Earth on Fire: Choosing a climate champion

Political pundits say it every four years, but this time they’re right the stakes of this November’s presidential election could not be higher. The next president will oversee our country’s strategy in the fight against ISIS, confront stubbornly high economic inequality and leave an indelible mark on the federal judicial system.

In a previous column, I wrote that the number one issue American voters should consider when deciding which candidates to support should be climate change. After the Supreme Court voted in early February to temporarily block President Barack Obama’s key initiative to reduce the United States’ carbon footprint, the next commander-in-chief will have even more power to influence the trajectory of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Today, Democratic voters across the state are deciding between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to be the party’s standard-bearer in November. What does an analysis of their records and platforms on this issue reveal?

Secretary Clinton‘s plans to address climate change are far-reaching. Pledging to build upon the directives issued by President Obama, the secretary calls for cutting domestic GHG emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, mostly by encouraging the growth of the clean energy industry, increasing our investments in public transportation and dramatically cutting our consumption of petroleum. Senator Sanders supports taxing carbon, ending the billions of dollars of subsidies Big Oil receives from the federal government every year and creating millions of new green jobs.

If both Democratic candidates support multitudinous initiatives to further the successes of the Obama administration, how should voters decide between the two? Let’s look more closely at the voting records and public statements of Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders over the years.

In 2011, well before environmentalists thrust the issue onto the national stage, Senator Sanders requested that the Department of State — at the time headed by Secretary Clinton — reevaluate TransCanada’s proposal to build the Keystone XL Pipeline because of fears that conflict of interest pervaded the initial review process. For years, Secretary Clinton refused to take a position on the project, waiting to announce her opposition to it until this past September after environmentalists highlighted the risks the project would pose to the nation’s air and water resources.

As a senator, Secretary Clinton voted with Republicans in 2006 to expand offshoring oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, earning criticism from key environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters. Whereas Senators Sanders has announced that his campaign will not accept any donations from the fossil fuel industry, the secretary has declined to do the same. Moreover, in her memoir “Hard Choices,” Secretary Clinton writes that the United States should pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy despite warnings from the scientific community that doing so would lock us into runaway climate change.

The secretary may have a bold strategy to address global warming, but Senator Sanders has the record to back it up. It’s time to send a true climate champion to the White House. Senator Sanders is that champion.