Indian-American presidential candidate Kamala Harris joins 2020 hopefuls with climate change plan

U.S. Senator from California Kamala Harris’ campaign slogan for the 2020 Presidential bid. (Photo: website)

Sen. Kamala Harris joined the Democrats’ climate change fray Wednesday (Sept. 4, 2019) with a multifaceted plan that aims for a carbon-neutral economy by 2045, a $10 trillion blueprint that amounts to her most comprehensive proposal so far on any issue.

Harris unfurled the plan hours before she was scheduled to take the stage for her portion of CNN’s seven-hour, 10-candidate climate change event on Wednesday evening. That forum follows calls from climate activists for a Democratic debate focused solely on climate issues, an idea the Democratic National Committee has rejected.

Many Democrats see climate change as a crisis, and Harris is not alone in rolling out a strategy to fight it in recent days. The U.S. senator from California placed her marker where she often does – between more moderate proposals, such as former vice president Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion climate blueprint, and more expansive ones, such as Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s plan costing $16 trillion.

“Climate change is an existential threat to our species,” Harris said in a statement. “The Trump administration is pushing science fiction, not science fact, putting our health and economy at risk.”

Until Wednesday, Harris had been more vague on climate change than on many other major issues. Her stump speech offers broad support for the goals of the Green New Deal promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., but she has rarely delved into specifics.

The Green New Deal calls for the United States to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions . . . through a 10-year national mobilization.” Several candidates released plans with longer target dates this week, an implicit recognition of the difficulty of reaching net-zero emissions in a decade.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that limiting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius could reduce its impact. That goal, the group said, “implies reaching net zero [carbon] emissions globally around 2050.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also made her stance clear Tuesday when she embraced the climate change plan offered by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a former presidential candidate who put the issue at the center of his campaign but recently dropped out. That plan aims to “decarbonize” key parts of the economy within a decade, and Warren said she would also toughen environmental regulations.

Harris’ plan includes variations of ideas embraced by many of her fellow Democrats. It calls for producing 100 percent of electricity with carbon-neutral power by 2030, a goal it would achieve by expanding tax credits, authorizing the Rural Utilities Service to take over and upgrade unprofitable rural energy systems, updating the nation’s electrical grid, and funding research for energy storage.

Her plan includes legislation to ensure that “50 percent of all new passenger vehicles sold are zero-emission by 2030, and 100 percent are zero-emission by 2035.” Harris would require all vehicles purchased for corporate fleets and transportation networks to be zero-emission by 2030.

The senator also would boost public transportation, raise clean-energy standards for new buildings and invest in improved infrastructure, particularly for schools and in low-income communities. Harris promises to end fossil-fuel production on public lands, end federal subsidies for fossil fuels and strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement efforts.

She also endorsed a proposal by Warren that would require companies to disclose the risks their activities pose to the world’s climate.

Many Republicans downplay the threat of climate change, and business leaders often argue that plans like those offered by the Democrats are impractical and expensive. Democrats and environmentalists respond that Republicans and “climate deniers” are ignoring or minimizing a threat that jeopardizes the planet’s future.

Unlike some other Democrats, Harris on Wednesday explicitly embraced a “climate pollution fee” designed to increase government revenue while driving down emissions. Though Harris did not provide details, other countries and jurisdictions have collected such fees through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.

This is not Harris’s first foray into climate policy. She sponsored a bill with Ocasio-Cortez that would score all environmental and climate-related legislation on how it affects “front line” communities and would establish an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability to ensure that all communities are treated fairly when it comes to environmental policies. She has also sponsored the Water Justice Act to commit $250 billion to improving water infrastructure throughout the country.

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