Presidential Primary: Where Do The Remaining Democrats Stand On The Environment?

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Presidential Primary: Where Do The Remaining Democrats Stand On The Environment?

Date: 02/23/2020     Category: News & Media     Author: Jon Murray     Publication: The Denver Post    

Original story:

Primary contenders aim to undo Trump actions, reduce carbon emissions

By  | | The Denver Post

Colorado is a state that prizes the outdoors and prioritizes environmental concerns. But it’s also a state with a petroleum industry that employs 90,000 people, directly and indirectly, and allows extensive fracking activity along the Front Range.

That makes the state both a receptive audience for the 2020 Democratic presidential field’s appeals to tackle climate change — and, depending where candidates visit, a skeptical one.

Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager and self-funding billionaire candidate, made climate change a key focus of his visits to the Front Range, though he dropped out of the race Feb. 29. And U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren used an Aurora visit last spring to release her plan for protecting public lands, a key concern in a state where a third of property is federally managed.

Trump has pursued policies viewed as friendly to businesses and industries that pollute. He portrays his moves — particularly in regard to the coal industry — as motivated by the need to protect jobs and rural economies.

The president withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, which has been ratified by 187 countries. President Barack Obama had committed the United States to a set of carbon-reduction goals and other targets by signing an executive order, which Trump reversed after taking office in 2017.

The Trump administration also has expanded access for oil and gas drilling on public lands and reversed a moratorium on federal-land coal mining that was issued in 2016 by Obama. And it is finalizing plans to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah.

The Democrats seeking this year’s nomination largely agree on the goal of turning back most of Trump’s actions, which also have included rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, loosening methane limits and relaxing vehicle emission standards.

Ahead of Colorado’s March 3 primary — mail-ballot voting started in mid-February — here is a look at where the candidates are staking their positions.

The six remaining major candidates for the Democratic nomination share many common goals and critiques of President Donald Trump’s environmental positions, but there are distinctions. Still in the race are former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Warren. Besides Steyer, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg also has dropped out in the last few days before the Colorado primary.

Paris Agreement and Green New Deal

Two environmental goals unite nearly all of the current candidates.

  • All candidates have said they support the United States re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement. Most have suggested that the United States’ plan — as set out by Obama — should include more stringent benchmarks and goals for emission reductions.
  • All candidates have either co-sponsored or supported the Green New Deal resolution proposed by U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts. But the extent of their support varies; Bloomberg, for instance, told The Washington Post that he supports the resolution’s climate goals, but he has proposed different strategies to reach them. (Read about each’s comments here.) The resolution centers on goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, converting all electricity generation to renewable sources, and ensuring clean air and water as basic human rights. To aid in the transition, the plan calls for supporting the growth of a robust renewable energy industry providing new jobs and training for workers in areas that depend on the development of fossil fuel resources.

Fossil fuel leases for public lands

  • All of the candidates have said they support a ban on new leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands.

Fracking ban

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method of oil and gas extraction used by producers in Colorado, and it has proved controversial in some communities.

  • Gabbard, Sanders and Warren all support a federal ban on fracking activity, though not all advocate an immediate halt.
  • Biden, Bloomberg and Klobuchar don’t support a fracking ban but want new regulations and limits, to varying degrees, to protect safety and the environment.
    A large fracking operation becomes a ...
    Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file

    A large fracking operation becomes a new part of the horizon in Loveland, with Mount Meeker and Longs Peak in the background, in this photo from December 2017.

Reducing carbon emissions

Climate activists long have advocated for a tax on carbon as a key way to reduce demand for pollution-causing fossil fuels and speed up the transition to renewable sources. But the idea sparks controversy among some, in part because it would increase costs disproportionately for lower-income families, and some now favor other strategies. Most candidates are at least open to a carbon tax, though some prefer to call it a “price” on carbon.

  • Biden, Bloomberg and Klobuchar support some version of a carbon tax, with differing plans for use of the revenue. Some would issue rebates to reduce the financial impact on families.
  • Warren says she is open to the idea of a carbon tax but wants more discussion.
  • Gabbard cites the impact on low-income people, while Sanders, a former carbon tax supporter, has focused on the Green New Deal’s goals, portraying them as a more robust strategy.

Nuclear power production

Most candidates see a role for nuclear power — which generates about 20% of electricity in the United States — in their clean energy plans, since nuclear plants don’t directly emit carbon dioxide. But even supporters differ on whether new plants should be permitted, given their high costs and the environmental impact of nuclear waste. Fewer than 100 reactors are in operation in the U.S.

  • Biden’s plans call for more research on nuclear power as well as investment in “small modular nuclear reactors” that cost less than traditional plants, drawing on advancements in nuclear power to provide cleaner, safer energy.
  • Bloomberg and Klobuchar would allow existing plants to operate while focusing on development of renewable energy.
  • Gabbard, Sanders and Warren favor a faster shift to renewable energy by phasing out existing plants. Sanders says he would do that by placing a moratorium on license renewals for plants.

Sources: Candidate websites, Denver Post research and The Washington Post.