Change the Debate (Night 1)

Last night, ten democratic presidential candidates walked on stage in Miami, Florida for the first debate leading up to the election in 2020. This debate was infuriating. One vague, trivial question and 10 minutes was given to address the climate crisis. Despite the overwhelming support from voters and candidates, DNC chairman Tom Perez has opposed the proposition of a climate debate. His reasoning? A presidential debate can not be held around a single issue. The Democratic Party needs to treat the climate crisis like the emergency that it is. It is not a single issue, it impacts every aspect of human life. 

We have done research into the first ten candidates (and will add the next ten after the second debate) to understand each of their stances on the climate crisis and have compiled it here: 

Cory Booker

Booker supports the Green New Deal, and states on his campaign site that he will work to implement it if elected. Booker was among the first senators with a vision for the Oval Office to endorse the Green New Deal in December 2018, right on the heels of Bernie Sanders. The sweep of its policy prescriptions reflects his own broad agenda: more than a year ago he proposed model jobs legislation that would include federal employment support in 15 pilot cities. Booker also favors Medicare for all.

Much of his stance on the climate crisis focuses on environmental justice. He plans to step up efforts to defend communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities by doubling staffing in all EPA enforcement offices, put a moratorium on drilling on our public lands, and protect marginalized communities suffering from environmental injustices by increasing staffing at the EPA’s Environmental Justice Office and the External Civil Rights Enforcement Office.

Booker has consistently achieved a nearly perfect voting record on the annual green scorecards of the League of Conservation Voters. But like most other Senate Democrats, there’s no enacted law he can point to that would mark him as an especially effective climate or environmental champion. Cory Booker has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, however, this is not a big sacrifice for a candidate whose main sources of corporate finance have been in other industries, such as finance and pharmaceuticals. Additionally, Booker rarely talks about the climate crisis on social media. 

Julian Castro

Castro has not released a detailed climate policy like many of the democratic candidates. He has spoken often about the urgency of the threat posed by climate change, and in his campaign announcement, he called it “the biggest threat to our prosperity in this 21st Century.” 

His tenure as San Antonio mayor coincided with a fracking boom in the nearby Eagle Ford shale, and Castro welcomed the jobs and investment that came with oil and gas development. In 2012, he told the San Antonio Express-News that the drilling boom brought an “unprecedented opportunity” and that high schools and colleges had to do more to train students for oil field work. In a 2015 interview, Castro said that while he had concerns about the safety of fracking, he supported the practice as long as it is well regulated. “I believe that there is a utility to it and that it has a strong economic value, that natural gas is an important component of our energy future and at the same time keeping an open mind as research continues to come in,” he said.

Julian Castro has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.

Bill de Blasio

Blasio’s campaign site is relatively barren—lacking an issues page and no statements on the climate crisis. 

With little to discuss in terms of his goals as president, his term as mayor of New York can display Blasio’s stance on climate. Mayor Bill de Blasio just announced an energy plan that would potentially move New York City a big step in the wrong direction. In a little-discussed provision of the city’s latest OneNYC sustainability plan, Mayor de Blasio commits to powering 100% of City government operations with “clean” hydroelectric power from Canadian state company Hydro-Québec. 

The mayor’s proposal calls for construction of a 330-mile-long underground high-voltage transmission cable, called the Champlain-Hudson Power Express (CHPE), to bring power from Canada down to NYC. The project, which is slated to cost nearly $20bn, would lock NYC into dependence on Canadian hydropower long-term, while diminishing the ability for local offshore wind, solar and other renewable industries to thrive.

Bill de Blasio has not stated a stance on the national Green New Deal, however, he has released a New York specific Green New Deal. He has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. 

John Delaney

Delaney does not support the Green New Deal. Instead, he has released a $4 trillion Climate Plan that focuses on carbon fee and dividend. The proposal starts the fee at $15 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent and increases the cost by $10 each year. According to his campaign site, he believes that implementing a carbon fee, where the revenue is returned to the American people, is the best method for providing the market incentives to reduce our emissions. Delaney’s Carbon Fee claims to have the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2050. 

Delaney recognizes that reducing new carbon emissions and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy will not be enough to fight against the climate crisis. He plans to end the federal government’s fossil fuel subsidies and make an annual $5 billion investment in Negative Emissions Technology (NET), which will drive down the price.

John Delaney has not signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.  

