Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke released a $5 trillion plan to combat climate change over the next decade with a goal of achieving net-zero emissions in the U.S. by 2050.
The former congressman from the oil and natural gas producing state of Texas said he would put the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement, if elected, and seek legislation in his first 100 days in office to set a “legally enforceable” requirement that the nation remove as much greenhouse gases as it emits, with half of that goal completed by 2030.
The legislation would include a requirement that public companies measure and disclose climate risks as well as greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains. O’Rourke also said he would halt new fossil fuel leases on federal land.
O’Rourke proposes to pay for his plan through changes to the tax code “ensuring corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share and that we finally end the tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks currently given to fossil fuel companies.” It would include $1.5 trillion in direct federal funding.
“The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” O’Rourke said Monday in a statement. “We have one last chance to unleash the ingenuity and political will of hundreds of millions of Americans to meet this moment before it’s too late.”
Some of the goals of O’Rourke’s plan align with the Green New Deal championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star on the Democratic left. That proposal has been ridiculed by Republicans and President Donald Trump as extremist and costly, even as some in the GOP have begun shifting away from climate change skepticism toward embracing ideas for addressing climate change.
The plan was unveiled as O’Rourke was set to tour Yosemite National Park as part of a campaign swing through California, parts of which have been damaged by wildfires over the past few years. The state, where climate issues are a high priority for many voters, holds its presidential primary on March 3 and will be a major target for most of the 20 Democrats seeking their party’s nomination in 2020.
Akin to Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, O’Rourke wants to curb the effects of climate change through a plan also addressing the economy and inequality. His plan calls for addressing infrastructure and allocating money to communities at risk of natural disasters such as wildfires, floods, droughts and hurricanes, accelerated by climate change.
O’Rourke’s plan, which also includes a promise to use executive authority to curb the leakage of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — from the oil and gas sector, may be an attempt to mute criticism the candidate is too cozy his home state’s oil and gas industry. His vote to end a 40-year ban on the export of crude oil in 2015 and other votes seen as fossil friendly have led some progressive activists to question his commitment to fighting climate change.
Earlier this month, he declined to sign a pledge from climate activists not to accept any money from the fossil fuel industry, saying he won’t take donations from oil and gas executives, lobbyists or political action committees but won’t turn down contributions from workers. That drew scorn from environmentalists who said the pledge as written allowed contributions from the industry as long as they were $200 and under.
David Turnbull, a spokesman for Oil Change USA, part of the coalition that is behind the pledge, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by O’Rourke’s climate plan, though he added “as ever the devil is in the details.”
“It seems to be moving in the right direction when it comes to actions on the scale necessary to tackle our climate crisis,” Turnbull said in an email. “We’re happy to see a commitment to end tens of billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies, stop leasing of fossil fuel development on federal lands, and accounting for the full climate and community costs in federal permitting decisions.”
The Sunrise Movement, a progressive grassroots group aligned Ocasio-Cortez, criticized O’Rouke’s plan as not being aggressive enough. The Green New Deal calls for net-zero emission by 2030, 20 years sooner than O’Rourke’s climate vision.
“Beto claims to support the Green New Deal, but his plan is out of line with the timeline it lays out and the scale of action that scientists say is necessary to take here in the United States to give our generation a livable future,” Varshini Prakash, Sunrise’s executive director, said in a statement.
Climate change is one of the litmus tests for Democratic candidates in 2020. The Green New Deal resolution, which is primarily a list of policy ambitions such as shifting the nation to 100 zero-emissions energy sources. It has 92 co-sponsors in the House and its co-sponsors in the Senate include the senators competing with O’Rourke for the Democratic nomination: Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, another candidate in the race, has made reversing climate change a central element of his campaign.