My plan to tackle climate change

Saving our planet should be this generation’s moonshot.

Kirsten Gillibrand
Jul 25, 2019 · 13 min read

Polar ice and glaciers are melting at a rapid pace. Heavy rains are causing catastrophic flooding in the Midwest, leaving farms submerged and homes and businesses destroyed. Changes in our oceans are disrupting fisheries and killing coral reefs. Droughts and wildfires are threatening communities across the West, and extreme weather is leaving millions of people without homes and causing billions of dollars in damage every year.

We’re already seeing the effects of climate change on communities across our country and the world. Climate change is the most serious threat to humanity today, and we need immediate and bold action to address it before it’s too late.

The scientific community is telling us that we only have a short amount of time to act if we’re going to prevent the most catastrophic and irreversible damage in the future. But President Trump refuses to even acknowledge that human-caused climate change is happening.

Climate action should be this generation’s moonshot. To save our planet, the energy, talents, and commitment of every American will be required, from our farmers and workers to our scientists and entrepreneurs. The next president has to be willing to take bold leaps to lead this effort and stand up to the climate change deniers, polluters, and oil and gas special interests. I will, because we can’t afford not to.

So today, I’m releasing my official climate change plan. As president, I will restore U.S. climate leadership with ambitious and immediate action to enact the Green New Deal, mobilize $10 trillion in public and private funding over the next decade and set us on the course to achieve net-zero carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. I’ll make climate polluters pay, transform our economy with good-paying green jobs, and protect clean air and clean water as fundamental human rights.

As President Kennedy once said about the moonshot, we should do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard. It will be a measure of our excellence, innovation, and entrepreneurialism as a nation.

We can, and will, rise to meet the biggest challenge of our time. Here’s how a Gillibrand administration will do it:

Get to net-zero carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions and phase out fossil fuels

With time running out to address climate change, we can’t settle for half-measures. That’s why I was one of the first supporters of the Green New Deal, an ambitious framework to save our planet by investing in infrastructure, creating a green jobs economy, and protecting clean air and water.

As president, I will also work to get us to net-zero carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions — nationwide and across the economy. We must set our ambitions high and aim to achieve net-zero emissions in the next decade, and we will put enforceable standards in place to ensure our whole economy meets net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

In a decade, I’ll strive to get us to 100% clean, renewable, and zero-carbon electricity, and I’ll prioritize transforming our electric grid into a system that’s designed to better handle renewable and distributed energy.

We can tackle a huge percentage of our carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on the transportation sector, so as president, I will phase in new vehicle emission standards to require newly manufactured cars and other vehicles to be zero-emission by the end of the next decade. I’ll invest in building out electric vehicle-charging infrastructure to meet the new demand and prioritize transportation funding for high-speed rail, public transit, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

But reducing the consumption of fossil fuels isn’t enough. We have to phase out production — starting now. As president, I will immediately issue an executive order to end all new fossil fuel leases on public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf. I will end all hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public lands and support restrictions on all fracking in other environmentally sensitive locations and near homes, schools, and agricultural areas. On private lands, I will direct the EPA to set stronger health and safety regulations and close the “Halliburton loophole” that exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. I’ll also end fossil fuel exports that are contributing to climate pollution overseas.

I’d make sure the federal government leads by example on this in all areas. I’ll set up a federal “buy clean” standard to reduce our reliance on carbon-intensive products for federal infrastructure projects. And I will require a climate analysis for all new major energy infrastructure projects so that we’re only permitting projects consistent with our net-zero carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions goal.

Our nation’s infrastructure must also be rebuilt to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. I will direct federal agencies to establish resiliency standards and require that all federally funded infrastructure projects are designed to withstand the impacts of climate change, sea-level rise, and extreme weather. Finally, any major new construction projects should be required to meet efficiency standards — and when we make repairs to buildings that have already been constructed, those retrofits should be energy-efficient, too.

Put a price on carbon and hold polluters accountable

For far too long, the fossil fuel industry has been allowed to pump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere with little restraint. All the while, they’ve raked in billions in profits — leaving communities across the country to pay for the consequences left behind. That’s why I’m proud to have taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge — my campaign does not accept contributions from oil, gas, or coal industries or their executives.

Polluters should be held responsible for the messes they make. So as president, I will create a Climate Change Mitigation Trust Fund, funded by an excise tax on fossil fuel production to generate $100 billion annually for climate mitigation projects. The fossil fuel industry — not taxpayers — will pay for projects to lessen the effects of sea-level rise, extreme weather, and other climate-related disasters.

