Clinton climate push will get Sanders voters, define Trump
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“No good deed goes unpunished” is a familiar saying in Washington these days.

It means that our politics are often so reactionary, and interest groups so powerful, that doing the morally right thing usually entails a political cost, not a benefit.

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But once in a blue moon the stars align so that a major policy choice that is in the best interests of the American people also happens to provide a leading candidate a major political boost. This rare dynamic is about to play out for the Clinton campaign regarding the policy and politics of climate change.

With Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Bill Maher defends Bernie Sanders campaign over sexual harassment allegations Americans need an economy that supports more than the 1 percent MORE continuing to egg on his idealistic supporters and demand liberal policy concessions from Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonConservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president Trump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier MORE, Clinton needs to emphasize issues that appeal to younger and more progressive voters in the Democratic base that Sanders has not only energized but also emboldened to consider not voting for her in November. Climate change is uniquely suited to do this, since it’s at the very top of concerns among younger and far left voters Clinton has had trouble attracting in the primaries.

Equally, making climate change a key issue in the fall will expose the absurdity of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Rove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Ann Coulter blasts Trump shutdown compromise: ‘We voted for Trump and got Jeb!’ MORE’s bizarre assertions on climate change. Trump has repeatedly called climate change a ‘hoax’ including several times suggesting it is somehow perpetrated by the Chinese: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," he has tweeted. And again on Twitter: “Global warming is an expensive hoax!" And “Is our country still spending money on the global warming hoax?" 

More recently Trump asserted that he would “renegotiate” the Paris Agreement on climate because he claimed it required action by the US but not other countries. In point of fact, Paris does precisely the opposite, gaining climate action commitments from more than 195 countries, most of whom have never before pledged to detailed emissions curbs, something the US economy is already doing. Thus the Paris Agreement is distinctly in America’s economic and environmental interests. Further, other nations will not renegotiate an agreement that took years to produce, and experts have noted that the US could not withdraw from this executive agreement in the next president’s first term, in any event.

Trump’s deluded pronouncements on climate fit firmly into the broader, key narrative which the Clinton campaign will use against The Donald:  He is unfit for office, since he refuses to deal with the facts on major issues, let alone develop responsible policies, and so poses a profound danger to the American people.

Whether the issue is his unsettling assertion that rattled markets about simply “printing money” to cover US debts, Trump’s reckless foreign policy suggestions that our key allies will be on their own when it comes to nuclear weapons policy and that he will cozy up to Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin, or his ignorance regarding the science and policies of climate change – the Clinton message will be that Trump is dangerously unhinged. Not fit for any office, let alone the Oval.

That said, Clinton still faces serious challenges within the Democratic Party regarding climate change. Bernie Sanders has made putting a price on carbon a litmus test of sorts, repeatedly challenging Clinton on the issue during the primaries. He is seeking a showdown on the topic in Philadelphia, pushing for a carbon tax to be included in the Democratic Platform to be adopted at this year’s Convention.

Clinton has no intention of falling into the electoral trap of advocating energy or carbon taxes, which would simply hand the Republicans and Trump an attack issue without in any way furthering the possibility of responsible carbon pricing. In fact, actually advocating for such policies in the hothouse campaign atmosphere would reduce the already small chance they could be enacted into law as part of budget negotiations next year, by energizing opponents of the measure.

If the efforts to gain carbon pricing in 1993 and 2009 show us anything, it is that on its own carbon pricing is political liability. Democrats suffered huge mid-term losses in the 1994 and 2010 elections, losing their majorities each time, as Republicans made energy taxes a key campaign issue. Even under the best political circumstances, any carbon price must be part of broader tax reform, and explicitly offset by other tax reductions. But again, Clinton will be clear that she has no intention of raising energy taxes at all.

Instead, Clinton will advocate strong climate policies in keeping with those begun by President Obama, including enforcing the Clean Power Plan carbon regulations which would likely be upheld by the Supreme Court, including a 9th Justice appointed by Clinton herself.  

Other policies will probably include additional tax incentives for clean energy deployment, a major climate-friendly transportation infrastructure bill, aggressive international policies to help major developing countries decarbonize, a focus on “super greenhouse gas pollutants” like HFCs, methane, and black carbon, and perhaps additional incentives for carbon capture and storage. Many of these are issues Clinton worked on extensively as Secretary of State and as a US Senator.

The Clinton campaign will continue to emphasize the need for an aggressive, responsible climate change policy throughout the summer right up to November, in large part because Secretary Clinton believes the issue is critical to protecting our economy and our people. The fact that climate advocacy is uniquely good politics – helping to appeal to the left of the Democratic Party while also exposing Donald Trump’s ‘know nothing’ extremism – will only strengthen its appeal.

Paul Bledsoe is president of Bledsoe & Associates, a global energy and climate policy consultancy.  He was communications director of the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton.