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Published on September 20th, 2019 | by Michael Barnard

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Kamala Harris Climate Plan Is Statesmanlike & Strong On Everything Except Military

September 20th, 2019 by  


As part of CleanTechnica‘s ongoing #Election2020 coverage, we are assessing the top candidates’ climate plans, and the interesting ones. So far, we’ve looked at Joe Biden’s, Elizabeth Warren’s and Andrew Yang’s. Now it’s time for Kamala Harris.

Kamala's climate plan for the people logo and picture

Image courtesy Kamala Harris campaign

Harris’ plan is aggressive & well-balanced, with clear dates, targets, & action items, and is aimed at building a coalition of allies

I can’t stress strongly enough that Harris’ plan is the most inclusive of other politicians and the least arrogant about being about her. The Harris plan references other politicians’ draft Acts, including her opponents’, far more than any other candidates, showing a view forward to coalition building that’s assumed but unstated by others. This is a statesmanlike effort that in a perfect world would be rewarded.

Harris leans strongly into the social justice aspects of the Green New Deal in her plan. Jobs, and good, well-paying safe jobs for all people, are not only the first section of her plan but show up throughout it. The past decades have been challenging for many US workers as the economy has shifted, and more radical shifts are coming.

Similar to Biden but with a different flavor, Harris addresses foreign policy. Unlike Yang and Warren who let it slip by, more than not, Harris is focused on re-asserting US leadership in this space, and is one of the few candidates who explicitly calls out her support for the $100 billion pledge that’s part of the Paris Accord. Further, she’s going to increase US assistance and engage other countries to lead. She’s less hawk-like with China than Biden, but nonetheless it’s there. Pushing the China button works with the American public right now, especially as few know how much China is doing already to bend the arc of carbon emissions, or that China’s emissions grew less than those of the US in 2018.

Harris’ plan is weakest on the military. This is a major hole that needs to be filled.


Context

As a reminder, global warming has several large areas of causation. Electrical generation, transportation, land use, and industry all have greenhouse gas emissions. The US military, which is seven times larger than the next seven largest military forces in the world combined, is estimated to be one of the single largest greenhouse gas sources in the world and has not been required to quantify its emissions, but has been pointing out the significant global security risks of climate change for over a decade. While dealing with the causes is critical, dealing with adaptation to the impacts is now important as well due to our delays in addressing this problem which has been clear since the 1970s. Finally, while accelerating drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere is of lower priority than stopping emitting greenhouse gases, any plan should address aspects of drawdown as well. These aspects of any plan need to be assessed to see if they are present and the approaches are reasonable.

Table Stakes

There are three things which virtually every Democratic candidate agrees with. The first is that they all accept the science of human-caused global warming and resulting climate impacts, and the need to act on this serious global issue. The second is a return to the Paris Accord, which Obama entered the US into and Trump walked away from. The third is support for the Green New Deal, at least in principle, but implementation varies quite a bit. And the Paris Accord portion means that US military emissions would finally be reported, so that they could be tracked and reductions measured.


Electrical Generation

Harris makes a strong promise in an aggressive timeframe which is in line with the Green New Deal, the urgency of climate action per the UN IPCC 1.5 Degree report and what is possible.

“… 100 percent of our electricity demand with carbon-neutral power by 2030.”

She’s strong about how she intends to do this: extend the PTC and ITC tax credits for wind and solar past their 2020 and 2022 elimination and massive reduction respectively, using federal financing programs to fund additional ones and use the USDA to take over fossil fuel generation to allow its rapid sunsetting. She’s clear that both transmission and storage require investment as well, and through related mechanisms.

In addition, there’s this:

“… a green bank as outlined in Senator Markey’s National Climate Bank”

This is one of many places where Harris calls out other Democratic policies, establishing the groundwork for alliances across the party in Congress to enable effective forward movement. Harris is strongest on this element, and generous with naming other authors of legislation, which is a positive sign.

In addition, Harris’ plan commits to ending fossil fuel subsidies, and unlike many other plans, cites a number, the IMF $649 billion annually that includes negative externalities. Unlike Biden, she isn’t reiterating a promise made a decade ago and never delivered on.

“Kamala will leverage both executive authority and Congress to end federal support for the fossil fuel industry, including by protecting our public lands, eliminating tax preferences, and opposing new fossil fuel infrastructure projects.”

Her experiencing prosecuting polluters in California is something Harris’ plan leans into, with statements pointing to Superfund, EPA, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Harris and her team are clear about what departments and laws they will use to hold polluters accountable.

Unlike Yang, for example, Harris isn’t as crisp on a carbon price, promising only to involve communities in developing one. This is a key strategy, and Yang’s approach of both pointing to an (ex-) Republican carbon fee and dividend program with specific cost-per-ton points is much stronger. This is an unusual space in Harris’ plan where she waffles.


Industry

Harris’ price tag is a big one, the second biggest among the leaders.

