Meet the Candidate: Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris became the latest presidential candidate to roll out an ambitious plan to combat climate change Wednesday, hours before she is set to appear at a “climate crisis” town hall hosted by CNN.
In Harris’ proposal, the California senator promises to help the country reach an aggressive set of environmental benchmarks. Her plan calls for phasing out sales of gas-powered cars by 2035, mandating carbon-neutral building standards and steering utilities to renewable sources of energy.
By 2045, the United States will have “a clean, carbon neutral economy” by “using progressive year-on-year benchmarks that target individual sectors, including energy, transportation, infrastructure, industry and agriculture that meet appropriate goals for reducing emissions,” Harris’ plan pledges.
Harris also says that, as president, she will partner with her home state on tailpipe emissions — a leading source of greenhouse gas — reinforcing California’s unique authority under the Clean Air Act of 1970, which allows it to set car emissions standards independent of the federal government. Harris suggests she’d like to go even further than the standards California and the Obama administration agreed to in 2012, which the Trump administration is now trying to undo.
Her plan endorses a bill by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, that would phase out sales of gas-powered cars over time. Merkley’s “zero-emissions vehicles act” aims to boost sales of electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars. Harris would shift American consumers away from gas by offering a new “cash for clunkers” program, increasing electric vehicle tax credits and requiring corporations to shift to zero-emission vehicle fleets.
Harris wants “100 percent” of new car sales in 2035 to be zero-emission vehicles, a target that is five years faster than the one Merkley sets in his bill.
And she says that a Harris White House would provide funding to California and other Western states that face a growing risk of wildfire to “implement community wildfire protection plans.” She does not specify a sum.
Harris’ campaign estimates her proposal will cost $10 trillion “in public and private funding.”
The Harris campaign unveiled her climate plan a day after fellow 2020 Democratic contenders Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro rolled out their own proposals to combat the growing threats of a warming planet. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his own $16 trillion plan in late August, while visiting Northern California and touring the destruction of the 2018 Camp Fire.
Like Booker, Harris’ proposal emphasizes environmental justice, promising that rural communities and communities of color will have “ a seat at the table in decision making.”
Her plan incorporates the Climate Equity Act that the senator introduced with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in late July, requiring additional scrutiny of environmental regulations that have significant impacts on communities that often suffer most heavily from pollution and economic disruption.
Despite Harris’ support for Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution and other policies to slow climate change, she has struggled to win over environmental activists in the Democratic primary race for president. Before she introduced her climate plan, Greenpeace USA gave her a C grade on the environment, ranking her 11th among the field of 18 candidates.
Harris also faced blowback from green groups after it was reported she planned to skip the CNN climate forum to attend fundraisers in California. Her campaign later confirmed that she would participate in the live forum, where candidates will take questions from voters in the audience.
A new Morning Consult poll conducted for the Sierra Club released Wednesday morning saw Harris’ support sinking among like Democratic primary voters who said a candidate’s climate plan is very important to their vote. Her support dropped to 7 percent from 13 in the last Sierra Club poll, conducted in July.
Former Vice President Joe Biden led the pack, with the support of 30 percent of so-called “climate voters.”
The poll indicated, however, that Democratic voters will be pleased by many of the planks in Harris’ climate plan. Among those surveyed, 90 percent said they support transitioning the country to 100 percent clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar by the year 2030, including 61 percent who support it “strongly.”
And 88 percent back “a comprehensive national plan to tackle the twin crises of climate change and inequality by investing in the clean energy economy.”
Michael Wilner contributed to this story.