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Highlights of CNN Climate Town Hall First Half – Castro, Yang, Harris, Klobuchar and Biden AND CNN Climate Town Hall Part 2: Sanders, Warren Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Booker

2020 Election Activities, Opinions, Policy
September 5, 2019

(Our Daily Planet) The CNN Town Hall on the Climate Crisis was a marathon session — seven hours of nearly uninterrupted climate conversation. With so many candidates and so much ground to cover, and many similarities among the candidates, it may in retrospect be a bit of a blur for the viewer. CNN’s four moderators tried to level the discussion by asking each candidate a version of the question “what would you do on day 1”? But from there, the candidate interviews varied greatly. Here is what stood out to us from each of the first five candidates.

Castro: Two things were memorable. First was his emphasis on environmental justice, …. …  Second, he highlighted his “PAW” plan — which stands for “protecting animals and wildlife.” 

Yang: Yang emphasized that he is an outsider who can fix the government by taking influence out of the equation, with frequent references to the “almighty dollar” driving policy decisions. … (T)he “brutal truth is that there are people on one side and money on another…. And a lot of the money is from fossil fuel companies.” It was funny and also telling when he said electric cars are “awesome” and “we are all going to love driving our electric cars. And I did not just say that because Elon Muske endorsed me a few weeks ago.”

Harris: Harris was (more) specific than some of the other candidates — she spent much of her time talking about suing the polluters and holding them accountable. She started off oddly by deflecting a question about the climate crisis, saying that on day 1 she would declare a drinking water crisis. …  She said that the “private sector is pretty good in our country – when we set a standard they meet it. This is a false choice about choosing the environment or jobs.

Klobuchar: Klobuchar stuck firmly to her midwestern roots, and tried to appeal to the moderates in the party by talking about the need to persuade all Americans that tackling climate change is a “mission for our country just like the greatest generation in WWII and the civil rights movement. This is our generation’s challenge.” … She emphasized realism again when she said we need to solve this together but recognize that “we cannot phase out fossil fuels in 2 or 3 or 4 years so we need to be deliberate.” But she also spoke passionately about agriculture and how to change farming practices, as well as controlling methane gas emissions.

Biden: Biden was the night’s standout on foreign policy. … He noted that even if the US did everything it could that would only impact 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and thus it is really important to focus on the other 85% emitted by the rest of the world.  READ MORE

Senator Bernie Sanders: Sanders has the most expensive climate action plan of all the 2020 contenders at a staggering $16.3 trillion. Of course, he was asked to defend the cost of his plan and the senator made it clear that he believes the federal government is the only entity well enough equipped to address the crisis in earnest which will come with a sizeable price tag. … Additionally, through an audience question, he addressed the fact that controlling population growth is an important component of acting on climate change. 

Senator Elizabeth Warren:  … She was clear, on-message and helped frame climate action in terms of opportunity and what citizens stand to gain from their government. … One important point she made is that climate action isn’t a standalone political issue, rather our trade, healthcare, foreign policy, agriculture etc, policies must fundamentally incorporate climate change. … “Back when we first started talking about auto emissions we set emissions standards that at that point the auto industry said, ‘we have no way to meet them’ and the answer was, ‘figure out a way.’ They invented the catalytic converter and lo and behold they cut emissions.”

(Moderator Chris) Cuomo asked, “Do you think that the government should be in the business of telling you what kind of light bulb you can have?” To which, she replied, “Oh come on, give me a break. This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants us to be talking about. That’s what they want us to talk about: This is your problem.”

As Mother Jones wrote, Warren’s answer serves as a blueprint for how Democrats should address attacks from the right about taking away personal convenience from Americans.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg: As the only candidate to take the subway to the town hall, Mayor Pete stood out as getting to the heart of how rural communities (like the ones in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Ohio that Democrats will need to win in order to take back the White House) should be engaged on climate issues. For instance, he suggested framing climate action in the context of moral duty and how for religious people it’s what God would want them to do to protect his creation. Specifically, Buttigieg said that pollution should be labeled as a sort of sin.

