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Election 2020

Climate change? Elizabeth Warren has a ($3 trillion) plan for that.

But it’s hard to see how her bold proposals would pass even if she does win the presidency.
February 14, 2020
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire.AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Election 2020: The 2020 US presidential election is a critical moment for politics, technology and policy-making. We cover everything from secure voting systems and disinformation campaigns to the future of jobs and plans to combat climate change.

Among the top Democratic candidates for the White House, Senator Elizabeth Warren has put forward one of the most aggressive, detailed and wide-ranging plans for combating climate change.

Throughout last year, she released a series of proposals, tightly interwoven with her broader economic reforms, that flesh out a particular vision for the Democrats’ sweeping Green New Deal and would nudge other nations to take more aggressive action.

Read other stories in this series

  • Pete Buttigieg’s $2 trillion climate plan is infeasible, but less so than most

    The Democratic presidential candidate has adopted more favorable views of fracking, nuclear, and carbon removal than his more progressive rivals.

  • Bernie Sanders has an audacious—and hugely expensive—climate plan

    But it restricts some of the tools we may need to rapidly cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

Her “economic patriotism” agenda would pull on several levers of industrial policy, creating a Green Apollo Plan that would inject $400 billion into clean-energy research and development; a Green Industrial Mobilization Plan that would commit the government to spend $1.5 trillion on American-made emissions-free technologies; and a Green Marshall Plan that would provide $100 billion to help other nations buy those US products.

Between these and other plans, Warren wants to pour some $3 trillion of federal money into climate-related initiatives over the next 10 years, partially funded by reversing President Donald Trump’s earlier tax cuts.

She also says she would recommit the US to the Paris climate accords on day one of her presidency. The landmark international agreement strives to prevent the world from exceeding a dangerous 2 ˚C of warming, but the Trump administration is in the process of withdrawing the nation.

Her broader plan to overhaul trade would require all parties to US trade agreements to commit to independently verified plans for cutting emissions under the Paris agreement, and eliminate their domestic fossil-fuel subsidies. It would also implement a border carbon adjustment, or a tax on carbon-intensive imported products, to discourage US companies from simply setting up shop elsewhere to avoid tightened climate rules.

Here are Warren’s position on other key energy issues.

Electricity: Her policies would set a target of producing 100% of the nation’s electricity from “clean, renewable, and zero-emissions energy” by 2035.

Vehicles: Her plan would require all new passenger vehicles and buses to be emissions-free by 2030. She’s also proposed a “Clean Cars for Clunkers” program to more rapidly remove gas guzzlers from the road.

Carbon tax: Her campaign has said she is “open to” a price on carbon, either as a carbon tax or as a cap-and-trade program, according to the Washington Post.

Fracking: On her first day in office Warren would declare a moratorium on new fossil-fuel leases on public lands, halting extraction of oil and gas that produce nearly a quarter of the nation’s emissions, she said in her public lands plan. Her campaign also told the Washington Post that she would “ban all fracking,” shutting the tap on a source that fuels about a third of US energy consumption.

Nuclear: Warren came out strongly against nuclear power during the CNN climate change town hall. She said no new plants would be built under her administration and that we should “start weaning ourselves off nuclear and replace it with renewables.” In a December debate, she softened that stance, saying: “We have to stop putting more carbon in the air. That means we need to keep some of our nuclear in place.”

Feasibility and risks: It would require a major shift in political power and a massive legislative effort to secure the buy-in and funding necessary to pull off Warren's extremely ambitious plans.

Even if the central components of her proposals did pass, many energy observers doubt the nation could achieve such an overhaul in the time frames imagined, given the sheer amount of money, material, labor, permitting, and political will that would be required.

The energy sector, other industries, and certain regions would fight back vigorously against many of these proposals, particularly a fracking ban that would eliminate lots of US jobs and render huge investments into natural gas drilling rigs, pipe lines, refineries, and turbines worthless in a stroke. Indeed, crucial battleground states like Pennsylvania, where several multibillion-dollar refineries are being built or planned, are counting heavily on the economic benefits of fracking.

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