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At the Democratic Debate in Las Vegas last night, the moderators asked a series of questions on climate change and environmental issues, and the candidates had a chance to both explain their plans and to talk about their priorities. All of them were steeped in detail and spoke passionately about the issues. Some differences between the candidates started to become apparent — fracking, green job creation, environmental justice, and the importance of leading the world were the key issues.
Why This Matters: The MSNBC moderators recognized that climate change is one of the most important issues to the Democratic voters and gave it at least 15 minutes — it got one of the longest time blocks of the debate, albeit in the second hour. The issue of fracking is probably the most divisive within the field, but it was also interesting that only Biden and Warren touched on environmental justice and only Buttigieg, Biden and Sanders called climate change an existential crisis. Climate and environment were not issues on which the candidates had blows — no big fireworks — but voters did have a chance to learn where the candidates stand on more than just rejoining the Paris Accord and restoring Obama’s rules and regulations.
What Each Candidate Said
Biden: On policies to stop the warming, Biden said he would increase renewable energy, transform transportation, increase mileage standards, install 500,000 charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles, build high-speed rail, and recognize that climate change is an existential threat. On whether fossil fuel companies should pay for the damage they caused, Biden said yes both the companies and their CEOs should be held accountable, he said he would end subsidies for fossil fuel companies, and he emphasized that climate change hurts minority and poor communities the most — mentioning asthma, clean air, safe drinking water, and asbestos. He finished by stating he would hold a global climate summit at the White House in his first 100 days, and he would pressure China to do more to lower their emissions.
Bloomberg: On policies to stop warming, Bloomberg touted his financial support for a campaign pushing for the closing of coal-fired power plants and he said that the most important thing the President should do is to ensure the rest of the world controls their emissions. On fracking, Bloomberg said it is a necessary transition to renewable power but that methane emissions associated with fracking must be controlled. On how far he would go to get China to reduce their emissions, Bloomberg said he would convince the Chinese and said getting India to lower its emissions is even more important.
Buttigieg: On how to get China to emit less, Buttigieg said that we need a President that believes in science and emphasized the importance of leadership and diplomacy, which is what he would use to move China in the right direction on climate change. He then pivoted to domestic climate policies and said climate change is urgent now, that he would create green jobs quickly, and that he would bring in other people like farmers to make them part of the solution.
Klobuchar: On fracking, Klobuchar said she would not issue new fracking permits until it is safe, that it would only be as a transition. She then pivoted to putting a price on carbon and said there must be a corresponding rebate to ensure that the tax does not hurt ordinary citizens and that we have to be realistic about what can be passed through the Congress.
Sanders: On how a fracking ban would impact workers in that industry, Sanders said that unless we solved the climate crisis there would be no planet to pass on to our kids and grandkids, he said climate change is a moral issue and an existential crisis, and that he is fighting for the future of the planet — and stemming climate change is more important than the short term profits from fracking. Sanders also was the first to mention climate change in answer to a question about his electability.
Warren: On why she would ban drilling and mining on federal lands, Warren said that she opposes it even if that means miners in Nevada losing their jobs, and that she opposes drilling in offshore areas as well. She pivoted to the importance of science and research, and in a follow up about the need to mine for minerals for batteries to store wind and solar she said she favored limited mining where it can be done sustainably, and that we should spend on technology to invent solutions instead. On green jobs, Warren said that she believes that the Green New Deal will create green jobs, and that corruption and fillibusters are the problems, not that her environmental policies are too ambitious. She then pivoted to environmental justice and emphasized her $1 trillion dollar plan to solve the problems of clean air, safe drinking water, and cleaning up toxic pollution.
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