CNN’s anchors kept asking candidates what personal sacrifices they would ask Americans to make in order to address climate change and Pete had the best rebuttal of the night when he explained that the question misses the point of how we do something about the crisis. He stated that “No individual can be expected to single-handedly solve this problem. It’s why we invented government.”

… using the military as a lever for more sustainable practices through its immense spending power–a point missed by most other candidates.

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke:  Beto’s biggest moment came when he revived the debate between carbon cap and trade and a carbon tax. After that, his answers were painted with pretty broad brush strokes and offered few specifics….

Senator Cory Booker:  As with his newly-released climate plan, Booker made the focus of his night environmental justice and the assurance that communities aren’t left behind in our transition to a greener future. Emphasizing that “resiliency, resiliency, resiliency” should be a core concept ….   READ MORE

TOWN HALL TAKEAWAYS: (Politico’s Morning Energy)

UMWA CHIEF: COAL’S NOT BACK: (Politico’s Morning Energy)

EXCLUSIVE: In a new rural plan, Steve Bullock proposes two-year freeze on ag mergers to reset oversight (Des Moines Register; includes VIDEO)

The Energy 202: 2020 Democrats release climate plans that could be seen as less ambitious than Green New Deal (Washington Post)

Daily on Energy: Democrats spared tricky questions on fossil fuels at nation’s oil and gas capital (Washington Examiner)

THE FINAL STRAW: (Politico’s Morning Energy)  

In intimate moment, Biden vows to ‘end fossil fuel’ (Associated Press)

The CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall: What You Might Have Missed (Environmental and Energy Study Institute)

 

Excerpt from Politico’s Morning Energy:  UMWA CHIEF: COAL’S NOT BACK: United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts declared Wednesday that “coal’s not back” during remarks at the National Press Club on the future of coal. “Nobody saved the coal industry,” he said. “Now that’s a harsh fact and it’s a harsh reality.”

The union leader called for presidential candidates to account for coal workers who will lose their jobs in a move to cheaper natural gas and as Democrats’ plans call for cuts to fossil fuel extraction. “We need to develop technology to remove carbon from the burning of coal, or you’re never … going to resolve climate change,” he said.

Roberts also called out lawmakersfor failing to adequately protect workers at bankrupt mining companies, Pro’s Ian Kullgren reports. “First of all the CEO gets millions of dollars for filing bankruptcy,” Roberts said. “… Congress has known this forever and has done nothing about it.”  READ MORE

 

Excerpt from Politico’s Morning Energy:  THE FINAL STRAW: Republicans used Democratic candidates’ comments at last week’s marathon CNN climate change forum to paint the field as out-of-touch elites, POLITICO’s Christopher Cadelago and Holly Otterbein report . In one video, the Republic National Committee shared clips from the candidates, including Joe Biden, appearing to advocate a shutdown of coal-burning plants and taking gas-burning vehicles off the road “as rapidly as we can.” Andrew Yang, in the same web ad, said, “We’re going to be OK if the vast majority of the world goes vegetarian immediately.”

“I just don’t even know what to do with ‘Burgergate,'” said Colin Strother, a veteran Democratic strategist from Texas. “It is such a fringe position that is out of step with an overwhelming majority of Americans — and let us not forget that a pretty wide swath of the country including Texas and the ‘Breadbasket’ are major beef producers. … We have so many very serious issues facing our country that I struggle to understand how burgers even make the top-20 list.

Still, some fell into the trap, said RL Miller, political director of Climate Hawks Vote and president of a related political action committee, mentioning Sen. Kamala Harris’ answers. Harris said she supports changing the food pyramid to reduce red meat consumption and came out for a ban on plastic straws. “The issue is not straws. The issue is the oil companies creating systems that need to be dismantled,” Miller said.  READ MORE

 

Excerpt from Washington Examiner:  DEMOCRATS SPARED TRICKY QUESTIONS ON FOSSIL FUELS AT NATION’S OIL AND GAS CAPITAL: The top 10 candidates at Thursday’s third Democratic debate escaped questions on divisive proposals, such as plans for banning fracking and ending the use of fossil fuels — a weird oversight by the moderators considering the debate’s location in Houston, the oil and gas capital of the U.S.

