Election 2020 Candidates Address Climate Change Policies in First Debate

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Miami.
Image: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Candidates address climate change policies like a carbon tax, soil amendments and the Green New Deal.

There’s a recognized pressing need to address the underlying man-made biological system disruptions that are exacerbating storms and fires — otherwise known as climate change.

While storms and fires are greatly stressing public safety resources, surging emergency response expenses and creating economic catastrophe that sharply triggers municipal and state government costs, discussing climate change has proved politically challenging.

But, science aside, the low-level of discourse on climate change is also bad politically,” wrote Justin Worland, Time Magazine’s energy reporter, in his article that largely focused on the first night of the Election 2020 first round Democratic debates.

Despite the inherent challenges in publicly addressing solutions, several candidates on the second night of the debates went a toe deeper.

Talk — and Lack of Talk — on the Carbon Tax 

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg highlighted his city’s more recent devastating storm experiences to explain how rural America is part of solutions to address climate change. He raised a federal carbon tax and soil enrichment initiatives.

Soil enrichment is an opportunity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and plug it into agricultural soils. There is a global effort to remove 1 trillion tons of carbon and apply it to the planet’s 3.6 billion agricultural acres that proponents argue is the most “immediate, scalable and affordable opportunity” to address climate change, according to the Terraton Initiative led by the firm Indigo.

Buttigieg also said he was in favor of a carbon tax and dividend plan which would charge fossil fuel polluters for greenhouse gas emissions, and give the money back to American households. Though he did not specify how during the debate.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee addresses the South Carolina Democratic Party convention, Saturday, June 22, 2019 in Columbia, S.C..

Image: AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

He was not the only candidate to address a carbon tax — something candidate Washington Governor Jay Inslee knows a bit about. After attempting to pass a carbon tax via the ballot box — twice — and failing, it’s no longer in Inslee’s plans to achieve Net Zero by 2045.

The governor did not address the carbon tax during the debate, but in January said:

“To actually get carbon savings, you need to jack up the price so high that it becomes politically untenable.”

Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney said he is confident that a carbon tax needs to be part of the way forward on addressing climate change. He also has experience in this area:

“All the economists agree that a carbon pricing mechanism works. You just have to do it right,” Delaney said in the debate. “I can get that passed my first year as President with a coalition of every Democrat in the Congress and the Republicans who live in coastal states.”

Delaney was later cut off by the MSNBC hosts when he tried to jump in again to discuss his specific carbon tax plan.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang also mentioned that a carbon tax was part of his Universal Basic Income plan.

Methane Reductions, Charging Stations & Revisiting the Paris Accord

Former Colorado Governor and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper touted his state’s groundbreaking partnership with fossil fuel industries to lower methane emissions. Under his leadership in 2014, the state approved the nation’s first regulations requiring energy companies to stop methane leaks, according to the Denver Business Journal in 2016.

Former Vice President Joe Biden noted his plan builds 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles and provides $400 million for research and development to make the U.S. the “exporter of the green economy.”

Several candidates addressed support for the Green New Deal, recommitting to the Paris Accord or funding renewable energy on both nights of the debates.

Read our news about the first night’s debate:

Castro Leads Immigration Reform Topic in Election 2020 Debate

Read our coverage of governments outside the U.S. experiencing a national carbon tax:

Carbon Tax & Dividend Survives Ontario’s Court Challenge


About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.