Election 2020: Where do the Democratic candidates stand on climate?

A protester with the youth-led Sunrise Movement called for Democrats to support the formation of a Select Committee to advance a Green New Deal to address climate change at a demonstration in December 2018. (Peg Hunter/Creative Commons)

With continuing evidence of climate change piling up all over the world it is clear that this issue has become a polarizing topic for the 2020 presidential race. With such a wide field of Democrats and, as of now, two notable Republicans in their respective primaries, each candidate is trying to show that they take the issue of energy and climate very seriously. 

Even though every major Democratic candidate has told their base that climate change is a serious threat to not only the United States but the entire planet, they each have their unique take on how to deal with the issue. 

CNN planned a series of back-to-back town halls on climate issues for 10 of the Democratic hopefuls, which aired starting at 5 p.m. ET, Sept. 4, on CNN.

Before you watch them live, you can review each town hall participant’s plans to tackle climate change.

Joe Biden 

Despite Joe Biden being viewed as a figurehead of the Obama Administration, the former Vice President has pushed for more aggressive legislation to deal with climate than Barack Obama ever did, and it has gotten him praise from environmental activists. Another change from Biden’s past is that he now refuses to take any funding from oil, gas, and coal companies — similar to all other Democratic candidates. According to Inside Climate News, Biden does have some disagreements to more progressive pieces of legislation. Unlike his younger — and perhaps more progressive — Democratic colleagues, Biden has some hangups when it comes to the Green New Deal. Biden has come out and praised a lot of the legislation, with the exception of universal health care and jobs. Biden’s plan is expected to cost around $3.3 trillion for the private sector. The former Vice President does believe there should be some enforcement from the federal government to make companies cleaner but hasn’t stated any specifics on how to do that. 

Cory Booker 

Sen. Cory Booker from New Jersey plans to ban actions that he believes are harmful to the planet while strengthening communities and making them more sustainable with more efficient energy. Booker plans to put an end to fracking as well as the use of crude oil. The New Jersey senator also wants to put heavier taxes on companies that use coal, which will be used to clean up abandoned mines. He plans to help lower-income communities by adding more staff to EPA enforcement offices, which also will help create cleaner water sources. Companies also will have to do more when it comes to being cleaner, with Booker proposing higher standards to Clean Water and Air Acts and there will also be an end to subsidies for fossil fuels.

Pete Buttigieg

Even though Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the youngest and most inexperienced candidate in the field, he is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with, hitting every major qualifier for every debate so far. Buttigieg has been pro Green New Deal and he also has proposed a “Climate Corps service program.” As mayor of South Bend, Indiana, he made strides making it more energy-efficient despite Indiana being very reliant on coal as an energy source, according to a report from Inside Climate News. Buttigieg’s proposed Climate Corps plan would “promote equity” and also “confront the climate crisis,” with a goal of helping communities become more sustainable for the future. Buttigieg also plans to put a quick end to fracking, and ban fossil fuel development on federal lands, while exploring the use of soil capturing to reduce carbon emissions. 

Julian Castro 

Climate change plays a huge role in one of Julian Castro’s biggest proposals, which is his “People First Housing Plan.” As a former Secretary of Housing in the Obama Administration, Castro has used his strengths to combat the climate crisis. According to Inside Climate News Castro’s plan has a $200 billion fund that would go toward strengthening infrastructure, while also making it more eco-friendly with getting away from sources like coal and oil and using more renewable energy. Castro’s plan also will include zoning changes to help with housing, and push citizens to use public transportation in big city areas instead of personal vehicles. When it comes to more rural areas Castro plans to create more sustainable farms while strengthening the EPA and legislation like the Clean Water Act. 

Kamala Harris

Even though Sen. Kamala Harris is from California, which is a state that takes the climate issue very seriously amongst its voters (according to the Public Policy Institute of California 54% of Californians believe the state should be a leader in combating climate change), her plan is not as detailed compared to other candidates.This has left many to wonder where she stands on things like carbon taxes and banning fracking. However, Harris does have a strong background fighting for the climate when she was district attorney of California, winning cases against Chevron, and more recently she has embraced the Green New Deal which has stated many times when asked about the issue. 