And I’ll put a meaningful price on carbon — starting at $52 per metric ton — to steer companies away from fossil fuels and toward investment in clean and renewable energy. The revenue generated from this carbon tax, estimated at more than $200 billion annually, will then go directly back into our country’s transition to renewable energy.

American taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing an industry built on greed that’s destroying communities’ health and the planet. So I will work with Congress to end federal subsidies, including tax subsidies, for the fossil fuel industry. And I’d implement new tax credits to speed up the deployment of clean and renewable energy and energy storage technologies.

Build a green jobs economy

Americans have always been innovators, and it’s time to unleash our innovative potential to tackle climate change. I envision a new American industrial age — structured around the green economy and green jobs — that puts working people first, revitalizes our struggling communities, and repairs our infrastructure while reducing our carbon footprint. Building a green economy can create local jobs in every community of the country, confronting the crisis we face with climate change and an economy that has left too many Americans behind.

Even as we phase out fossil fuels and rein in industry greed, we can’t forget the hardworking Americans who depend on those jobs. I will harness the talent of these displaced workers to build a clean energy economy: I will establish a “green jobs recovery fund” to help affected communities build new opportunities. And I will prioritize clean technology jobs as part of a major national investment in communities hit hardest by the decline of the industry — including regions facing persistent poverty, rural areas in population decline, and frontline communities. I will ensure wage and benefit replacements are guaranteed for displaced workers, and make it easier for workers who are near the end of their career to find paths to retirement. We’ll also protect the health care and retirement funds of retired miners and strengthen the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

We must make it a priority to ensure green jobs are good jobs. Any federal investment in clean energy job creation will be coupled with strong job standards like prevailing wage and union neutrality protections, as well as use of project labor and community benefit agreements.

This new green economy can be a massive source of opportunity — and we’ll make it available to the people who need it most. We’ll target our hiring preferences to ensure that underrepresented populations and people who face barriers to employment have access to union apprenticeships in high-quality green jobs. And I will create a Conserve America Corps that builds on the legacy of the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps. We should give young people the opportunity to serve in protecting and preserving our land, forests, water, and other critical natural resources, and be rewarded for those efforts with on-the-job skills training and assistance to pay for college, a down payment on a home, or to start a business.

I’ll ensure the clean technologies of this new industrial age are manufactured by American workers, not by China or another competitor. I will establish a “New Frontiers in Clean Energy” cross-government initiative to develop the innovations that have the greatest potential for getting us to net-zero carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. I’ll require those technologies — anything from high-performance solar cells and technologies to improve energy efficiency in buildings to energy storage and clean carbon-capture technologies — to be made right here in the United States by American workers.

Prioritize rural advancement, frontline communities, and marginalized voices

Rural America’s farmers, manufacturers, and innovators are absolutely essential to our country confronting climate change. We should empower rural leaders to embrace clean energy as a way to cut costs, create jobs, and steward our natural resources. My plan envisions a rural energy revolution to help our rural communities adapt to and prepare for the effects of climate change, and build a sustainable, green economy.

As president, I’ll invest in rural America to protect the nation’s critical natural resources and support our rural leaders on the frontlines of the fight against climate change. I’ll create a Rural Resiliency Fund to help rural communities make their infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change, invest in disaster preparedness, and recover from natural disasters. I will also make resiliency a top priority of USDA research and agricultural support programs, and partner with our land-grant universities and extension service. We will support a transition to diversified, sustainable food systems that makes our farmers more resilient to climate and market forces. Extension networks will help farmers take advantage of new opportunities in clean energy production, including advanced biofuels, and help fishing and forestry communities adopt sustainable practices and build new markets.

I will also launch a “Made in Rural America” initiative that will make bio-based manufacturing central to our commitment to rebuilding America’s industrial strength. I’ll invest in research into bio-based manufacturing, and in bio-based manufacturing facilities and the infrastructure necessary to support growth in the industry, providing new markets in manufacturing for our agricultural products as alternatives to petroleum products.

During the New Deal, our country made it a priority to bring electricity to every corner of the country. It’s time to modernize that plan. I will invest $100 billion in building a more resilient, efficient, secure energy grid that is essential to clean energy distribution — which will also keep energy local to provide sustainable power to family farms and local businesses. Working with partners like rural electric cooperatives, I will make a major investment to build a smart grid across rural America while also expanding high-speed internet access to provide universal access to the fiber connections this new grid requires.

And while the effects of our changing climate are universal, there is a disparate effect on the quality of life and economic stability in communities of color and low-income communities — which have had the least hand in creating the climate crisis.

