|Dear EarthTalk: Where do the leading Democratic candidates for president stand on environmental issues?|
|—Leslie Mazur, Hauppauge, NY|
President Obama, with his recent push to join the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, will be a tough act to follow on the environment. But each of the Democratic candidates has shown a willingness to continue fighting the green fight and working with industry and other nations to rein in emissions and promote sustainable development.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stands out in terms of environmental commitment. He has been a vocal defender of the need for an international climate accord, initially championing U.S. participation in 2000’s Kyoto Protocol, a climate pact that ultimately failed due to lack of participation by China and the U.S. Since then, he has remained one of the most outspoken advocates for climate action in Congress. His current platform includes instituting a nationwide carbon tax and using the funds to finance the development of renewable sources of energy. He would like to see the country move quickly toward “fossil fuel independence” and is advocating that at least 25 percent of U.S. energy come from renewable sources by 2025. He is against letting the Keystone XL pipeline cross the United States with Canadian tar sands oil. He would like to see the federal government cut subsidies to large animal “factory farms” and move that money toward stimulating the organic agriculture sector. And he backs efforts to require labeling for any products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Frontrunner Hillary Clinton is no slouch on the environment, either. Like Sanders, she supported U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol and has been outspoken about the need to address climate change ever since. She terms the effort to achieve carbon neutrality nationwide as our “modern Apollo moon shot” and would like the federal government to pledge $100 billion annually to mitigate the effects of climate change. She recently came out in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, and shares Sanders’ desire for achieving 25 percent clean energy nationally by 2025. She is also pushing for more research and development in the alternative energy sector paid for out of funds otherwise earmarked to subsidize Big Oil. Otherwise, Clinton generally supports efforts to conserve sensitive lands and protect endangered species, and has consistently backed efforts to beef up the Clean Air and the Clean Water acts.
The remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination also boast strong environmental track records. As Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley spearheaded a statewide effort to protect roughly a million acres of land around Chesapeake Bay to bolster waning blue crab and oyster populations. He supports helping the clean energy sector get off the ground to protect the environment and provide jobs, and wants to double the nation’s energy efficiency in just 15 years and get the U.S, off of fossil fuels fully by 2050.
For his part, former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee supports increasing federal funds for fighting climate change and is a staunch opponent of drilling in Alaskan wildlife refuges. Historically, he has supported raising mileage standards, increasing public transportation infrastructure, and federally subsidized remediation for brownfields (contaminated lands previously used for industrial purposes).
Environmental advocates have their fingers crossed that, regardless of the outcome of the 2016 elections, the U.S. can maintain the momentum of the Obama administration on climate and related issues.