Climate change emerges as leading issue for 2020 Dems

Climate change emerges as leading issue for 2020 Dems
© Greg Nash

Democratic presidential hopefuls are battling to be seen as the climate change candidate.

Four 2020 White House contenders already have offered detailed policy plans on how they'd tackle the issue of global warming, a sign the environment has become a top issue in the Democratic primary.

In the past week, Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeDelaware state lawmakers consider bill to allow human composting The Hill's 12:30 Report: Nearly half of U.S. adults partially or fully vaccinated The Hill's 12:30 Report: CDC identifies 5.8K COVID cases of 66M vaccinated MORE (D) and former Texas Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke clarifies remarks, leaves door open to gubernatorial bid O'Rourke says he's not planning on run for Texas governor O'Rourke slams Cruz for video of border visit MORE (D) each released proposals to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Last month, Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWorld passes 3 million coronavirus deaths Poll: 56 percent say wealth tax is part of solution to inequality Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents MORE (D-Mass) and Cory BookerCory BookerProgressive lawmakers press DHS chief on immigration detention Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico Biden's DOJ civil rights nominee faces sharp GOP criticism MORE (D-N.J.) introduced, respectively, a public lands and environmental justice proposal, with each addressing curbing emissions.


The plans allow the candidates to pit themselves directly against the Trump administration, which has moved to pull the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate agreement and has rolled back a number of environmental regulations that affect air pollution.

The proposals could help the candidates get an edge on the competition in the crowded primary. A CNN poll released Tuesday found that combating climate change is the No. 1 issue of concern for Democratic voters, beating out health care, gun control and action on college admissions.

“The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” O’Rourke said in a statement when rolling out his plan.

“The Trump administration has gutted the [Environmental Protection Agency], rolled back clean air and clean water protections, and allowed polluters to go unchecked, causing immense harm and suffering by vulnerable communities," Booker said when announcing his.


Environmental groups see the rollout of the various climate proposals as proof that Democratic contenders are both taking global warming seriously — and realizing voters do, too.

“I think we’re seeing these proposals coming because it’s clear that Americans want leaders who will stand up to the fossil fuel industry that created this climate crisis,” said Charlie Jiang, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace. 

“I think all the candidates we’re seeing in the field recognize that climate action and climate justice are top of mind for Americans in 2020.”

May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, said the growing support for climate action also means candidates are no longer distinguishing themselves by simply believing in climate change, but by developing policies to fix it.

“Voters are making clear that climate change is a top priority issue in this presidential election, and we will support the boldest vision to transform our economy, and stop climate-wrecking fossil fuel projects,” Boeve said in a statement. 

“We look forward to seeing the candidates debate their climate plans, strengthen them, and help build a sustainable vision for our future.”

All four candidates have also said they back the concept of the Green New Deal, an ambitious energy plan introduced in the House in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBiden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' A proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US Biden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap MORE (D-N.Y.) that would transition the U.S. electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. Every Democratic White House candidate in the Senate, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWorld passes 3 million coronavirus deaths Sirota: Biden has not fulfilled campaign promise of combating union-busting tactics Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Florida nurse arrested, accused of threatening to kill Harris Oddsmakers say Harris, not Biden, most likely to win 2024 nomination, election MORE (D-Calif.) have signed on as cosponsors.

Only O’Rourke and Inslee’s climate plans so far address the overall question of how to stop U.S. carbon emissions. Each proposal focuses on a duel purpose of moving the country off fossil fuels and investing in green jobs to grow the economy.

Inslee’s plan is similar to the Green New Deal in that it aims to completely transition to clean energy by 2030. But the governor also leaves open the door to using nuclear power, an energy sector to which some environmental groups are staunchly opposed.  

O’Rourke’s plan, meanwhile, has generated criticism for not setting a shorter timeline to achieve emissions reductions. His proposal would invest $5 trillion to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. 

The Sunrise Movement, a youth action group that backs the Green New Deal, initially knocked that plan for not going far enough. Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill that it should be "more aggressive." 

The Sunrise Movement later walked back the remarks, saying they came out "too hot" and support the direction of O'Rourke's plan, even if they want to see more. O'Rourke later committed to the group that he would not take campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry

The Sunrise Movement on Friday embraced Inslee’s climate plan, calling it a "spirited commitment to bold climate action that young people are looking for in our next president."

Inslee is the only Democratic candidate running his campaign entirely on climate action. Yet his relatively low name recognition as a Western state governor means he faces an uphill battle in the polls. While a focus on the leading issue of climate may work in his favor, he's not the only candidate looking for a green boost. 

Inslee argues his plan is very achievable, and that his focus on climate change is more than a flash in the pan — a jab at his Democratic rivals.

“It is a plan that has shown a visceral commitment to [climate action]. Not just in the past 72 hours, but the past decade,” Inslee told The Hill in an interview.

“I’m the first and only candidate that announced this will be job No. 1,” Inslee said.

“It is the first priority, and the top priority, and my foremost obligation. It can’t be something you just do the first day. You have to do it everyday.”