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2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates: Where They Stand On Climate Policy

7 min read
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A recent CNN poll discovered 82% of registered Democrats/Democratic-leading independents cared about enacting aggressive methods and policies to tackle climate change. With twenty-four Democrats currently running for office, it’s important for voters to know which 2020 hopefuls prioritize the environment.

Despite voters’ concern for the nation’s approach to climate, few have announced detailed policy proposals to stop this crisis.

Joe Biden

What do we know about Joe Biden’s stance on climate change? | The Rising

Joe Biden, who is currently projected as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination based on early polling data, has faced criticism by many Democrats for being too moderate and emphasizing the need to reach a “middle ground.” However, Biden’s new $5 trillion climate proposal is a lot more expansive and progressive than critics expected.

Biden’s campaign said, “On day one, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with an unprecedented reach that goes well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track.”

In Biden’s plan, the presidential candidate promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement, pressure and assist other foreign powers in committing to climate targets, invest in clean energy research, impose “carbon adjustment fees” on imports not meeting climate obligations, all while reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Biden plans to finance $1.7 trillion of the project from federal spending by undoing President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans’ corporate tax cuts. The campaign says the rest will be funded by state and local governments, as well as private companies.

“Science tells us that how we act or fail to act in the next 12 years will determine the very livability of our planet,” Biden said in a statement. “That’s why I’m calling for a clean energy revolution to confront this crisis and do what America does best—solve big problems with big ideas.”

Jay Inslee

jay inslee

Washington Governor Jay Inslee currently leads the fight against climate change among his contenders, largely building his platform around the problem. Inslee has addressed the issue of climate change more thoroughly and frequently than any other candidate, proposing the most ambitious, detailed, and swiftest plan to combat climate change.

Inslee’s $9 trillion climate reform plan, which he calls “The Climate Mission,” has the hopes of achieving 100% clean energy by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2045. Funding would be allocated throughout the course of 10 years, and be used to invest in a cleaner manufacturing economy, modernized infrastructure, more scientific research, and increased jobs with benefits for citizens affected by the weakening of the fossil fuel industry, among others.

To say Inslee’s proposal is detail-oriented would be somewhat of an understatement. Inslee’s second climate change agenda was some 38 pages long, and Inslee plans on releasing three or four more packages addressing the issue. However, despite Inslee’s assertive approach towards a cleaner planet, polling data indicates Inslee is barely on the majority of American citizens’ radar for the Democratic nomination.

Beto O’Rourke

beto o'rourke

Along with Inslee, former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet are among the sole presidential candidates with clear-cut proposals to fight against climate change. O’Rourke proposed a $5 trillion plan emphasizing the need for improved innovation and green infrastructure, while Bennet unveiled his own plan to allocate $1 trillion towards climate change funding. Bennet’s proposal also aims to develop greener technology and infrastructure. Both candidates’ proposals strive to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

John Delaney

Former Maryland representative John Delaney is one of the latest candidates to put forth a climate reform proposal. Delaney plans to implement a carbon tax and devote $4 trillion towards increased funding for the Department of Energy, specifically to invest in greener technology. Delaney hopes to eliminate 90% of the nation’s carbon emissions by 2050.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren called for a $2 trillion climate plan to be spread over 10 years on clean energy research, manufacturing, and exporting in order to “achieve the ambitious targets of the Green New Deal,” according to Warren’s website.

Warren plans to invest $400 billion towards developing a National Institutes of Clean Energy modeled after the National Institutes of Health and commit the federal government to spending $150 billion annually for the next decade on products that are clean, environmentally-friendly, and American-made.

Warren’s three-part climate package would also include a $100 billion investment in the Green Marshall Plan, which would assist poorer countries expected to be most afflicted by the effects of climate change. This plan is a nod to the Marshall Plan from World War II, in which America helped fund the rebuilding of Western Europe.

An analysis by Moody’s showed Warren’s proposal would create a quarter million jobs by 2020, with employment rising to 1.2 million come 2029.

Upon unveiling her plan at a campaign event in Detroit, Michigan, Warren said, “America has faced huge challenges before, WWII and putting a man on the moon. This environmental catastrophe bearing down on us may be the biggest challenge yet.”

Along with her proposal, Warren has proposed bicameral legislation alongside Texas Representative Veronica Escobar entitled the Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act (DCRRA). This bill would focus on protecting the military by modernizing their bases to be more resilient to the threat of climate change, as well as making military operations and infrastructure more energy efficient to create, in Warren’s words, a “green military.”

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Only recently has climate change become a priority among presidential candidates and a concern among voters. When former Vermont Senator and current candidate Bernie Sanders labeled climate change as the “single greatest threat facing our planet” during his last presidential run in 2016, he faced both scrutiny and laughter from critics for his seemingly incorrect prioritization.

Sanders’s view on the urgency of climate change

However, after growing concerns for the future of the planet and increased scientific research, what once seemed like an overly dramatic, progressive stance three years ago has become the norm for many candidates in the upcoming election. In fact, many 2020 contenders have echoed Sanders’ sentiment, declaring climate change as the nation’s most pressing threat today.

Candidates’ stance on the Green New Deal may also contribute to their popularity among voters. The bold non-binding resolution, introduced by New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, aimed to address issues of climate change and economic inequality. Although the resolution expectantly didn’t pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, conversation on climate change didn’t stop there. If anything, it only gave more attention to the call for environmental change.

Almost all of the Democratic candidates have either expressed support for the Green New Deal or, like Inslee, O’Rourke, and Bennet, have proposed alternative plans with the same underlying goal: a greener, more sustainable future. Six presidential candidates even co-sponsored the Green New Deal: Sanders, Warren, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, California Senator Kamala Harris, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

John Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper

Thus far, the only Democratic candidate who has opposed the plan is former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hickenlooper said while he supported the concept of the Green New Deal, such a resolution was unachievable. His comments weren’t immune from criticism. Many on the left believe his comments come from his close relations with the gas and oil industry. On the other hand, Hickenlooper sets his intentions as trying to encourage the government to work with the private sector rather than oppose it.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg

Other candidates such as Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang have voiced their thoughts regarding what they believe needs to be done in terms of climate policy. Mayor Pete wants every American household to be a so-called “net-zero” consumer, according to Grist. Like Warren, though, Buttigieg doesn’t necessarily make climate policy a crucial part of his campaign, but clearly, he agrees with the likes of AOC and others who are very passionate about sustainability and the environment.

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang

Although Andrew Yang’s flagship policy is Universal Basic Income, he does indeed have a page dedicated to climate policy. On that page, he cites ambitions to invest in carbon capture and geoengineering, as well as revitalizing the EPA, invest in urban development, institute a tax on carbon emissions, and promote renewable energy adoption. While these aren’t novel ideas, Yang certainly aligns with most Democrats on climate policy.

What’s Next?

So while the 2020 presidential election may seem far away, the crisis of climate change only continues to become more pressing. As of now, it’s just a waiting game to see which candidates choose to enact more aggressive policies to fight against climate change.

This is a developing story that will be updated as more candidates develop their own proposals to combat climate change.