‘We have to get used to the dollar (figure). That’s what’s needed to decarbonize the economy…’
(Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times) YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — Robert Francis O’Rourke (“Beto”), who has described climate change as the top issue of his presidential campaign, released a proposal Monday that would spend trillions of dollars to wean the country off fossil fuels with a goal to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
The former Democratic congressman from El Paso also pledged to roll back much of President Donald Trump’s environmental deregulation through executive order and to ramp up disaster preparedness for hurricanes, floods and other risks associated with a warming planet.
“The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” O’Rourke said 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.”
O’Rourke unveiled the plan midway through his four-day swing through California, coinciding with his visit to the Central Valley, which has been battered by drought, wildfire and flooding in recent years. On Monday morning, he’s to tour Yosemite National Park, which closed for nearly three weeks last year because of smoke from the Ferguson fire, which burned nearly 100,000 acres. None of the weather phenomena have been scientifically proven to be linked to global warming, but California’s disastrous forestry policy has.
Christy Goldfuss, who chaired the Council on Environmental Quality under President Obama, said O’Rourke’s plan had similar ambition to the Green New Deal, the initiative introduced this year by some congressional Democrats that called for a massive investment to move the country away from fossil fuels.
“The Green New Deal brought to light and animated for people where we had to go. Similarly, Beto’s plan points us in the direction,” said Goldfuss, who worked with O’Rourke’s campaign on the proposal. His plan “takes it one step further and talks about how we’re going to get there, in terms of the commitment to setting dates by which we need to make sure we’re measuring our progress, and talking about exact numbers in terms of investment.”
Though O’Rourke’s plan does not include some of the more sweeping social programs of the Green New Deal, such as a jobs guarantee for every American, it is more specific in its spending prescriptions.
O’Rourke proposes $1.5 trillion in federal spending, which could then be combined with state and local dollars as well as private capital for a total $5-trillion package.
The money would go to improving infrastructure, investing in clean energy research and assisting communities that would be disrupted by the move away from fossil fuels through housing and transportation grants, boosts for job training and small businesses and funds to clean up polluted air and water.
The plan, like the Green New Deal resolution, would aim to slash net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
O’Rourke pledged to work with Congress to make that 2050 goal and with making an aim of getting halfway there by 2030 a legally enforceable standard within his first 100 days in office.
By setting that standard, O’Rourke’s proposal said, it would send a clear message to polluters that there is a price for emitting carbon dioxide, which is exhaled by every human and mammal on the planet. The plan does not lay out a specific way to set that price and therefore to charge producers of greenhouse gas. There have generally been two policy approaches to carbon dioxide pricing: a carbon dioxide tax or a cap-and-trade system, under which polluters need to purchase permits to emit.
“If I was a politician, I wouldn’t want to lock myself into saying I’m only going to support a cap-and-trade system or only going to support a carbon (dioxide) tax designed in a certain way,” said Noah Kaufman, a Columbia University economist who specializes in climate policy. “It makes a lot of sense to show principles you’ll stand by but also be willing to discuss and negotiate how the details are filled in.”
David J. Hayes, a New York University law professor who served in the Interior Department under Obama, said O’Rourke may face pushback for his multitrillion-dollar proposal, but said what he called the “T-word” is necessary in this policy conversation.
“We have to get used to the dollar (figure),” said Hayes, who consulted with the campaign on the proposal. “That’s what’s needed to decarbonize the economy.”
O’Rourke does not specify how he would pay for the initiatives; the proposal says generally that they would be funded through “structural changes to the tax code” and ending tax breaks to fossil fuel companies.
Others in the Democratic field have made climate change a focal point in their campaign. A number of them co-sponsored the Green New Deal, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Another candidate and Green New Deal backer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, released a plan earlier this month to bar new fossil fuel leases on federal lands, which is also an element of O’Rourke’s plan.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has made climate change the singular focus of his presidential bid. Inslee, who unsuccessfully tried to push a carbon dioxide tax in his home state last year, has also embraced the net-zero emissions target by midcentury and called for a 100 percent clean-energy power grid.
©2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Liberty Headlines editor Paul Chesser contributed.