“… $10 trillion of public and private spending over the next 10 years, creating millions of new, high-quality jobs.”

But note that she’s separating it between public and private spending. This is indicative of a governmental role in unlocking and matching private investment, not purely a governmental model. But the dollar figure is more aligned to the magnitude of the task. She’s less clear about where the money is going specifically, and where it’s coming from.

And again, Harris calls out other Democratic legislation, including her direct competitors.

“… ensure that corporations appropriately assess and disclose risks from climate change. This includes incorporating strategies like Senator Warren’s Climate Risk Disclosure Act”

Rare, powerful, and a great choice. There is drafted legislation that has been tabled in many cases. Putting the Presidential weight and presumably the weight of one or both Houses behind existing drafts is much quicker and also much better bridge building.

Harris’ plan references jobs 25 times. She’s focused on millions of new jobs, assisting fossil fuel industry workers to transition with her already drafted 21st Century SKILLS Act, and ensuring that the jobs are well-paying and have protections for workers. She leans into the Green New Deal focus on equity and safety for workers early and often in her plan.

When I published an assessment of one of Warren’s plan on CleanTechnica, one of the comments that generated a lot of discussion is why jobs were important in Presidential climate plans or at all when the USA was facing unprecedentedly low unemployment.

As I said in responses, some of it is a question of where the jobs are. Employment in urban areas is very high, but in rural areas it’s often very low. And the types of jobs in rural areas are usually lower paying, so better paying jobs in rural areas is a vote winner.

Secondarily, there is an expectation of a great loss of employment due to increasing automation and task-specific AI. Creating new good paying jobs to replace jobs that are disappearing is important, if you consider employment important. The coming decades are seeing 25% of current jobs disappearing.

And more people are experiencing challenges with job security in the US now too.

There is a significant amount of both job anxiety and job displacement that will occur with or without the transition to a low-carbon economy, and a plan that ignores jobs is no plan at all.

And once again, Harris calls out another Democratic piece of legislation to build upon.

“… as we invest in our nation’s infrastructure, policies like Senator Gillibrand’s Build Local Hire Local Act will ensure that local communities benefit first from federal investment in infrastructure projects.”

As with Biden and others, she calls for the US to commit to the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, but this is slipped into her foreign policy section. This is a major step, as it would commit the US to replacing HFC refrigerants across multiple sectors. It’s #1 on Project Drawdown’s cost-benefit-ranked list of action items, and deserves more attention.

Unlike Biden and unlike her weakness on transportation, she has a fairly balanced plan to invest in R&D and skills. Naturally, she calls out another Democratic draft Act as the basis for action. She also calls out specific centers and key items on diversity, a long-running challenge in US STEM that has not taken advantage of the brilliance of women and people of color to the extent that the US should.

“Senator Heinrich’s Energy Technology Maturation Program Act, that would facilitate commercialization of federal laboratory-developed energy technologies […]

“… enhance training programs for clean energy jobs and clean research efforts such as those at the University of Nevada – Reno’s Innevation Center.[…]

“STEM diversity legislation, including her Combatting Sexual Harassment in STEM Act and 21st Century STEM for Girls and Underrepresented Minorities Act. Additionally, Kamala has proposed a $60 billion plan to boost STEM at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority serving institutions.”

I can’t stress strongly enough that Harris’ plan is the most inclusive of other politicians and the least arrogant about her. This is a statesmanlike effort that should be rewarded. Although she’s unlikely to get the nomination, a VP role with a mandate on this front and much of her plan intact would make excellent sense, especially if the candidate were Sanders or Biden.


Transportation

Again, Harris has an aggressive, but achievable target in this space.

“… an accelerated model of Senator Merkley’s Zero-Emission Vehicles Act, we will ensure that 50 percent of all new passenger vehicles sold are zero-emission by 2030, and 100 percent are zero-emission by 2035.”

Once again, she calls out an existing proposal to build upon, calls out the specific changes she would make, and is generous with her inclusion of the author.

Having built and leveraged for multiple purposes a global electric vehicle penetration model, having observed the rapid growth in China and other countries, and having paid attention to the commitments being made by other leading countries, I know that these targets are aggressive but achievable. They would lead to almost all road transportation being carbon-neutral by 2050 with the lifespan of vehicles, but wouldn’t ban the use, merely eliminate internal combustion vehicles as new options, which is a sensible approach.

Her approach falls short when it comes to shipping, aviation, and rail. She calls for R&D and the establishment of targets for emissions reductions within two years of taking office. This is a place that requires much less R&D and much more deployment of known solutions against harder targets. Biden’s plan is stronger on this point, especially with his commitment to high-speed rail corridors on the east and west coast, although he likely overshoots with links across the US.

Farmers will see continued crop-to-fuel approaches, likely displacing ethanol but focusing instead on biologically-sourced synthetic diesel and kerosene for the subsets of long-distance rail, shipping, and aviation that can’t be electrified.