Amy Klobuchar

For most of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s goals, she says that as president she will reinstate multiple eco-friendly pieces of legislation that Donald Trump has let expire, like the Clean Power Plan-  and aims to strengthen the EPA, now controversially run by known climate change denier, Scott Pruitt. Klobuchar also plans to make climate change information more prominent, since President Trump has gone so far as to remove the phrase “climate change” from all EPA reports and on official government websites. Similar to the other Democratic candidates Klobuchar also plans to re-enter the Paris Agreement and make the United States a leader in the fight against climate change, citing the big carbon footprint that is being left behind by the federal government. 

Beto O’Rourke

When it comes to the candidate who almost took Ted Cruz’s Senate seat in the state of Texas, Beto O’ Rourke has a very extensive plan on how to deal with the changing climate, which includes a guarantee that the United States reaches net-zero emissions by 2050 and we would be halfway to that goal by 2030. O’Rourke plans to accomplish this by using his executive strength to guard federal lands and not permitting any more leases that have to do with fossil fuels. The official O’Rourke campaign site boasts that as President, O’ Rourke would have the largest investment ever recorded on dealing with the climate crisis. O’Rourke also has stated that he would not be afraid to use his executive power to have America re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day as president after Trump backed out in his first year in office. Also, O’Rourke plans to use $5 trillion to, in his words, “mobilize” congress to update and strengthen infrastructure to be more prepared for natural disasters. 

Bernie Sanders 

Sen. Bernie Sanders has been a climate change activist long before the 2016 campaign that made him a household name. One of the unique items in Sanders’ plan to combat climate change is the vehicle trade-in program which is similar to something the Obama Administration put through, but the difference here is the vehicles will be kinder to the environment than the cars given out almost a decade ago. Sanders also plans to rebuild public transportation, citing that transportation leads to 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions, it is estimated to cost around $300 million. When it comes to fossil fuels, Sanders will require the Federal Railroad Administration to implement new rules in transporting and storing oil to prevent dangerous spills that are harmful to the environment. Sanders also believes the United States should rejoin the Paris Agreement, saying the United States played a huge role in the climate crisis to begin with. But Sanders also states that the agreement does not go far enough when it comes to avoiding that negative effects of global warming. 

Elizabeth Warren 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan is estimated to be around a $2 trillion investment to fund researching and manufacturing clean energy in America, which would have a planet-wide effect of cutting greenhouse gases by 2030. Like every other Democratic candidate, Warren plans to enter Obama-era legislation like the Paris Agreement on the first day of her administration to have the country become a leader in fighting climate change once again. Warren also will have publicly traded companies share how the changing climate affects their operations since, as of right now, most companies share little to no information to the public. Warren calls this her “Climate Risk Disclosure” plan. This plan will have companies use fossil fuel emissions to have to put more detailed records on the effects of climate change. Warren also is willing to use her control of the U.S. armed forces to fight climate change by becoming more sustainable while being ready to combat the global crisis. Warren’s campaign website cites how she was an original Green New Deal supporter and her proposals on how to combat the climate crisis have been supported by climate crisis activists such as Al Gore.

Andrew Yang 

Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur from California, is not like most of the other 2020 presidential candidates, and that can be seen especially for his plan to combat climate change. He is the only candidate so far to say we physically need to move people residing in coastal areas inland, citing that sea levels in states such as Florida will see oceans rising as high as five feet. He also plans a tax on carbon that at some point could climb to $100 a ton. Yang also has a timeline for abandoning fossil fuels that includes having all cars have net zero emissions by the year 2030. Also, when it comes to transportation, there must be net-zero emissions from all vehicles by 2049. Yang also plans to spend almost $500 billion over the next 20 years for “climate-related” projects, with $400 billion of that coming from donations and vouchers in an effort to get rid of oil, gas, and fuel lobbyists — and their influence on the environment.

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