Climate Governance

Beto O’Rourke Unveils Sweeping $5 Trillion Proposal to Combat Climate Change

Photo Credit: Luke Harold

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke put forth a comprehensive four-part climate agenda calling for the mobilization of $5 trillion to make the United States a carbon neutral nation by 2050.

O’Rourke says that climate change is “the greatest threat we face.”

“We are announcing the most ambitious climate plan in the history of the United States,” said O’Rourke on April 29.  “We will ensure that we are at net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 and that we are halfway there by 2030.”

O’Rourke’s plan has drawn both praise and criticism from the environmental community, in part because of his environmental record.  

A mixed track record

O’Rourke, 46, served in Congress from 2013 to 2019, representing  Texas’ 16th District. He rose to national prominence when he nearly unseated Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.  Despite strong fundraising numbers, O’Rourke is far behind in the polls.  After a strong start, he has fallen in the polls due in part to the rise of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

O’Rourke’s plan to tackle climate change marks a major pivot from some of his previous positions.   Although he holds a 95 percent lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters, he has been a proponent of natural gas development, which he views as important to protecting national security.  During his time in Congress, O’Rourke twice voted to lift a 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports and voted against limiting offshore drilling.

“Beto O’Rourke will need to answer why he did not lead on climate change in Congress and why he voted on the side of oil companies to open up offshore drilling,” said Washington Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee’s campaign in a statement following Beto’s announcement.

O’Rourke recently refused to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, which has already been signed by Buttigieg, Inslee and three other contenders: Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.  O’Rourke, who comes from the top oil and gas producing state, said that he will refuse donations from fossil fuel executives but will welcome contributions from workers within the industry.  

However, Beto has shown a demonstrable shift in his positions leading up to his presidential run.  He reversed his stand on offshore drilling and voiced his support for the Green New Deal.

“I’m really excited about the leadership there to meet our commitment to the generations that follow. It is the best proposal that I’ve seen to ensure that this planet does not warm another two degrees Celsius, after which we may lose the ability to live in places like El Paso,” said O’Rourke about the Green New Deal in an interview with BuzzFeed News.

A detailed four-part plan

O’Rourke’s first major policy proposal is a sweeping plan that offers a roadmap to carbon neutrality in the United States by 2050.  

Part one of O’Rourke’s plan calls for a series of executive actions to reverse many of President Donald Trump’s destructive decisions and move beyond the actions of previous administrations.  If elected, O’Rourke pledges to re-enter the Paris Agreement, reduce methane leaked from oil and gas production, and leverage $500 billion to decarbonize across all sectors. Similar to Elizabeth Warren’s recent public lands proposal, O’Rourke seeks major changes in the management of federal lands, including ending new oil and gas leases.  

The second part would mobilize $5 trillion over 10 years to combat climate change. The first $1.5 trillion would be funded by changes to the tax code that would require corporations and the wealthiest to pay their fair share and would end tax breaks for fossil fuels. The money would be invested in research and development to achieve net-zero emissions, infrastructure to cut pollution across all sectors, and people and communities that are on the front lines of climate change.

Part three outlines steps to guarantee net-zero emissions by 2050, which O’Rourke says is in line with the 2050 emissions goal of the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal proposes a 10-year national mobilization for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions.  It also says that keeping temperature increase below 1.5℃ requires net-zero global emissions by 2050.

The final part describes O’Rourke’s plan to defend communities that “are preparing for and fighting fires, floods, droughts and hurricanes.”

O’Rourke’s plan draws mixed reviews

While O’Rourke’s climate agenda is the most detailed climate proposal issued by any candidate to date, he has already begun receiving criticism for not being bold enough.  

“We’re glad to see Beto release a climate plan as his first policy and commit to making it a day one priority for his administration,” said Varshini Prakash, Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement.

But she goes on to say, “Unfortunately, Beto gets the science wrong and walks back his commitments from earlier this month in Iowa to move to net-zero emissions by 2030. 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.”

Other environmental groups were more receptive to O’Rourke’s proposal.  Greenpeace USA Climate Campaigner Charlie Jiang offered the following analysis:

“Beto’s new climate platform is an important contribution to the national effort to boldly tackle the climate crisis. His promises to end fossil fuel leasing on public lands on day one in office, require federal permits to account for the costs of climate change, end fossil fuel tax breaks, and mobilize $1.5 trillion in federal investments to protect workers and communities and cut climate pollution are must-haves in any plan to respond to one of the defining challenges of our time.”

While it may have its shortcomings, O’Rourke’s climate agenda is a welcome change from many of his previous positions.  His recent proposal shows that there is a consensus building among Democratic presidential candidates that climate change should be at the forefront of the next administration’s agenda.  

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