Here come the Dems. Can one win the White House on climate?

Source: Adam Aton, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, January 4, 2019

Democrats are already running to the left of their last presidential nominee’s climate platform.

Washington Gov. Jay Insleed yesterday became the latest Democrat to announce his presidential plans, previewing a campaign built around climate action. Green jobs were the focus of his curtain-raiser interview with The Atlantic. And last month, he outlined a low-emissions agenda to supplant his other preferred policy, a carbon tax.

Most of the 2020 Democratic field isn’t far behind.

Potential contenders like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have endorsed decarbonizing the economy through a massive jobs program, one of the aims of the “Green New Deal.” Billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg have spent big bucks on climate initiatives, including state-level efforts to boost renewables (Steyer) and hamper coal (Bloomberg).

Even Rep. John Delaney (D), the Maryland congressman who has been running a long-shot campaign since 2017, has called a carbon tax “the single most important thing we need to tackle climate change.”

That’s more than Hillary Clinton outlined in her 2016 platform. The former secretary of State had considered pricing carbon at $42 per ton, according to emails released by WikiLeaks, but she shelved the plan because her team saw it as a political liability that would die in Congress (Climatewire, Oct. 21, 2016).

Now, Democratic presidential candidates worry about the liability of lagging behind their congressional counterparts.

“If your 2020 platform doesn’t include a Green New Deal, are you really running for President?” read a tweet from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), with a winking emoji over a story about Sen. Elizabeth Warren supporting the “idea” of a “Green New Deal” — something a staffer of hers toldAxios after the Massachusetts Democrat omitted it from her campaign rollout video.

Experts credit the leftward shift to natural disasters, which have caused historic damage as scientists grow more confident about connecting them to climate change, as well as pressure from grassroots advocates.

Inslee’s focus on climate could force other candidates to sharpen their own pitches, said Edward Walker, a sociology professor at UCLA.

“With someone [like Inslee] who’s so forcefully committed on this, I think it’s going to put everyone else in a position to be a little more accountable on those ideas,” he said.

The Sunrise Movement, which led a sit-in at House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office, has been meeting with prospective candidates about supporting the “Green New Deal,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, the group’s communications director. “We’re going to be keeping up the pressure; we’re going to be at events all across the country … to demand these politicians stand with our generation,” O’Hanlon said.

Some prospective candidates are still closer to Clinton than Ocasio-Cortez. Govs. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Steve Bullock of Montana have boosted their home states’ fossil fuel industries. But they’re looking like outliers, said RL Miller of Climate Hawks Vote.

“The ‘Green New Deal’ is shaping up as the litmus test. Almost everybody is going to at least pay lip service to it,” she said.

With multiple candidates echoing that line, activists will look for presidential campaigns that reject fossil fuel contributions and candidates with records to match their rhetoric.

The leftward lurch worries some people concerned about appealing to voters in swing states. That’s especially true of observers in Washington state, where voters rejected two carbon tax ballot initiatives during Inslee’s governorship.

If Democrats want to build on former President Obama’s actions, it will take legislation — and that will take Republicans, said Steve Valk of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. A presidential campaign that turns climate change radioactive for GOP lawmakers and voters will be counterproductive to taxing carbon or boosting green jobs, he said.

Some in the Evergreen State, stung by the recent carbon tax losses, worry that the Democratic nominee could blow it against President Trump by focusing too much on climate.

Nives Dol&154;ak, a professor who specializes in environmental affairs at the University of Washington, said Inslee deserves plaudits for his green agenda. But this is about winning, and Inslee hasn’t proved he can drive climate policy in his own state.

Although Democrats like polls showing that voters are worried about climate change and supportive of renewable energy, the past two carbon tax referendums in Washington state — as well as French protests against a gas tax — have shown how people react when those policies become real, said Aseem Prakash, another professor at the University of Washington.

A safer bet would be pitching voters on a return to Obama’s agenda and assuring voters that a climate plan won’t make their life harder, Prakash said.

“One has to control the radicalism of the extreme left, which may be idealistically excellent. But the important thing is to win. There is no glory in having a radical platform that loses,” Prakash said.