The field of Democrats looking to beat President Donald Trump this year — including the six on the debate stage Tuesday night — are aligned in their pledge to rejoin the Paris Climate agreement. Most candidates want to end new fossil-fuel leasing on public lands and several are critical of fracking. A few have latched onto a Green New Deal.
Widening the lens, however, the field’s environmental proposals reveal key differences in the details, and not just when it comes to U.S. oil CL.1, -0.24% , where to extract it and how to sell it. The U.S., projected to drill at record-setting production levels over the next two years, nears toppling Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil exporter. But rather than get hung up on U.S. oil independence, the nation should be investing in alternative energy sources and hiring more Americans to work in these blooming industries, say candidates including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, among others.
Tuesday marks the last time the leading Democratic presidential contenders will face a national audience on the debate stage before primary voting begins early next month. Climate could feature among the questions lobbed at Sanders of Vermont and Warren of Massachusetts, former Vice President Joe Biden, former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Tom Steyer, a billionaire executive and activist. A total of 12 Democrats are still in the race.
“One area where candidates overwhelmingly agree [on climate] is ending new leases for fossil-fuel development on federal lands. Investors should take note because this is something that a president can do unilaterally, without congressional approval,” said James Lucier, who leads the energy, environmental and tax practices at Capital Alpha, in a note last fall.
Several in the 2020 field back a Green New Deal that has already been factoring into the election conversation, although some are adding their own features to the pact rolled out by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of Congress last year. Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar all eventually signed off on the Green New Deal legislation, which has not found traction in a divided Congress. Candidate Michael Bloomberg has called it a non-starter.
A few candidates promote an explicit carbon price — a cost applied to carbon pollution to encourage polluters to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit into the atmosphere. A majority of candidates are at least open to debating a carbon price, noted Lucier. Most candidates are choosing emissions targets instead as a means of stopping ozone depletion.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the climate proposals from high-polling candidates or those in the race who consider climate among their leading platforms.
Biden: The Obama administration’s vice president has faced a chorus of concern from progressives that he won’t go far enough on thwarting man-made climate. Biden wants 100% clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2050, he says, and he’ll work with other major international carbon-emitting nations to create enforceable pacts. He’ll advance a $1.7 trillion federal investment and $5 trillion in proposed public-private spending on climate initiatives.
Biden has said he would funnel federal revenues from eliminating the Trump tax cuts passed in late 2017 and ending tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry to help pay for his plans. He also promised to stop issuing permits for new oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters.
Sanders: The long-serving Vermont senator, who considers himself a Democratic Socialist, has detailed a roughly $16 trillion climate plan that builds on the Green New Deal already circulated by Democrats Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey. Sanders will push for the end of exports of coal, natural gas and crude oil, while phasing out nuclear energy. His plan also calls for zeroing out emissions from transportation and power generation by 2030.
His proposal, which has the largest price tag in the field of 2020 climate proposals, will be financed from sources including income taxes from 20 million new jobs, taxes on fossil fuels and defense budget savings from no longer protecting oil shipping, among other means.
Warren: The Massachusetts senator will spend $2 trillion over 10 years in green research, manufacturing and exporting; $1.5 trillion of federal energy product procurement over 10 years; and $100 billion in foreign aid for clean-energy deployment. She’ll ban new fossil-fuel leases offshore and on public lands and will regulate companies to disclose climate risks. She is also targeting a so-called Blue New Deal that will invest in regenerative ocean farming among other initiatives.
Warren is framing climate change as part of her economics, public resources and national security platforms instead of as a stand-alone environmental issue. Some analysts, including those writing for Vox, have said Warren is laying out a climate case for the general election not just the primary.
Buttigieg: Mayor Pete’s $1.1 trillion to $2 trillion plan calls for net-zero emissions by 2050 and creating 3 million clean-energy jobs in the next decade, with a focus on replacing lost rural jobs. He calls for equitable disaster relief funding, national extreme weather insurance, climate-smart agriculture, and regional hubs to increase resilience to local climate-related risks. The plan would create programs to limit greenhouse gases like a clean energy bank, tax credits for carbon capture, a transition fund for workers who might see their jobs disappear.
Buttigieg had said he’ll explore carbon capture and he’ll push for collaboration with other countries to create climate goals more ambitious than the Paris agreement. The agreement set goals of preventing another 0.9 degrees (0.5 degrees Celsius) to 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) of warming from current levels. Even the pledges made in 2015 weren’t enough to prevent those levels of warming.
Klobuchar: The Minnesota senator has said she would ensure the U.S. participates in the Paris climate agreement again on day one of her presidency. She would restore the Obama-era signature Clean Power Plan, bring back the fuel-economy standards and introduce legislation that would, she says, put the U.S. on a path to 100% net zero emissions by 2050, among other initiatives. Her estimated price tag for this and more is between $2 and $3 trillion, funded in large part by pricing carbon emissions.
The candidate says that she will not ban fracking as a means for oil extraction. She is open to carbon capture for fossil fuels as well as nuclear energy.
Steyer: The hedge-fund environmentalist candidate, whose fortune was built in part on fossil-fuel profits, calls for $2 trillion in federal investment over 10 years and net-zero emissions by 2045. He That money would be spent on programs including $250 billion on community climate bonds and creating a civilian climate corps, his campaign site says. The proposal also calls for a cabinet-level position to coordinate a national climate change response effort beyond that handled currently in the energy and environmental protection offices.
Steyer’s plan to combat climate change centers on justice, for marginalized communities and globally, and includes a proposal for climate-change refugees to enter the U.S. legally.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang: In his $5 trillion “Lower Emissions, Higher Ground” plan released Aug. 26, Yang says he would allow the U.S. to achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. His plan includes: a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy and upgrading infrastructure and farming practices; moving populations to higher ground with the help of grants; spending on infrastructure including seawalls and researching the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, including using “space mirrors” to deflect sunlight.
Compared to climate-change plans from most other candidates, Yang’s would focus on keeping nuclear energy. He hasn’t said exactly how he’d pay for the $5 trillion proposal, although a carbon tax is included.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Bloomberg has portrayed the Green New Deal as a political non-starter, reports Inside Climate News, although he was not officially in the race when he said it. The newest addition to the Democratic field, Bloomberg has embraced goals that include 100% clean energy by 2050, with interim goals of cutting emissions 50% by 2030 and ensuring 80% clean electricity by the end of his second term in office.
Bloomberg was a key financial backer of the Beyond Coal campaign, which claims credit for helping drive closures of 289 coal-fired power plants. And now, he’s underwriting America’s Pledge, municipalities and states still committed to the climate targets of the Paris climate agreement, for which Trump has initiated U.S. withdrawal, citing lax compliance from China, India and others.