The 2020 election will likely offer the United States its last, best shot at getting back on track to meet the greenhouse-gas emissions goals outlined in the Paris Agreement and avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change. As Democratic presidential hopefuls continue to shape the party’s agenda for how to get us there, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet has chimed in with some ideas of his own, unveiling a sweeping proposal that includes $1 trillion in federal spending on the transition to clean energy.
“Climate change is a global crisis that we must confront now,” reads an outline of the plan released by Bennet’s campaign on Monday, May 20. “We need bold action and enduring solutions.”
The “America’s Climate Change Plan" calls for the establishment of a federal Climate Bank that, once capitalized by $1 trillion in government funding, would use grants, loans and other financial tools to encourage climate action, with the goal of incentivizing $10 trillion in private-sector investment in decarbonization efforts over ten years.
The plan also aims to designate 30 percent of the country’s lands and oceans as protected conservation areas by 2030, establish a variety of new programs and federal agencies to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector, and launch a “2030 Climate Challenge” that would reward state and local governments for taking stronger climate action.
Bennet’s plan is less comprehensive — and less ambitious — than proposals released by 2020 primary rivals like former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke or Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who last week released a painstakingly detailed, $9 trillion climate plan of his own. And it’s certainly a far cry from the Green New Deal, the aspirational blueprint favored by the party’s progressive wing.
The eight-page proposal released by Bennet's campaign is heavily couched in his well-worn brand of centrist, business-friendly language, emphasizing the importance of “private sector innovation” and “streamlining bureaucratic red tape.” This approach, it argues, will help minimize backlash and ensure that its key provisions can’t be easily rolled back by Republicans.
“Our plan intentionally engages a broad coalition of Americans to ensure that our approach to climate change not only is sufficiently ambitious, but will endure across American elections and administrations,” reads the proposal.
Progressives might view that rationale with skepticism, to say the least. But it’s a sign of how successful supporters of the Green New Deal have been in pushing Democrats to embrace stronger climate policy that Bennet, ever the moderate, is throwing his weight behind a significant expansion of federal spending and regulation to achieve net-zero emissions “as fast as possible,” and by 2050 at the latest.
"This is a step in the right direction for Senator Bennet in regards to the climate crisis, and it is a good first step," Michele Weindling and Nick Tuta, Colorado organizers with youth-led climate activist group the Sunrise Movement, said in a statement. "We would like to encourage Senator Bennet to follow Governor Inslee’s lead and to set an even bolder climate agenda. We feel that the Green New Deal and Governor Inslee’s 'moonshot' approach to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 to be a more appropriate goal in response to the available science."
While Bennet has generally earned high marks from environmental groups during his ten years in Congress, the Senate hasn't actually considered any major climate legislation in that period. The so-called Waxman-Markey Bill, which would have imposed a cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions, narrowly passed the House of Representatives in 2009 but was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote. Bennet called the bill "a significant step in the right direction" in a letter to a constituent at the time, but some progressives faulted him for working to weaken it — and he later claimed not to have supported it at all.
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Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Bennet’s onetime boss and fellow 2020 long shot, has yet to detail his plans for tackling climate change. In a Washington Post op-ed published in March, he criticized the Green New Deal for setting "unachievable goals," but misrepresented several key provisions of the resolution, which was introduced by progressive lawmakers in Congress earlier this year.
Bennet has also declined to endorse the Green New Deal. Activists with the Sunrise Movement have met with his staff repeatedly in the past several months, urging him to back the resolution. But the plan released Monday outlines a different vision for achieving the emissions cuts that scientists say are necessary to avoid catastrophic levels of warming.
"To combat this crisis as fast as possible, we must reignite America’s ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit in a shared mission," the proposal says. "We must do the hard work to build a diverse coalition here at home, and we can, once again, lead the world."
Update, 5/21: We've added a statement from activists with the Sunrise Movement.