PoliticsDemocrats Lay Out Trillion-Dollar Climate Plans

01:55  05 september  2019
01:55  05 september  2019 Source:   nytimes.com

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Ten candidates participated in a CNN forum on climate change, the first such prime-time event in a presidential campaign. They vowed to undo the Trump administration’s environmental policies and spend trillions of dollars to promote renewable energy.

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Jay Inslee has never been so influential.

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The Washington governor, who made the climate crisis the singular focus of his presidential bid before dropping out, hovers like a benign cumulus cloud over Wednesday night’s prime-time forum on global warming. The event features 10 top Democrats, several of whom now echo ambitious proposals that Mr. Inslee first put out.

This week alone, six candidates participating in tonight’s event released climate plans. They are seeking to seize a political moment when concern over the planet’s future is a driving issue among Democrats.

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The town hall-style forum on CNN is a response to primary voters’ intense interest in the subject and follows a decision by the Democratic National Committee not to sanction a debate devoted to global warming, frustrating activists and some candidates.

“It’s extremely heartening to me we’re going to have a discussion about this tonight — it’s 20 years overdue,” Mr. Inslee said in an interview on Wednesday. “I think we should attack Donald Trump on his weakest point, which is the environment, and this will help us identify our strongest candidate.”

The format may challenge viewers’ stamina and frustrate those seeking clear contrasts between the candidates: the 10 candidates, the leaders in polling average, will appear one by one in a seven-hour marathon of interviews.

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Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and the first to be interviewed, opened the discussion by crediting Mr. Inslee’s work on combating global warming.

Political analysts cited the sudden rush of new plans before the event — including from Senators Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — as evidence that the issue has gained significant traction on the national stage.

Over the past year, multiple scientific reports have concluded that climate change has already led to dangerous outcomes for humanity, and to severe costs to the American economy, including more powerful hurricanes, stronger droughts and spreading fires.

Jeff Nesbit, executive director of Climate Nexus, a group focused on communicating the climate threat, said the forum reflected pent-up demand by a portion of the Democratic base to see global warming discussed in depth. Voters want “more than a scant, few minutes from TV news stars moderating general debates who ask questions like ‘Can Miami be saved?’ or ‘So, what’s wrong with the Green New Deal?’” he said.

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At the same time, the parade of far-reaching plans that will be on display, ranging in cost from $1.7 trillion to $16.3 trillion, are certain to elicit Republican attacks that they would decimate the economy. President Trump and his allies, who have aggressively sought to roll back Obama-era limits on planet-warming emissions, have been attacking the Democratic field as “socialists.” On Wednesday, the administration rolled back rules on energy-saving light bulbs.

“The Democrats’ radical approach to energy is to eliminate the use of all fossil fuels, which would kill more than 10 million jobs and inflict economic catastrophe across the country,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for President Trump’s re-election campaign.

Democrats Lay Out Trillion-Dollar Climate Plans© Erin Schaff/The New York Times Gov. Jay Inslee focused his presidential campaign on combating climate change but dropped out last month.

The Democrats’ plans vary in costs and priorities but most have a similar aim: to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 — that is, reducing planet-warming carbon emissions so dramatically that the United States is eliminating as much as it emits.

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The trillions in new spending the candidates have proposed would by and large go to similar priorities, like updating the country’s power grid and other energy infrastructure, installing electric vehicle charging stations and developing clean power like wind and solar.

While spending money is a solution that unites the candidates, they differ on where the money should come from. Ms. Warren calls for a 7 percent increase in the corporate tax rate. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has said his plan would “pay for itself” by collecting tax revenue from high-paying new jobs and new fees and penalties from the fossil fuel industry. Other candidates have proposed putting a price on carbon emissions to pay for part of their plans.

Democrats Lay Out Trillion-Dollar Climate Plans© Elizabeth Frantz for The New York Times Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan calls for eliminating planet-warming emissions from power plants, vehicles and buildings over 10 years.

