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Kamala Harris releases $10-trillion plan to fight climate change

Kamala Harris
Sen. Kamala Harris is emphasizing her prosecutorial background in her climate change plan.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

Kamala Harris unveiled a $10-trillion plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions and avert the worst impacts of climate change, joining the chorus of Democratic presidential contenders who have vowed aggressive action to combat global warming.

The California senator’s plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2045, five years faster than the target of the Green New Deal framework championed by progressive Democrats.

“Climate change is an existential threat to our species, and the United States must lead the world with bold action to safeguard our future and protect our planet,” Harris said. “The Trump administration is pushing science fiction, not science fact, putting our health and economy at risk.”

The proposal comes as Harris and nine of her rivals are set to appear Wednesday at a CNN-hosted climate forum in New York. The marathon seven-hour event, featuring back-to-back 40-minute town halls with 10 candidates, underscores the newfound prominence of global warming in the Democratic primary, after garnering limited attention in the 2016 race.

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As Democratic candidates have jockeyed to one-up one another with ambitious plans, they all stand in stark contrast to the Trump administration, which has rolled back regulations curbing emissions and withdrew from the Paris agreement to address the crisis globally.

To hit her climate goals, Harris said she would spend trillions in public and private funds to overhaul the country’s transportation, energy and water infrastructure.

She would expand clean-energy tax credits to achieve 100% carbon-neutral electricity within 10 years, and increase vehicle fuel economy standards to ensure that all new passenger vehicles sold in the country emit zero emissions by 2035. Her plan includes a carbon tax that would pressure polluters to emit fewer greenhouse gases.

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Leah Stokes, a professor of political science specializing in climate policy at UC Santa Barbara, said Harris and other Democrats have embraced a sense of urgency by staking out ambitious target dates to eliminate emissions. But the symbolism of their goals understates the daunting task of stripping out carbon from the nation’s economy, which would involve far-reaching changes to how Americans work, live and commute.

“It is such a different world than the one we live in today if we were to have net zero-emissions by 2045,” Stokes said. “We need to. Can we get there? I don’t know.”

A centerpiece of the proposal is Harris’ Climate Equity Plan, which she introduced as a bill in July with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Democrat who has won national notoriety in her calls for sweeping climate action. The measure would require that any environmental legislation be evaluated on its impact on low-income communities.

Environmental justice — which addresses the immediate impact of pollution on marginalized people — has been a longtime focus for Harris. As district attorney in San Francisco, she founded a special unit to tackle environmental crimes in poor communities.

“It’s clear to me that environmental justice is very much at the center of what’s important to Kamala Harris,” Stokes said.

If Joe Biden had been inclined to take a middle-of-the-road approach toward climate change, he’s abandoned it, judging by the proposal he unveiled Tuesday — an aggressive $1.7-trillion, 10-year plan to combat warming that goes considerably further than the environmental agenda of the Obama White House.

Harris also pointed to her tenure as California attorney general to bolster her climate bona fides. As the state’s top law enforcement officer, she sued companies responsible for offshore oil spills and massive natural gas leaks.

As president, Harris said, she would hold fossil fuel companies accountable by ending their federal subsidies and beefing up regulatory resources at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice.

Other Democrats have released their own climate plans in the run-up to the televised town hall on Wednesday.

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New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker unveiled a $3-trillion proposal to make the United States carbon-neutral by 2045 and create a national environmental justice fund to pay for cleanup efforts in poor communities.

Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro’s $10-trillion plan would include an economic security guarantee for those working in the coal, oil and gas industries.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who released a blueprint for clean-energy manufacturing in June, said Tuesday she was expanding her proposal and now wants to achieve 100% clean energy in 10 years. She credited the goal to Jay Inslee, who centered his presidential run on climate issues before dropping out last month.

Warren is not the only Democrat to align herself with Inslee on climate; Harris’ plan also invokes the Washington governor’s leadership on a carbon tax.


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