When Hillary Clinton released a fact sheet detailing her plan to fight climate change on Sunday night, her presidential campaign characterized it as “bold.” Indeed, the goals outlined in the plan are significant — a 700 percent increase in solar installations by the end of her first term, and enough renewable energy to power every home in the country within 10 years.
But not everyone thought Clinton’s plan was as bold as her campaign made it out to be. That seemingly included the campaign of her Democratic rival, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, which sent an email to reporters titled “What Real Climate Leadership Looks Like” about an hour before Clinton’s plan was scheduled to be released.
What does real climate leadership look like? According to the O’Malley campaign’s email, it looks like having a definitive position on every controversial policy in the environmental space. Arctic drilling, fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline — O’Malley’s climate plan details strong stances on all of those topics. The plan Clinton released on Sunday does not.
Clinton’s plan does include ways to achieve her stated goals in solar energy production, including awarding competitive grants to states that reduce emissions, extending tax breaks to renewable industries like solar and wind, and investing in transmission lines that can take renewable power from where it’s produced to where it’s needed for electricity. She also proposed cutting some tax breaks to fossil fuel companies to pay for her plan, though she hasn’t proposed eliminating them completely like Sanders and O’Malley have. Vox’s Brad Plumer called Clinton’s goals “certainly feasible in principle, but the gritty details will matter a lot.”
Of course, many presidential candidates haven’t fully fleshed out their policy strategies yet — Clinton, for her part, has acknowledged that Sunday’s release represented only the “first pillar” of announcements about climate and energy. By contrast, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — her main contender for the Democratic nomination — hasn’t formally released a climate policy plan yet. But he has publicly stated his positions on many of the most hot-button environmental issues, including some that Clinton has not yet addressed.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at what voters can expect from each of those three Democratic presidential candidates when it comes to tackling climate change, based on their public statements and official plans so far.
It’s worth noting that this checklist isn’t definitive. Just because Sanders has said he supports many of these policies doesn’t necessarily mean he will include them in his official climate plan when and if he releases one. And just because Clinton hasn’t included some of these issues in her current plan doesn’t mean she won’t (or will) in the future.
It’s also worth mentioning that just because O’Malley has included all of these things in his climate plan doesn’t mean he’ll be able to achieve them. His plan leans steeply to the left of even the Obama administration’s climate strategy, which the Republican-led Congress is fighting tooth-and-nail to dismantle.
That a Democratic presidential nominee might have a difficult time achieving their climate goals, however, can be said about any of the candidates — especially considering the fact that more than 56 percent of current congressional Republicans don’t believe climate change exists at all. For environmentalists and climate hawks, that may mean that the candidate with the most aggressive goals represents the safest option.