As the candidates gathered at the forum in New York, Hurricane Dorian, one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record, was threatening hundreds of miles of coastline in the Southeast after inflicting devastating damage in the Bahamas.

Ms. Harris initially declined an invitation to the forum, citing a scheduling conflict, but her campaign later reversed that decision as criticism mounted from some environmental groups.

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“Climate is obviously an important issue to Democratic primary voters, and the candidates are responding,” said Robert Shrum, a veteran Democratic consultant and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

Many of the candidates’ plans, including Ms. Harris’s, bear similarities to proposals championed by Mr. Inslee, who dropped out last month after it became clear he was unlikely to qualify for the next primary debate.

Mr. Inslee would not have been invited to the climate change forum, either, having failed to reach 2 percent support in enough polls. But analysts said that Mr. Inslee’s influence on the rest of the Democratic presidential field was clear.

“Jay Inslee wrote a super-set of climate policy options, and candidates are taking subsets of Inslee ideas,” said Kevin Book, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners, a nonpartisan Washington research organization.

Mr. Inslee released six detailed climate plans, totaling over 200 pages. In a Democratic debate in July, he dressed down former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for not being aggressive enough in phasing out coal in line with what “the science tells us.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Inslee said Mr. Biden had called him a few days ago to suggest a policy conversation between their staffs. “All of us have to raise our ambitions, that includes the vice president,” he said, adding that their conversation was pleasant.

On Tuesday night, Ms. Warren released a broad new climate change plan — her third such plan of the campaign — in which she explicitly adopted some of Mr. Inslee’s policies. “While his presidential campaign may be over, his ideas should remain at the center of the agenda,” Ms. Warren wrote.

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In her new proposal, Ms. Warren adopts Mr. Inslee’s plan to eliminate planet-warming emissions from power plants, vehicles and buildings over 10 years, and adds an additional $1 trillion in spending to subsidize that transition. The spending would be paid for, she said, by reversing the Trump administration’s tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations.

Ms. Harris’s plan, which calls for $10 trillion in spending over a decade, includes many of the same basic policy elements as those of her rivals: a blueprint to end fossil fuel pollution from electricity generation by 2030, a halt on new fossil fuel leases on public lands and the imposition of aggressive new regulations on vehicle tailpipe pollution.

Four other candidates — Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey; Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.; and Mr. Castro — have also released climate change plans since Sunday.

Mr. Castro’s plan includes several ideas either directly adopted from or developed in consultation with Mr. Inslee, such as a plan to replace all coal-fired power generation with zero-emissions sources by 2030, and a proposal to marshal $10 trillion in federal, state, local and private spending on jobs associated with the transition to nonpolluting energy.

At least some echoes of Mr. Inslee’s proposals are also included in Mr. Booker’s plan, which calls for $3 trillion in spending to achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2045, and in Ms. Klobuchar’s plan, which calls for reinstating Obama-era regulations on fossil fuel emissions to put the nation on track to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

Mr. Sanders has not explicitly taken up Mr. Inslee’s ideas. Instead, analysts said, he is trying to win over the progressive wing of the Democratic Party with a climate plan that takes its name from the Green New Deal and has the biggest price tag of all the candidates’ proposals — $16.3 trillion over 15 years. He has called for banning fracking to extract natural gas, and for halting the import and export of coal, oil and natural gas.

“I think Sanders is looking for ways to prove that he’s the true progressive in the race,” said Paul Bledsoe, a lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy.

Mr. Buttigieg’s plan also makes no reference to Mr. Inslee. It calls for putting an unspecified price on carbon that will rise over time and quadrupling spending on clean energy research and development to $25 billion per year to achieve net-zero emissions by midcentury. Total federal spending would range from $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion, the Buttigieg campaign said.

Mr. Bledsoe said there was some political danger for Democrats in attempting to outdo one another.

“In all honesty, every one of the climate plans proposed is more ambitious than anything that’s ever been remotely contemplated before,” he said. “But the danger is that they ignore the nuts and bolts of energy politics of swing states and risk handing Trump the election.”

Lisa Friedman contributed reporting.

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