Climate Change and Debating Democrats — Where Do They Stand?

Photo: Time Magazine

The Democratic Presidential field lost a huge climate change and environmental justice advocate when Senator Cory Booker dropped out of the race yesterday — second to Jay Inslee, he had the most extensive climate change plan among those who have dropped out.  Of the 6 candidates on the stage tomorrow night, Senator Sanders has the most aggressive plans to address climate change and the environment — he backs $16 Trillion in federal government spending and the whole of the Green New Deal, whereas Amy Klobuchar has the most modest plans with spending at about $1 Trillion, and the other four are clumped together in the $1.5-3 Trillion range with an alphabet soup of program ideas.

Why This Matters: As the field winnows and the time spent with each candidate on specific issues during debates can expand, it will be interesting to see if climate change gets more air time.  After the first two debates, Sierra Club National Political Director Ariel Hayes summed up the dearth of climate discussion well when she said, “You couldn’t make a plate of pasta in the amount of time these two debates just devoted to the gravest existential crisis we face.”  As a Mom who made a lot of pasta in her day, I (Monica) laughed but had to agree – funny, not funny.  CNN Moderators – on Saturday, in our Bright Ideas feature, we suggested a slew of questions on a topic of great interest — electric vehicles. Get real spending numbers from the candidates and find out how cars stack up against other climate spending and regulatory priorities.  And if you insist on talking about health care, could you please ask about curbing health care costs caused by pollution and climate change health-related issues?  Fingers crossed.

What Stands Out About Each Candidate on Climate and Environment

Vice President Biden: The former Vice President relies on his expertise because during the Obama Administration he led the government’s stimulus spending on speeding the shift to clean energy, as well as his commitment to changing the transportation system (he commuted to Washington by train during his decades in the Senate), and because of his foreign policy experience he touts his ability to re-assert the U.S.’ global leadership on climate change.

Senator Sanders: Senator Sanders has strong support from progressives such as squad members Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who both have endorsed him.  He also made climate change a top priority in his interview with the New York (NY) Times editorial board, saying “So you know, for me, a clean environment is a fairly fundamental right of the American people, and we will use all the resources we have to make that happen.”

Tom Steyer: Steyer says climate change is his number one priority, and in his NY Times editorial board interview he emphasized climate change and environmental justice, saying he would declare a climate emergency and use the same emergency powers as President Trump to spend immediately and move money from other priorities to fighting climate change.  He promises to spend $2T and leverage another $4T in private spending.

Senator Warren: Warren has fully endorsed former candidate Jay Inslee’s climate plan, which would spend $3T, and she recently rolled out a “Blue New Deal” — the only candidate to focus on ocean conservation and sustainability.  Given her expertise in the financial system, her climate change plans would likely revolve around things like the Climate Risk Disclosure Act that she introduced that requires companies to disclose the risk climate change poses to their financial assets.

Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg sees the climate change challenge through his lens as a (former) mayor — he believes that local governments, cities, mayors, counties, and states have some of the best ideas on sustainability and addressing climate change.  And at the MSNBC Climate Forum 2020, he zeroed in on big data as a way to better tackle climate change, supports equitable disaster relief funding, and talks more than the other candidates about a carbon tax and rebate.

Senator Klobuchar: Klobuchar has the most modest climate change plan — she would spend at most $1B and emphasizes putting back the Obama administration’s policies first — and she is staking out this position aggressively, openly guarding against overpromising.  She is the granddaughter of a coal miner and speaks often of her understanding of farm issues due to her time representing Minnesota in the Senate.

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