A Guide to the Climate Change Plans to Democratic Presidential Candidates

Climate action is on the agenda for all front-running Democratic presidential candidates. Here's a rundown on their climate plans.

CNN recently hosted a Democratic climate crisis presidential town hall meeting. You’re forgiven if you missed some or all of it as it ran for seven hours. Here is your cheat sheet to know where the Democratic presidential candidates stand on climate change, looking at what they said during the town hall meeting and their climate change action plans.

Unlike their Republican counterparts, every Democratic candidate believes in climate change. That is their common denominator but each has different views and plans on how to tackle climate change.

Kamala Harris 

Kamala Harris climate policy
Kamala Harris

California Senator Kamala Harris would focus on getting a green new deal passed if elected president. She even said she would go as far as backing abolishing the filibuster. Although Democrats only need three seats in the Senate to take control, they would 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.

As president, Harris would target fossil fuels. She said she would have the Department of Justice go after oil and gas companies. She will “take them to court and sue them.” As California Attorney General, she sued companies that exposed residents to high diesel levels. Her climate change plan would increase the penalties for companies that violate federal pollution laws.

Harris also said she would try to ban hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, and offshore drilling if elected president. “There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking.” In her climate change action plan she states that “we must stop extracting fossil fuels and use our public lands to our collective benefit.”

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar climate plan
Amy Klobuchar

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said she on her first day of office, if elected president, the U.S. would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. On her second day of office, she would restore the Obama era clean power rules and on her third day, she would restore gas mileage standards. In other words, she would undo all that President Trump has done.

Unlike Harris, Klobuchar is not ready to ban fracking but she would back reversing the Trump administration’s move to roll back Obama era methane emissions regulations. “One of the things, among many, that the Trump administration has done that is so bad for our environment, that I would reverse, is their changes to methane rules and methane emission," she said. "That is very dangerous.”

Part of Klobuchar’s climate change plan is to introduce legislation in her first 100 days that would put the U.S. on a path to achieve 100 percent net-zero emissions by 2050. That legislation would include investing in green jobs and infrastructure with a $1 trillion infrastructure package to modernize energy infrastructure.

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang climate change policy
Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang thinks meat consumption needs to decrease to drive down greenhouse gas emissions. However, he acknowledged that “this is a country where there is a lot of individual autonomy, so you can’t force people’s eating choices on them.”

Yang supports a carbon tax which he said would begin at $40 a ton and go up to $100 a ton. The carbon tax is part of his climate change plan. Other parts of his plan include transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable energy which will be a component of his goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2049. His other goals include establishing net-zero standards for new buildings and a zero-emissions standard for new cars by 2030.

A controversial part of his plan is to move Americans to higher ground. The plan states, “Natural disasters and other effects of climate change are already causing damage and death. We need to adapt our country to this new reality.”

Joe Biden

Joe Biden on climate change
Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would not support a fracking ban if elected president, partly because he does not think a measure banning it could pass. He does support ending all “oil drilling or gas drilling on federal lands.”

Biden supports transitioning to a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050, according to his climate action plan. Part of achieving those goals includes signing executive orders on his first day in office that “go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track.” He also states in his plan that on day one he will “make smart infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.”

Cory Booker

Cory Booker climate plan
Cory Booker

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said he would stop subsidies for corporate farming practicing that contribute to climate change. Although he is a vegan, if elected president, he will not try to get his fellow Americans to eat the way that he does. “Freedom is one of the most sacred values -- whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it,” he said.

He has a climate action plan that lays out all the steps he would take to address climate change, including rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, working to implement a green new deal, enacting a moratorium on drilling on public lands, ban fracking, and prohibit construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure when cost-competitive clean energy alternatives are available.

Pete Buttigieg

Climate action plan of Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg

South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg said that successfully dealing with climate change may be “more challenging” than winning World War II. “This is the hardest thing we will have done in my lifetime as a country,” he said, “on par with winning World War II.” He thinks that in order to deal successfully with climate change Americans need to be united. He said, “Does anybody really think we’re going to meet that goal if between now and 2050, we are still at each other’s throats? It won’t happen.”

Like most of his fellow Democratic presidential candidates, Buttigieg would set a goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, as his climate change plan lays out. Other goals include doubling the clean electricity generated by 2025, building a clean electricity system with zero emissions and requiring zero emissions for all new passenger vehicles by 2035, and requiring net-zero emissions for all new heavy-duty vehicles, buses, rail, ships, and aircraft by 2040.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sander climate action plan
Bernie Sanders

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wants to use political will to deal with climate change. “Look, one of the great things that’s happening and gives us some hope is that there has been an explosion in technology in many, many areas that if we have the political will to utilize that technology, we can maybe save the planet,” he said.

If elected president, Sanders will launch a 10-year green new deal, as outlined in his climate change plan. That plan would increase reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and “complete decarbonization” by 2050. That plan also includes investing $16.3 trillion which he would pay for, in part, by making the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution via litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. He would also pay for the plan by “scaling back military spending on maintaining global oil dependence,” as his plan states.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren climate action plan
Elizabeth Warren

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren believes that conversations about regulating light bulbs, banning plastic straws, and reducing consumption of red meat are what the fossil fuel industry wants people to be focused on. “This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about,” she said. “That’s what they want us to talk about.” She pointed out that 70 percent of carbon emissions from three industries. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country are produced by transportation, electricity, and industry.

Part of her climate change plan consists of goals: achieving carbon-free building by 2028, carbon-free cars and light-duty truck production by 2030, and carbon-free electricity production and 100-percent renewable energy generation by 2035. That plan also consists of investing $1 trillion over 10 years which will be “paid for by reversing Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and giant corporations.”

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke climate policy
Beto O’Rourke

Former House representative Beto O’Rourke said he opposes a carbon tax but supports a carbon cap-and-trade scheme. “It’s the best way to send the pricing signal to ensure that there is a legally enforceable limit,” he said. “We should certainly price carbon. I think the best possible path to do that is through a cap and trade system. There would be allowances granted or sold to polluters,” he added, and “there would be a set number of allowances that would decrease every single year.”

In addition to a cap-and-trade program, O’Rourke’s climate change plan includes rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, reducing methane leaks from the oil and gas industry. and rapidly phasing out hydrofluorocarbons. His goal for net-zero emissions is the most ambitious. While the other candidates set 2050 as the date to achieve net-zero emissions, he sets 2030 as the date. His plan also includes a $500 billion annual government procurement budget to “decarbonize across all sectors for the first time, including a new “buy clean” program for steel, glass, and cement.”

Julián Castro

Julián Castro climate plan
Julián Castro

Former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro said his first executive order would be “to rejoin the Paris climate accord so that we lead begin on sustainability.” He also says he supported fracking in the past but now believers there are “opportunities to be had” in transitioning away from fossil fuels.

The key component of his climate change plan is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To achieve that goal, he has a series of other goals that include achieving a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2045. One thing that is unclear about his plan is how achieving net-zero emissions is any different than achieving net-zero carbon emissions. If net-zero emissions are achieved, then it stands to reason that net-zero carbon emissions are achieved.

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