For context, Mark Z. Jacobson’s 100% Renewables by 2050 policy guidance foregoes biofuels for the small portion of transportation that can’t be electrified, focusing instead on cleaner hydrogen paths.

Mark Z. Jacobson twitter thread regarding hydrogen aviation

Image from Twitter

This is a place I’ve been open to the potential for hydrogen, but haven’t seen strong evidence that it’s a viable replacement for biofuels. With existing, lower-carbon, low-cost biofuels already in existence, I can strongly see a case for elimination of fossil fuels for heavy transport in the short term with biofuels and all capital replacements shifting to electric or hydrogen as a reasonable approach. There are few places I disagree with Jacobson’s proposed mixes, the potential for residential solar being the primary one, but I’m open to the potential for biofuels and don’t think that hydrogen has proven itself to be the most viable or fastest pathway to reduction.

Kamala isn’t fully silent, but leaves the bigger push around at least one major transportation sector, aviation, for the foreign policy pillar of her plan.

“Kamala will commit the U.S. to implement the system established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to decarbonize aviation, called CORSIA, and will work with the American airline industry to reduce airline emissions consistent with the long-term goal of carbon neutrality.”


Land Use

Harris’ plan focuses on America’s farmers and the world’s, but isn’t as strong as as many of her other targets, or as strong as Warren’s in terms of specific paths to achieving outcomes.

“U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will support every farm in America to fully implement science-based agricultural conservation practices by 2040”

But the plan does talk about food, fiber, fuel, and conservation services that farms provide, while being much quieter about specific programs than Warren’s clearer plan. This is another place in addition to SEC climate risk policies where Warren’s plan is stronger, but unlike that case, Harris doesn’t call it out or learn from it, at least not yet.

Like Warren and Biden, Harris also focuses on public lands, but she goes further they do. While both would eliminate new fossil fuel extraction leases and promote renewables, Harris commits to ending existing leases. Given the overabundance of fossil fuel reserves and the climate requirement that most of them need to stay in the ground, this is eminently sensible. Public lands should not be exploited for climate destruction.

Once again, Harris has legislation in hand for protecting lands, with three bills targeted at protection of over a million acres of California. And once again, it’s with an ally.

“U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Wednesday introduced a package of legislation to restore and expand protections for California’s public lands.”

Unlike other plans, Harris is explicit in having the US ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity, a key international agreement that would provide support for US lands achieve better diversity, and engage the country in international efforts more strongly. Perhaps understandably, Harris’ plan has this is in the foreign affairs pillar, but it has US land use implications as well.

And once again, Harris’ plan has targets and dates, where other plans often waffle on targets or defer dates a long time, as Biden does.

“She will protect 30 percent of all of our nation’s land and ocean by 2030.”

And in addition to calling out the Antiquities Act as a path, Harris yet again calls out existing draft legislation by other Democratic politicians.

“Kamala will support legislation that protects the health and function of our ecosystems like Senator Udall’s Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act and Senator Hirono’s Botanical Sciences Act.”

The only way Harris’ attention to the good work of other politicians could be improved is if she could call out Republican politicians’ efforts to build upon, but of course, right now positive actions by Republicans even in draft are hard to identify. This is a case where Yang’s specific call-outs to bipartisan value propositions that appeal to Independent voters comes into relief for the unique strategy it is.


The Military

On this front, Harris’ plan disappoints, perhaps reasonably given her lack of military background and focus on California state activities until recently.

“As President, Kamala will appoint a new Defense Climate Advisor to coordinate and oversee projects and strategies across the DoD to ensure that our military is prepared for the new challenges climate change will present. She will also ensure that DoD is a leader in reducing emissions and adopting technologies that neutralize its carbon footprint while enabling it to be more nimble and resilient.”

No acknowledgment of the massive carbon footprint, the role the military plays in defending up the strategic interests of global oil production and distribution — witness the responses to the recent Saudi drone strikes by rebels — or the outsized military budget often related to the global oil industry. This is a case where boldness would have served Harris better.

Even a reference to and commitment to reporting US military emissions as part of the Paris Accord would have been something.

This portion of Harris’ plan is by far the weakest, but it might be a case of being the better part of valor and a strategic choice for silence. But no plan can be adequate without addressing the US military more strongly than this.

Note: I’ve reached out to the Harris campaign with a draft of this assessment. Should they respond with comments or quotes, the piece will be updated.


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About the Author

is Chief Strategist with TFIE Strategy Inc. He works with startups, existing businesses and investors to identify opportunities for significant bottom line growth and cost takeout in our rapidly transforming world. He is editor of The Future is Electric, a Medium publication. He regularly publishes analyses of low-carbon technology and policy in sites including Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Post, Quartz, CleanTechnica and RenewEconomy, and his work is regularly included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews have been published in dozens of news sites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. Much of his work originates on Quora.com, where Mike has been a Top Writer annually since 2012. He's available for consulting engagements, speaking engagements and Board positions.



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