Beto O’Rourke on Monday pledged to spend trillions to combat the climate crisis in the first major policy proposal of his presidential campaign, making him the latest Democrat in the 2020 race to embrace climate change as a top issue.
“The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” O’Rourke told supporters in a campaign email.
His plan, starting day one in the White House, would include spending a record $5 trillion on climate action over ten years and mandating the US reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050. (This means the nation, by midcentury, would no longer be emitting more climate pollution into the atmosphere than it was pulling out of it through trees and other ways.)
“This is one more demonstration that if you want to be a serious candidate, having a real plan to tackle climate change is essential,” Derek Walker, vice president for US climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, told BuzzFeed News.
Up until now, O’Rourke has been loose on policy platforms for his presidential campaign. It took multiple interviews to pin down his position on a single-payer Medicare for All system, and in an interview with the Washington Post before he announced his candidacy, O’Rourke struggled to articulate specific solutions to the issue of immigration and border policy on which he built the backbone of his Senate race.
Other candidates have launched their campaigns with signature policy proposals — for Sen. Kamala Harris, a massive middle-class tax cut; for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, an anti-corruption bill. But though O'Rourke did often go into specific policy details on the campaign trail on issues from health care to immigration, he had not come out with a policy proposal to anchor his campaign.
There are some novel goals in O’Rourke’s plan, including how much he plans to spend acting on climate and his proposal to bring emissions for federal lands down to net zero by 2030. But there’s also a lot of overlap with other candidates’ plans and the Green New Deal resolution championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York.
Jay Inslee, Washington state’s Democratic governor, was the first presidential hopeful to say he’d make climate change a priority on his first day as president. Now O’Rourke has said that too.
Warren in mid-April released her public lands platform, calling for banning new fossil fuel leases and reinstating Obama-era methane reduction rules. O’Rourke similarly called for stopping new fossil fuel leases on federal lands and curbing methane emissions from these and other sources.
And with this climate platform, O’Rourke joined the crowd in committing to having the US reengage in the Paris climate agreement, as well as put in place the many Obama-era climate and environmental policies rolled back by the Trump administration.
Moreover, O’Rourke’s plan and the Green New Deal both advocate for a 10-year mobilization to address the climate emergency through making buildings more energy efficient, helping communities become more resilient to natural disasters, and tackling pollution more broadly. O’Rourke has praised the Green New Deal on the campaign trail.
O’Rourke’s proposal “has a lot of Green New Deal elements in it,” said RL Miller, cofounder of the Climate Hawks Vote, a group in the no fossil fuel pledge campaign.
Miller also called O’Rourke’s climate vision “surprisingly good for someone who won't sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.” Other Democratic presidential contenders, including Inslee and Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Warren from Massachusetts, have signed that pledge “to not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 from the PACs or SEC-named executives of fossil fuel companies.”
The plan hasn’t completely won over the left, though. The Sunrise Movement, the youth climate group pushing for the Green New Deal, said O’Rourke’s plan falls short of what they’re demanding from candidates.
Under the Green New Deal, global emissions need to be net zero by 2050. This means the United States will need to reach net zero emissions before then, not at the same time as O’Rourke has proposed, said Sunrise Movement organizer Stephen O'Hanlon.
Molly Hensley-Clancy contributed to this story.