Tulsi Gabbard 

Gabbard is another democratic candidate who has little to say about the climate crisis, however, on her campaign site she founded the OFF Act, which focuses on transitioning the U.S. to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2035 and includes provisions to stimulate the economy and transition workers to jobs in the renewable energy sector. She has stated that she has concerns over the vagueness of the Green New Deal. 

In the first presidential primary debate, she spoke little about climate change but said she would fix the wage gap by taking “your hard-earned taxpayer dollars” and investing them in programs that include “a green economy, good-paying jobs, protecting our environment, and so much more.”

Tulsi Gabbard has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.

Jay Inslee

Inslee has stated that The Green New Deal has “gotten people talking about climate change, it’s elevated the scope of people’s ambitions.” He argues he can put this “aspirational document” into action with dozens of proposals in four separate policy platforms so far—a 100 percent clean energy plan, a program to create 8 million new jobs, a strategy for U.S. re-engagement in global climate leadership, and a “Freedom from Fossil Fuels” plan. Altogether, they would cost $9 trillion, with some funding coming from a new “climate pollution fee” on the fossil fuel industry.

Inslee’s goal of “all clean, renewable and zero-emission energy in electricity generation by 2035” in theory leaves room for nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage, but neither are mentioned in his plans. In contrast, he talks about how federal lands can be a base for expansion of solar and wind energy, and he foresees federal action to expand and upgrade the grid and electricity storage to bolster renewables.

Inslee used the question on income inequality in the first presidential primary debate to highlight his $9 trillion climate plan that includes boosting labor unions, saying he would “put people to work in the jobs of the present and the future”.

Jay Inslee has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.

Amy Klobuchar 

Klobuchar co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution, but calls it aspirational rather than prescriptive, telling CNN that it doesn’t make sense to her to “get rid of all these industries or do this in a few years,” while it does make sense to “start doing concrete things, and put some aspirations out there on climate change.” She supports putting a price on carbon, but told the Tampa Bay Times “it would have to be done in some way that is not at all regressive.”

She additionally answered a Washington Post questionnaire on fracking by saying she doesn’t want to ban the method of extracting oil and gas, but would like to regulate it better. She has said that “safe nuclear power” along with “cleaner coal technologies” should continue to be developed as part of a comprehensive energy strategy, according to an issue brief on her Senate website.

Amy Klobuchar has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.

Beto O’Rourke 

With just three terms in a GOP-run House, O’Rourke hasn’t much of a climate record. His campaign cites green credentials earned in El Paso city government, including pollution and land use issues like copper smelting pollution and protecting grasslands from drilling.

O’Rourke was the first candidate out of the gates with a detailed climate-specific platform, releasing a $5 trillion plan in late April that calls for the U.S. to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. He supports the Green New Deal, where he says, “some will criticize the Green New Deal for being too bold or being unmanageable, I tell you what, I haven’t seen anything better that addresses this singular crisis that we face, a crisis that could at its worst lead to extinction.”

Two days after O’Rourke issued his climate platform, he released a video on saying he had signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. He promised to return any donations above $200. Although, O’Rourke took more than $550,000 from oil industry sources during his Senate race against Ted Cruz—the second highest amount accepted by any candidate during the 2017-2018 election cycle after Cruz.

Tim Ryan 

Tim Ryan has limited statements on the climate crisis, and what he has said is extremely moderate. It does not give attention to the emergency that we are in. 

Tim Ryan has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. 

Elizabeth Warren

If Warren’s campaign had a single slogan, it would be “I have a plan for that.” While she entered the race with a reputation based on issues other than climate change—some environmentalists dismissed her leadership in this realm—she has made up for it with a series of expansive and fairly detailed prescriptions. 

She struck early with a pledge to prohibit all new fossil fuel leases on public lands, which struck a chord with the “keep-it-in-the-ground” camp—she had co-sponsored legislation on the same theme that never moved in the Republican Senate. Some, but not all, other candidates quickly echoed the promise.

She supports the Green New Deal and released a “Green Manufacturing Plan” which includes investments in research, industry, and workers. She plans to lead the global effort to combat climate change—and create more than a million good jobs in the process. Her plan would include $1.5 trillion for American-made clean energy products, $400 billion in funding for green research and development and $100 billion in foreign assistance to purchase emissions-free American energy technology.

In the first presidential primary debate, Warren stated that “There’s going to be a worldwide need for green technology, ways to clean up the air, ways to clean up the water and we can be the ones to provide that,” Warren said. “We need to go tenfold in our research and development on green energy going forward.”

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