The 2020 U.S. elections appear poised to deliver the greenest or dirtiest president in U.S. history. President Trump's playbook is already clear: tearing apart environmental policies, all the while repeating lies about cleaning America's air and water and characterizing Democrats' proposals for meaningful climate action, such as a communist plot that increases taxes.
But the Democrats' counteroffer to the electorate is becoming equally explicit and is everything the Trump team is not: detailed, credible, and firmly rooted in environmental and social justice.
Virtually all large candidates in the Democratic primary field have committed to setting a net zero emissions target for the US by 2050 or earlier, while most candidates have already published detailed climate action plans or are working on them.
The Sunrise Movement and the team of congressmen and women activists around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have put some noses on top of the party, but they have also sparked an arms race, as candidates have tried to outdo each other with more commitments. ambitious climatic conditions.
The Party's climate policy momentum opened a crucial new front when Sen. Kamala Harris, one of the strongest in the most recent televised debate, joins Ocasio-Cortez to introduce new legislation that will aim to ensure that climate programs benefit the disadvantaged and low-income communities.
Hailed as one of the first legislative steps in support of the Green New Deal program popularized by Ocasio-Cortez, the Climate Equity Act would introduce a series of specific mechanisms designed to ensure that efforts to decarbonize the economy do not leave certain regions and communities behind. The Green New Deal has faced criticism in some quarters for failing to comply with specific policy recommendations and a desire to look beyond emissions reduction measures to also offer reforms in health care, employment opportunities and social justice. But the proposed new legislation seeks to reject some of these criticisms by detailing how climate policies could be adapted to address deep-seated inequalities in American society.
Specifically, the bill would require new environmental regulations to be evaluated based on the impact they would have on low-income communities. Based on the independent approach of the Congressional Budget Office, which measures the cost of any new legislation, the proposed new mechanism would provide a score to determine whether the new policies benefit or hinder low-income communities that are disproportionately exposed to the climatic impacts and that depend on jobs in polluting industries.
Speaking to the New York Times, Ocasio-Cortez said the new approach would force lawmakers to think about the impact environmental decisions would have on communities. "We can't do anything without a CBO score, but we never really consider if it's disastrous for communities as long as it's income neutral," he said, adding that the proposal was central to Green New's broader vision. Deal. "One of the principles of the Green New Deal is to prioritize vulnerable communities," he said. “We have to talk about Flint. We need to talk about West Virginia. We have to talk about the Bronx and the ways in which climate change is manifesting itself in our lives. "
Under the legislation, the qualification requirement would be accompanied by a new independent Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability Office to represent vulnerable communities and the requirement that a new senior climate justice advisor be appointed in “all relevant agencies”.
The legislation is expected to provide one of the centerpieces for Harris's broader climate plan, which his campaign team said was being finalized. "Climate change is an existential threat - it is critical that we act now for a cleaner, safer and healthier future," Harris said in a statement. “But it is not enough simply to reduce emissions and end our dependence on fossil fuels. We must ensure that communities that are already dealing with clean water, toxic air and a lack of economic opportunity are not left behind. "
The latest development came on the same day that rival Democratic nominee, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, released the latest installment of his broad climate strategy, which similarly focused on climate justice.
The plan outlines proposals to target federal climate spending on low-income groups and communities of color, modernize the White House Council on Environmental Quality as the Council on Environmental Justice, and evaluate and score policy proposals for their impact on equity. climatic.
It follows four previous detailed climate policy plans that Inslee has released in recent months as it has struggled to push climate issues onto the agenda. Each of the plans has been accompanied by significant spending commitments, with the latest package proposing that $ 1.2tr of clean energy investments should be directed to low-income communities. It would also create a new fund to support those in fuel poverty who could be exposed to any increase in the price of energy that may result from a carbon tax.
Taken in conjunction with the zero net commitments of other leading candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, the candidates' focus on climate action could be hugely significant for companies and investors. Not only are the new plans ambitious in scope, but many of the specific policy proposals are being structured to allow a new president to push through reforms through executive action, assuming that Democrats cannot secure a super majority in both houses. .
At the same time, there is encouraging poll evidence to suggest significant support for bolder climate action among American voters with a recent poll showing that only 29 percent of people approve of President Trump's stance on climate change. There are also signs that some Republicans are responding to electoral pressure, even if the White House's olive branch to environmentally-conscious voters does not extend beyond repeating lines about cleaning America's water. The Hill reported last week that a surprising bipartisan showdown in the House of Representatives has seen Republicans and Democrats introduce a series of bills in recent days that would introduce various carbon pricing mechanisms.
It's hard to overstate both the importance of next year's presidential election and the scale of the gulf between potential candidates. On one side of the aisle, a Trump victory would trigger a new assault on US environmental policies and would surely encourage other governments around the world to emulate the US president. On the contrary, a Democratic president would step in. in the White House with a radical decarbonization strategy, ambitious emissions targets, a new focus on environmental justice and strong public support. Green companies may have a hard time planning such diametrically opposite outcomes, but there is little doubt that they will view the high-stakes race with interest and not a bit of nervousness.