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How do Democratic candidates plan to combat climate change?

Arctic sea ice
The view from an icebreaker in the Northwest Passage, where melting sea ice has been one of the most visible effects of global warming.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)
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Wildfires, rising seas, and rollbacks by the Trump administration that undermine California’s authority to pursue pioneering environmental policies have put climate change top of mind for Democratic voters. The party’s presidential candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — both have robust climate action agendas.

It was a rare instance in this primary where candidates marched mostly to the same beat. Both Sanders and Biden vow to immediately reenlist the U.S. in the Paris accord to fight global warming.

Both would scrap all of the Trump rollbacks and set a firm deadline for moving the nation to net zero emissions, the point at which any greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are balanced by carbon sinks in the environment or technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The differences lie in how far, how fast and how much to spend. Are they calling for the phaseout of all fossil fuels by a certain date? Do they see nuclear energy as part of a zero-emissions future? Are they looking to immediately ban fracking? We break down where they stand and what climate policy would look like under the vision offered by the Democratic hopefuls.

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Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a bold $1.7-trillion plan for climate action that belies his brand of “incremental” progressivism. It doesn’t go as far as some of his rivals, but the Biden vision is hardly incremental.

During the Obama administration, Biden was at the forefront of pushing the world to embrace bolder climate action and the Paris accord on global warming. Faced with a hostile Congress, the Obama White House moved forward with aggressive administration actions aimed at cleaning up power plant emissions and moving the nation’s vehicle fleet toward significantly higher fuel efficiency.

Biden recognizes that the Obama plans were ambitious but also that merely picking up where the last Democratic administration left off would not fully address the urgent warnings of climate scientists.

He is calling for much further-reaching action and arguing that his deep experience in diplomacy makes him uniquely qualified to reposition the U.S. as the world leader in confronting global warming.

“On Day One, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden administration platform and put us on the right track,” the candidate’s plan vows.

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Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders prides himself on advancing the most far-reaching and aggressive plans in several major policy areas. Climate is no exception.

The Sanders plan has a price tag of $16.3 trillion over 15 years, an expansion of government and ambitious targets. He sets an end date for fossil fuels. And the spending he outlines for investment in green technology, natural resource protection and expansions of public land dwarfs that proposed by any other candidate.

The blueprint most closely reflects the goals laid out in the Green New Deal as drafted by progressive firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts.

In his plan, Sanders is talking about creating 20 million jobs. He is calling for cuts in military spending and “massive” tax hikes on fossil fuel income. There would be big investments in everything from high-speed rail to resiliency programs focused on such things as fighting wildfire and drought.

Sanders promises that “climate change will be factored into virtually every area of policy, from immigration to trade to foreign policy and beyond.”

Times staff writer Melissa Gomez contributed to this report.

Where the Democratic candidates stand ...


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Evan Halper writes about a broad range of policy issues out of Washington D.C., with particular emphasis on how Washington regulates, agitates and very often miscalculates in its dealings with California. Before heading east, he was the Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Sacramento, where he spent a decade untangling California’s epic budget mess and political dysfunction.