Climate change emerging as a top issue for 2020 Dems

  • FILE - In this May 18, 2019, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File) Matt Rourke

Monitor staff
Published: 6/9/2019 6:00:17 PM

Joe Biden promised a climate change revolution, and many voters think it’s about time.

Climate change is quickly becoming a defining issue in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination. And that means a candidate has to work hard for their policies to stand out in a crowded field.

Waiting in line for Biden’s Concord town hall on Tuesday, Madison Britting, a pre-med student wearing a blue “Climate Strong” shirt, scrolled through the climate change plan Biden had released hours earlier. She had heard that the plan described as moderate before its release. She didn’t like that.

“I kept hearing that ‘middle ground, middle ground,’” said Britting. “We’re really in trouble. I think it’s more than a middle ground issue.”

Biden’s plan, which he calls a “clean energy revolution,” has since been labeled a “mini Green New Deal” and even a “gift for Trump.” The barrage of policies, totaling $1.7 trillion in federal spending in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, is the sixth comprehensive climate plan released by a Democratic presidential candidate. Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, John Delaney, Michael Bennet and Elizabeth Warren have all released their own plans.

An April Gallup poll showed that most Americans, particularly in the Northeast, worry about global warming a “great deal or fair amount.” They believe it is serious and has already begun. A late April CNN poll showed 82 percent of Democrats believe “taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change” is “very important.”

A recent Harvard poll showed likely voters between 18 and 29 chose “Environment/Global Warming” as the issue that concerned them most.

At his Concord event, Biden shared his own worries.

“Climate change poses a genuinely existential threat to the environment – but not only to the environment – to our health, to our communities, to our national security, to our economic wellbeing,” said Biden.

His plan “is designed to fundamentally alter the way in which we treat the environment,” he said. How does it stack up against the other plans that have been released?

The plans

The six candidates that have released comprehensive plans to combat climate change agree on a couple things.

Each has promised to re-enter the Paris Agreement with stronger targets. Each has demonstrated concern for communities severely impacted by climate change, such as poor and minority people and coal workers. Each would eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

Most importantly, these six candidates agree that overcoming climate change will require broad, transformative change.

Beto O’Rourke called this election America’s “last chance” to address climate change. His plan calls for $1.5 trillion in federal spending to combat climate change over the course of a decade, which he claims would lead to another $3.5 trillion in private spending.

It also guarantees net-zero emissions by 2050, which would be achieved by “a legally enforceable standard” – seemingly a clean energy mandate. In the plan, O’Rourke promises to use executive action to reinstate and go beyond Obama-era climate regulations reversed by the Trump administration.

Climate change is Jay Inslee’s marquee issue. The Washington governor has already rolled out three separate parts of his plan. So far, they add up to 103 pages, single-spaced.

His vision includes spending $3 trillion in federal money over a decade, which Inslee says would bring in another $6 trillion in private spending and create eight million jobs.

Inslee promises to close America’s coal plants by 2030 America, require carbon neutrality in all electric utilities and new residential buildings, and make all new small cars and buses hit zero emissions.

In the release of the latest part of her climate vision, Elizabeth Warren compares the mobilization she imagines in response to climate change to that seen during the New Deal, World War II and the Space Race.

The Massachusetts senator describes her “Green Manufacturing Plan” as an example of “economic patriotism.” In it, she pledges to “invest $2 trillion over the next ten years in green research, manufacturing and exporting,” which she said would add 1.2 millions jobs.

She plans to dedicate $400 billion to the development of clean energy and wants to commit the government to buying clean energy products. Warren has already proposed a ban on oil and gas drilling on public land and offshore and wants to increase military readiness for climate change.

John Delaney’s plan reminds readers that “limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require achieving net zero emissions by 2050.” America can get 90% there, it adds, with Delaney’s proposed carbon fee and dividend, which would place an annually increasing fee on each ton of carbon emission and return generated money to taxpayers.

Delaney plans to invest in carbon capture technology and build “carbon throughways” to control the greenhouse gas for industrial use and sequestration. He also promises to raise the renewable energy research budget fivefold and create a ‘climate corps’ of recent high school graduates in his plan.

Like his counterparts, Michael Bennet pledges to achieve net-zero emissions no later then 2050 in his plan. Bennet, however, does not offer a method for achieving net-zero, such as a carbon tax or a clean energy mandate. Bennet’s plan includes a $1 trillion Climate Bank that he claims would “catalyze $10 trillion in private sector investment” in America and abroad and create 10 million jobs.

The plan would also require utilities to offer a “Climate X” zero emissions option to customers. In his plan, Bennet sets a timeline for actions and promises to use executive power if Congress fails to pass climate legislation by deadline.

In addition to net-zero emissions by 2050 and $1.7 trillion in federal spending, Biden’s plan, which cites the Green New Deal as a “crucial framework,” includes a 100% clean energy mandate, which would need Congress’s approval.

Like Bennet’s, Biden’s plan commits to conserving 30% of America’s ocean and land. Like Warren, Biden promises to prepare military bases for climate change. Biden’s plan also claims the US only accounts for 15% of global emissions and promises to push other countries, specifically China, to commit to greener regulations.

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