“What one person eats for dinner is far less important than what a candidate sees as the future of fossil fuels,” Jeff Navin, a former chief of staff at the Energy Department in the Obama administration, told Josh (Siegel).

Navin noted that Texas was a perfect location for a substantive discussion on the energy transition, given not just its reputation for oil and gas, but also its status as the nation’s top wind producer, and a hub for solar.

 

But Ramos was not done, cooking up a seven-minute discussion on climate change with a generic question directed to Texas’ own Beto O’Rourke on “what meaningful action” he would take to “reverse the effect of climate change.”

O’Rourke pledged “pre-disaster mitigation grants” to Texas communities that are vulnerable to flooding, given that Houston has experienced three 500-year floods in five years, including from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

However, he then rounded into a rote rundown of his goals, which are not much different from those of the other candidates on stage.

Soft ball questions follow: Ramos set the table for more bland stump speeches, asking other candidates to comment on their plans, without asking a specific question.

“Let’s see if we can go very fast,” Ramos said, seemingly content to merely check the climate box, before opening the floor to Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Andrew Yang.

Ramos, to his credit, asked a follow-up to Warren, on whether U.S. foreign policy should be “based around the principle of climate change.”

Warren said it should, before listing her more aggressive and specific goals of cutting all carbon emissions from new buildings by 2028, eliminating emissions from cars by 2030, and ending emissions from electricity by 2035.

This response, and others, prompted frustration from Democratic observers.

Screen Shot 2019-09-13 at 11.40.18 AM.png

Candidates didn’t forget about climate: The Democrats did, though, weave climate change-related points into unrelated questions.

“Climate change is being recognized by candidates as something central to all these other issues,” Nat Keohane, senior vice president of climate at Environmental Defense Action Fund, told Josh. “It’s not getting treated as a social issue on the sidelines. Candidates are thinking about this and catching up to where voters are, even if debate moderators aren’t doing it yet.”

That was especially true on trade, where many pledged to raise environmental standards in trade deals, and cooperate with China on mitigating climate change.

“I refuse to postpone any longer taking on climate change and leading the world in taking on climate change,” frontrunner Joe Biden said unprompted.  READ MORE

 

Excerpt from Environmental and Energy Study Institute: 

Carbon Pricing

Carbon pricing was a key topic of the Town Hall, with candidates detailing a variety of plans including carbon fees and cap-and-trade.

Sen. Kamala Harris endorsed a carbon fee, which would be assessed on “upstream” polluters (e.g., oil refineries). The funds collected from the fee would be distributed to “frontline” communities, those most at risk from climate change impacts. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke supports a cap-and-trade program, which would limit the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions generated by carbon-polluting industries. Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a border carbon adjustment—a fee, based on the cost of complying with U.S greenhouse gas restrictions, on all imported goods coming from countries that subsidize the fossil fuel industry. Other explicit endorsements of carbon pricing came from former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

 

Sustainable Farming Practices

Multiple candidates also raised the topic of sustainable farming practices. Andrew Yang stated that increasing government financial incentives to small family farms would allow them to carry out sustainable farming practices such as crop rotation and family-to-table supply chains.

Sen. Bernie Sanders highlighted the need for family-based agriculture and local food consumption.

Just Energy Transitions

Candidates also reflected on how to facilitate a just transition away from fossil fuels for workers who depend on the industry for their livelihoods. Andrew Yang was asked how his flagship proposal, Universal Basic Income (UBI), would help fossil fuel workers in this transition.

Sen. Sanders took a different approach, promising to guarantee five years of wages to any displaced fossil fuel workers.

Sen. Warren suggested employing people displaced by the energy transition in infrastructure development, an idea that would require reinforcing apprenticeship programs, community colleges, and other types of retraining.

In addition to plans to support those losing livelihoods, almost all the candidates emphasized the massive opportunity for new jobs in the clean energy economy. Job creation was also discussed as a way to pay for climate proposals, since income tax can be collected from the increased workforce.  READ MORE

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