Pete Buttigieg is having a moment. Here’s his climate record

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2019

When the Trump EPA scrubbed climate change data from its website, Pete Buttigieg took swift action.

The Democratic presidential hopeful, who currently serves as the mayor of South Bend, Ind., promptly hosted an archived version of the webpages on the city’s website.

“Since the administration has suppressed the presentation of climate change data on the EPA website, the City of South Bend will host an archive of the site on our own servers,” Buttigieg said in a June 2017 Facebook post. “Thanks to the City of Chicago for leading the way on keeping this information available.”

Since then, Buttigieg — pronounced “BOO-tuh-juhj” — has gained national attention as a rising star in the Democratic Party with an impressive bio and a fresh perspective on climate change.

At 37 years old, Buttigieg is the youngest candidate to have entered the race so far. He would also be the first openly gay president; his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, is a humanities and drama teacher in Indiana.

After graduating from Harvard University, Buttigieg was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University before serving in Afghanistan for seven months as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve.

An avid linguaphile, Buttigieg is fluent in seven languages besides English. He reportedly learned Norwegian just to read books by author Erlend Loe in their original form.

Buttigieg supports upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement despite President Trump’s intent to withdraw. That doesn’t distinguish him much from the crowded Democratic primary field, as other candidates have expressed broad support for the climate pact.

Yet Buttigieg drew the attention of national climate hawks last week by signing the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, vowing “to not take contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.”

The pledge has divided Democrats, many of whom still rely on large contributions from oil, gas and coal companies (E&E Daily, Jan. 30).

So far, just over half of the crowded Democratic primary field has signed the pledge. That includes Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

Those who have opted against taking the pledge include Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, as well as former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. No Republicans have made the commitment.

RL Miller, co-founder of the Climate Hawks Vote political action committee, said signing the pledge put Buttigieg in the “top tier” of Democratic presidential candidates.

“We have 20 presidential candidates or thereabouts. And we have eight that have signed and 11 that could sign eventually and only one or two who just won’t,” Miller said. “Obviously, that places him in the top tier. But he’s not alone in it.”

Marjorie Hershey, a professor of political science at Indiana University, Bloomington, said Buttigieg’s decision to sign the pledge could help him win the support of younger voters who distrust large fossil fuel corporations.

“What Buttigieg has done so far is to make a very strong point about his refusal to take campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries,” Hershey said. “And that brings in the possibility of support from those voters who just don’t like special-interest money and who don’t like the oil companies. So it’s a way for him to take a stand on climate change that brings in a group of supporters.”

Clean car rules, Superfund

Buttigieg has also distinguished himself by speaking out against the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era clean car rules.

In April 2018, he signed a declaration from dozens of attorneys general and mayors opposing the rollback because it would increase greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

“Such standards are particularly appropriate given the serious public health impacts of air pollution in our cities and states and the severe impacts posed by climate change, including recent storms, droughts, floods and fires that have hit multiple regions of the U.S. in just the past few years,” the declaration said.

Asked for comment, Buttigieg campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said the mayor’s “position has not changed.” She didn’t respond to a follow-up request to interview Buttigieg.

As mayor of a small town in the Midwest, Buttigieg has also taken action on environmental issues directly affecting residents. That sets him apart from the many Senate Democrats running for president who don’t enjoy such close proximity to their constituents.

The town of South Bend sits on the St. Joseph River and has a population of roughly 102,000. It also has two Superfund sites.

In particular, state and federal officials have classified a site near LaSalle Park that’s a former hazardous waste dump. Several industrial polluters disposed of asbestos, solvents, oils and arsenic-contaminated sand at the site from the 1930s to the mid-1950s, according to EPA.

In 2013, Buttigieg wrote a letter to EPA asking the agency to engage more with residents on the site. It took four years, but EPA finally sent nine staffers to South Bend in 2017 to inform residents that the park was safe for recreational use, the South Bend Tribune reported.

Under a mandate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPA staffers asked the residents for permission to test soil near the park, the newspaper reported. Buttigieg did not attend the meeting, though he sent several staffers in his stead.

Asked for comment, an EPA Region 5 spokeswoman said in an email that the agency has “worked closely” with Buttigieg and the city of South Bend to address contamination at the site.

Buttigieg is still a long-shot candidate, polling at roughly 4 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning registered voters, according to Quinnipiac University.

He delivered a speech in San Francisco last week and impressed many progressive Democrats, said Miller of Climate Hawks Vote. That was notable because San Francisco is Harris’ home turf.

But it remains to be seen whether Buttigieg can garner the national name recognition necessary to become a leading candidate, Miller said, citing his lack of experience in the governor’s office or on Capitol Hill.

Hershey, the professor at Indiana University, said it’s still too early for polling to provide a meaningful indicator of performance in the race.

“There’s always a debate at this point in the process about what standing in the polls means at this time in the season,” Hershey said. “Our research tells us that having some degree of support in the pre-primary polls this early reflects little more than name recognition.”