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Climate Policies Of 2020 Democrats


Climate change is getting more attention this election cycle, at least from Democratic presidential candidates. Most of them have detailed plans to try to reduce greenhouse gases. And most vow they won't accept campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. NPR's Jeff Brady joins us. Jeff, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Whole lot of candidates running here. Is there a way you can summarize their proposals?

BRADY: Well, all the candidates agree with scientists who say that to avoid the worst effects of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions - mainly carbon dioxide - have to be reduced to zero by 2050. And they all support rejoining the Paris climate agreement that President Trump says the U.S. will withdraw from.

There are some differences around the Green New Deal. That's the proposal introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey. They are not running for president. The plan calls for a speedy transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It would also remake the economy to spread wealth more evenly.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren supports the Green New Deal. And at this week's debate, she said her plan calls for a $2 trillion investment in research for technologies to address climate change.


ELIZABETH WARREN: We then say anyone in the world can use it so long as you build it right here in America. That will produce about 1.2 million manufacturing jobs right here in Michigan, right here in Ohio, right here in the industrial Midwest.

BRADY: Now, a few Democratic candidates do not support the Green New Deal. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper calls it a distraction. And John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland - he says it's not realistic because it brings in issues unrelated to climate change, like health care and job creation. Candidates who oppose the Green New Deal - they tend to focus instead on proposals like carbon taxes to reduce CO2 emissions.

SIMON: Of course, President Trump has rolled back many of President Obama's environmental regulations and his climate change policies. Are the Democratic candidates now just trying to get back to where those policies were?

BRADY: Well, certainly, all those candidates condemn those rollbacks. And, you know, it's interesting. They go well beyond where the Obama administration was on climate. And that's true even for former Vice President Joe Biden. He was asked during the debate this week if there's any room for fossil fuels if he's elected for president. And he said no.

SIMON: Now, of course, one candidate, Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, seems to have built his campaign as trying to be the environmental candidate. Here's part of his closing statement second night of the debate.


JAY INSLEE: Literally, the survival of humanity on this planet in civilization as we know it is in the hands of the next president. And we have to have a leader who will do his - what is necessary to save us.

SIMON: Has trying to make himself the environmental candidate helped him in the polls so far?

BRADY: Well, it's certainly won him the support of environmentalists, especially the ones who show up at protests and call on politicians to do more about climate change. The surveys and polling - they do show that climate change is becoming a more important topic for voters, especially Democrats. But that just hasn't translated into support for Governor Inslee. His polling numbers barely register, especially behind frontrunners like Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

Still, Inslee - he wrote an opinion piece this week arguing that he thinks climate change is a winning issue for Democrats. He thinks it could help them beat President Trump next year. And he wants the party to spend more time talking about it.

SIMON: How much more are the Democratic candidates talking about it than in past elections? Is it just a phrase or two, or something beyond that?

BRADY: No, they are. In 2016, climate got about 5 1/2 minutes in the presidential debates. So far, in these Democratic primary debates, they've spent about 40 minutes on the topic by my count. That's still not enough for some of the activists out there.

There's one group called the Sunrise Movement. They want Democrats to hold a debate where climate change is the only topic. Democratic leaders have resisted that. But now they're going to consider two resolutions later this month when party officials meet in San Francisco. We could end up seeing a climate-only debate because of that. In any case, it's pretty clear that climate change is getting more of the spotlight this election, at least in the Democratic primaries.

SIMON: NPR's Jeff Brady, thanks so much.

BRADY: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
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