday, terrified that this was the end. At the HQ he was sent back home, a free man. His case officer had been arrested the day before.

    2. Ask for the stars and settle for the moon. Rinse and repeat. That’s how American liberty has been pushed back ever since 1776.

  18. It’s a good idea. It can be financed by bonds, effectively a trade deficit with the government, which is actually healthy. Also by giving recent immigrants voting rights, we can elect more representatives like AOC. This will bolster support for her plan and ensure it is completed.

  19. Did you miss the Obamacare ruling? The federal government can force anyone to do anything.

  20. I’m torn between “whacko”, “nutso”, and asking God to call down lightning bolts on these folks.

  21. So, why are zoning laws an obstacle to the GNB?

    Well mostly because zoning laws fall under “police powers” which are under the COTUS reserved to the states.

    When JFK was shot in Dallas, the only crime that Lee Oswald could be charged with was murder under the laws of Texas. Since then there has been an alarming expansion of federal police powers much of which has been unconstitutional IMO

    To my way of thinking it is important that no new encroachments be made on state powers.

    OTOH, it’s likewise important to see that state powers are not imposed arbitrarily as well.

  22. and on WHAT constitutional basis does this space cadet MANDATE I live as SHE dictates? I happen to like my spacious, confortable, rambling single family dwelling unit on my five acres of dirt. Nearest neighbour to the north is 250 feet away, to the south a mere…let’s say, 500 feet away. Across the street their dwelling is only 100 feet, but their barking dog spends most of his time several hundred more feet away as he loves chasing chimeras way out back by the creek. There might be twenty cars per hour pass along the road most times per day, though this DOES increase radically to maybe a fifty per hour at commute times. I’ve pulled up in front of my house with a car on the trailer behind, set the four way flashers, unloaded the car, put it in the yard, then backed the now empty trailer into the driveway after it, and not one car came along to have to wait.

    I DO NOT LIKE the modern hermetically sealed houses…. friends have them and I know what they are like, and prefer ny own that is more “involved” with the environment. This New York Crazy Thang can go take a long sociailst hike. Preferably where there are large bears, Of COURSE she will not be armed against them. This is a feature not a bug.

    1. General welfare clause; interstate commerce clause.
      There is nothing the feds cannot mandate, deal with it.

  23. Can we PLEASE stop making stupid people famous? Let’s keep this in perspective: she’s in congress because fewer than 20,000 people made the point to vote for her. And yet, her dumb face is everywhere.

    1. No media bias, according to the media, but I think if an ugly old man democrat was saying these things there would be a lot less photo coverage.

    2. Can we PLEASE stop making stupid people famous?

      too late. see: Trump

      1. Yeah, but Trumps ideas are actually sane.

        If you’re a lefty pussy, or a purist libertarian pussy, his ideas might make him a raging asshole… But they’re not nuts. He’s largely advocating either maintaining status quo, or in fact going back to more old school (read less concerned with offending whiney/bitchy/PC faggots) methods of doing stuff. He’s a combo of status quo + hard nosed nationalist.

        Nothing earth shattering in anything he has said or done really. He hasn’t even been in any duels like previous loud mouthed presidents we’ve had!

        AOC is a whole new and different level of crazy, at least in America.

  24. I do love how stupid AOC is. Her being completely batshit is going to do more to wake up those middle of the road people who still vote for Dems than anything else possibly could.

    Mind you, the country is probably still fucked no matter what… But when it comes down to one side or another trying to put the other side into camps, I just want to make sure as many sane Americans as possible realize the left is completely untenable.

  25. I wouldn’t worry about zoning and any effect it might have on on the Red New Deal. Communists don’t care about zoning or any other laws.
    They just want for the few politburo to have mansions and the people who pay their nutcake taxes to be propagandized into servitude.
    Welcome to the USSA!

  26. Reality makes the Green New Deal impossible.

  27. Wouldn’t tearing down all old buildings and building new ones also gentrify the area? Isn’t that bad?

    Maybe if we pointed the back end of cows at the buildings we can use their farts for something good.

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  30. I believe them. If they actually got the power to completely control the economy then i think most of the GND goals would be completely forgotten.

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