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Climate Change

Democratic Candidates & Their Clean Energy Plans

What scores do you give the different Democratic candidates for the presidency on their plans to fund the switch to clean energy?

Democratic candidates have bowed to the pressure of activists like the Sunrise movement and have outlined plans to combat the climate crisis. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have provided detailed and often courageous proposals to return the US to the Paris Agreement and to redirect federal expenditures toward the enormous task of mitigating the climate crisis before it’s too late.

But what do other candidates have to declare about their intentions to push the US toward a zero carbon future? How do they envision national funding to pay for clean energy?

Image by Carolyn Fortuna, CleanTechnica

How Would Other 2020 Democratic Candidates for US President Fund Climate Action?

While Warren and Sanders are the current frontrunners for the Democratic party nomination, other candidates have outlined measures to fund attacks on the climate crisis.

Referring to himself as a “climate pioneer” in campaign literature, Joe Biden has developed a clean energy plan that would invest in clean energy and environmental justice by rolling back Trump tax incentives that “enrich corporations at the expense of American jobs and the environment.” A $1.7 trillion price tag over the next 10 years would include leveraging additional private sector and state and local investments to total more than $5 trillion. He would also reduce incentives for tax havens, evasion, and outsourcing, thereby “ensuring corporations pay their fair share, closing other loopholes in our tax code that reward wealth not work, and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg sets some aggressive benchmarks but has funding particulars that seem self-enforcing. He expects to create 3 million new clean energy jobs, which, in turn, would motivate non-federal and private funding mechanisms. Money generated by an economy-wide price on carbon would be distributed back to low- and middle-income Americans. A tax credit (45Q) for carbon capture proposal would be deployed so that at least one gigaton of annual CO2 would be removed capacity by 2040. A $250 billion Clean Energy Bank would be created to finance efficiency, clean energy, clear water, and resilience projects across the US. He would launch the Global Investment Initiative to build US developed technologies in developing nations around the world. The American Cleantech Fund would be one of the largest investment funds in the US dedicated to cleantech. Buttigieg acknowledges that these investments would be capitalized with $50 billion in national seed funding to support dozens of demonstration projects of new technologies that are too risky for the private sector. He sees the result as building first-of-a-kind technology at government facilities and ensuring these would be translated into full scale US manufacturing.

Amy Klobuchar would return the US to the Paris International Climate Agreement on her first day in office, restore the Clean Power Plan, bring back fuel-economy standards, and reinstate the National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee to immediately start addressing the climate crisis — among a whole lot of other very interesting proposals. She would end fossil fuel subsidies and overturn Citizens United so that lobbying comes to an end in Washington, DC. To expanding renewable energy and transform the energy sector, she would “support a landmark carbon pricing system that does not have a regressive impact on Americans and will help make clean energy production more cost competitive.” She’ll develop Clean Energy Bonds. Klobuchar has dozens of ideas for programs but seems to outline fewer tangible methods to pay for them.

Tom Steyer’s Justice-Centered Climate Plan would “provide clean air and water, honor the contributions and sacrifice of workers in fossil fuel industries, and prioritize justice for communities that have been treated as environmental dumping grounds for far too long.” To accomplish these goals, he would issue $250 billion over the course of 10 years in new National Healthy Communities Climate Bonds and call on Congress to fully fund the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, which would create 1 million jobs for Americans. He would dedicate $2 trillion in federal funding over 10 years and mobilize “trillions more” in private capital to address investments in US infrastructure.

Andrew Yang titles his climate program, “It’s Worse than You Think.” He would invest $4.87 trillion over 20 years in areas like thorium-based nuclear energy and geoengineering — possibly using mirrors in space to reflect sunlight away or spraying particles into the air to cool the planet. He would allocate $40 billion in grants for people in coastal areas to move inland, $30 billion for infrastructure like seawalls, and $25 billion for disaster planning. (Writer’s note: Look at the graphic placeholders on Yang’s website — really?)

Final Thoughts

A transition from conventional fossil fueled energy generation to clean renewable sources offers several benefits—particularly a reduction of greenhouse gases (and other types of pollution), diversification of the power supply, and growth of new clean energy industries and related jobs. Given the imperative of transitioning to clean energy, these Democratic candidates for the presidency have focused recently on climate-focused proposals.

Most of these candidates see the benefit in a robust administration that would use the power of the executive office toward climate crisis action. This is really important, for projections for the power sector indicate that without significant new policies to promote clean generation, the pace of transition to cleaner power generation will be insufficient. Without such policies to promote clean energy, the share of total US electricity generation, for example, obtained from clean energy sources will likely not increase fast enough to achieve mid-century climate goals.

We really need to press these 2020 candidates to embark on strategic pathways to head off the climate crisis — now, not later on when it’s politically comfortable. And most of them need to speak cogently about how they’ll pay for their climate action programs. Is it the same as we’ve funded the 2 decades long debacle in Afghanistan: with taxpayer dollars? Then the presidential candidates should say it, proudly, explaining that the climate crisis poses an existential threat to human life, and it is only a powerful leader who can truly make a difference toward the future security of the US and the world.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll look beyond the 2020 Democratic candidates and survey some of climate action economists and researchers, hoping to discern some efficacious — and, dare we say it? — politically viable approaches to taking immediate climate action.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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