The Common, Bold, and Idealistic Democrat Policies from CNN’s Climate Town Hall 

By Kyle Saukas

September 10, 2019

Climate Advisers analyze the policies  proposed in CNN’s Climate Town Hall and evaluate the commonalities and feasibility of each.

CNN’s Climate Town Hall on September 4th was an unprecedented opportunity for Democratic presidential candidates to discuss their climate change proposals in-depth. The candidates’ policy proposals spanned the ambition spectrum, from common, like reinstating Obama-era regulations, to boldlike funding for research and development, to idealistic like stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The tone of the conversation, too, varied as much as their policies. However, as the night progressed, some prevailing themes emerged. The town hall succeeded in making clear what is likely if a Democrat wins the presidency next November.  

The Common  

Each candidate was asked what actions on climate change they would take on the first day of their presidency. For something to take effect immediately, it would need to be an executive order (something that does not require approval from Congress). This was a place where several candidates found common ground. All candidates mentioned these as day-one actions: 

  • Re-entering the Paris Agreement 

  • Reinstating the CAFE standards set by the last Administration 

  • Banning all new fossil fuel activity on federal lands 

  • Reinstating methane regulations within the fossil fuel industry 

  • Reinstating DOE lighting efficiency rules 


The Bold 

The very idea that climate change is a sufficient priority to be included in day-one actions shows that climate ambition has broken through into the mainstream among Democrats. But this new-found ambition did not stop with executive actions; several candidates were also aligned on passing new laws. If Democrats also gain control in the Senate, some or all of these would be politically feasible. 


Candidates that Mentioned Policy 

Why it’s bold

A price on carbon/tax 
Booker, Buttigieg, Biden, Castro, Harris, Klobuchar, and Yang 
This is a popular policy with economists and there is some bipartisan support in Congress but will nevertheless be a challenge to passFormer “climate candidate” Jay Inslee’s home state couldn’t agree on a carbon pricing system and eventually abandoned the effort. 
More funding for clean technology R&D 
All candidates


This is likely to be very popular across the aisle and may be the easiest policy to accomplish. The IPCC models call for both carbon capture and advanced nuclear technologies to maintain below 2 degrees of warming, ensuring these technologies will be funded is a vital part of a comprehensive plant to combat climate change. 
Require companies to disclose climate risks 
Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Warren, and Yang 
Warren has already proposed legislation to require this type of reporting which would allow for new levels of transparency and accountability for greenhouse gas emitters. 


Protecting frontline communities and improving their resiliency 


All candidates 
Although most of the proposed climate change policies are aimed at mitigating warming, adaptation to climate change is another important issue for the candidates to consider. They differ on how to achieve these goals, but most will require funding or new initiatives within federal agencies that will require Congressional support and oversight, an important step toward adaptation. 
No new offshore drilling 
All candidates
This is the only policy approach calling for a ban that might be feasible, as there is considerable support from state governments for no new offshore drilling activity. Most other proposed bans cross lines on issues (like nuclear and natural gas) that pit several states against their administration. 
Suing or charging fossil fuel companies’ contribution to climate change 
Harris and Sanders 
Several court battles are raging over fossil fuel companies’ participation and prior knowledge of climate change. Legal precedent exists for potentially holding the companies to account for not relaying knowledge of their participation in climate change, but the pending cases will set the stage for any future action against large-scale greenhouse gas emitters. 


The Idealistic  

Aside from the executive actions and politically feasible legislation, all the candidates went a step further, espousing their support for actions that would be politically challenging to pull off. In particular, ending subsidies for fossil fuel companies stands out as a policy that all candidates supported. However, without removing the filibuster in the Senate, which only Harris mentioned explicitly in this forum, but other candidates support, it would be unlikely to pass both chambers.1 


Candidates that Mentioned Policy 

Why it’s idealistic 

Ending the use of nuclear power 
Warren, Sanders 
States have a large amount of authority to choose their energy mix and the impetus would likely be on the Federal government to replace existing nuclear plants with cheaper and cleaner options to replace nuclear AND natural gas in the electricity markets. Booker and Yang are supportive of current plants, and could potentially support adding new nuclear technologies. 
Ending subsidies for fossil fuel companies


All candidates


This will be near impossible without a strong Democratic majority and potentially the removal of the filibuster. Democratic Senators from states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania may find it hard to supportremoving these subsidies given the importance of the fossil fuel industry to their state economies. 
Natural gas fracking extraction ban  
Sanders, Harris 
The candidates are split on this issue: Biden, Yang and Klobuchar directly said that they want to wean off of all fossil fuels, but do not see a path to net-zero emissions without natural gas in the near-term future. An outright ban seems fairly unlikely given the level of division within the Democratic Party. 

Although the town hall format was a disappointment to the climate activists calling for a climate debate, it offered a rare opportunity for candidates to talk through the details of their climate plans. Overall, the town hall revealed commonalities between the candidates’ proposals and helped to form our first image of 
likely climate action if a Democrat is elected in 2020.     

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