You can’t address climate change without a plan seeking climate justice. We must ensure that we prioritize climate investments in communities that have been historically left behind and those at the front lines of climate change and pollution. This means taking action to eliminate the sources of pollution in these communities and prioritize funding for efforts to clean up legacy contamination. It also means ensuring that frontline communities and workers have a seat at the table in developing and implementing our climate policies to ensure that they are fair and equitable.

My administration will respect and uphold the rights of indigenous communities. I will direct federal agencies not to approve major projects that would traverse or disrupt Tribal lands without first seeking and obtaining the informed consent of the affected Tribal governments.

Lead a 21st-century clean energy international “space race”

Climate change cannot be solved by one nation alone: The world must work together to save the planet we all share. America should be leading that effort, not retreating from it.

Scientists have been very clear: We need to globally achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and keep global temperatures from rising. So I will restore our global leadership on climate change and rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on day one of my presidency. But I won’t stop there.

When President John F. Kennedy started the space race, he didn’t know if he could get to the moon within ten years. But he did know that by challenging Russia, he would galvanize all Americans to support the mission to get to the moon first. Why not challenge China to a clean energy competition for this generation?

So let’s commit to a 21st-century clean energy “space race,” where we decarbonize our economies through innovation and investment at a scale that rises to meet the global challenge we face. I’ll put the entrepreneurs and innovators of America up against anybody, anywhere, anytime — because I know we’ll win.

Further, as one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, our nation has a responsibility to help developing countries adapt, because they are experiencing some of the most immediate and devastating impacts of climate change. I’ll ensure that we meet our commitments to the Green Climate Fund and other international institutions that fund climate mitigation efforts overseas.

And I’ll guarantee that trade agreements negotiated by my administration include strong climate and environmental provisions, and that the U.S. is leading the world in exporting clean technologies and renewable energy products.

Protect clean air, clean water, and public lands

The Flint water crisis should have been a nationwide wakeup call on environmental injustice. Millions of Americans lack access to clean water and clean air — and low-income communities and communities of color have borne the brunt of those health and economic disparities.

Clean air and clean water should be a fundamental human right for all Americans — regardless of who they are, where they live, or how much money they make. With Donald Trump in the White House, we’ve seen an unprecedented rollback of environmental protections — a gift to the fossil fuel industry and other big polluters. As president, I’ll restore and strengthen Clean Air Act regulations and reverse the Trump administration’s attacks on the Clean Water Act.

I’ve passed legislation in the Senate to address contamination of PFAS in our drinking water around military bases, an issue I’ve championed for years starting with the drinking water crisis in Hoosick Falls, New York — and as president, I’ll work to remove these chemicals nationwide. I also introduced the Promoting Infrastructure and Protecting the Economy (PIPE) Act to create a $5 billion federal water infrastructure grant program to help communities address urgent water projects. (Read more about my plan to help Flint, Michigan and prevent future water crises here.)

Lastly, I will support full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and our nation’s national park maintenance backlog, ensuring families everywhere have access to our nation’s greatest treasures. I’ll protect the integrity of the Antiquities Act by preserving our existing national monuments and protecting additional lands and waters of national significance. And I will protect our public lands from exploitation by banning any new fossil fuel production on public lands and phasing out existing leases.

When I visited Iowa in April, I met Fran and Jason Parr, who showed me around their home to see the devastating flood damage there. Families and farmers have been hit by historic flooding in places along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers this year, while communities like Cedar Rapids know this devastation all too well.

It’s hard to put into words what families like these have experienced: They’ve lost their homes, belongings, crops, and their land has been ruined by river water and sewage. Many will have to start completely over, but they aren’t broken down. Americans are resilient, and we know how to lift each other up and rebuild, even in the worst of times.

This story repeats itself across our country anytime a natural disaster strikes — whether it’s flooding in the Midwest, fires in California, or storms in the South and Puerto Rico. And we know that extreme weather will only increase in frequency and severity as our climate keeps changing. To truly protect our communities, we can’t just stay in the cycle of disaster and recovery — we have to honestly reckon with the challenge we face, and take action with courage and determination.

Climate change is the single greatest threat to humanity we’ve ever faced, but we can’t react with fear — we must be brave. We should set ambitious goals, enact transformative change on our economy, seize the opportunity of new technology, and lead the world in innovation. That’s what America has always done, and I believe we can do it again.

There is no higher-stakes fight than this one. We aren’t just working to protect jobs and communities; we’re called, right now, to save our planet. We can’t afford to delay or take half-steps. Together, we can face this challenge head-on and safeguard the future for the generations to come after us. As president, I’ll get it done.


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