By Garrett Haake/NBC News
MODESTO, Calif. — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Monday released a sweeping, $5 trillion plan to combat what he regularly refers to as the “greatest threat” our nation faces: climate change.
O’Rourke’s four-pillar framework, detailed in a campaign memo, combines proposed executive action with legislation he pledges to introduce within his first 100 days in office and outlines further steps to take in response to climate-related disasters in the future. It amounts to the first major policy rollout for a campaign that critics have targeted for being light on specifics.
“The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” the former Texas congressman said in a statement accompanying the release of the plan. “We have one last chance to unleash the ingenuity and political will of hundreds of millions of Americans to meet this moment before it’s too late.”
On the campaign trail, O’Rourke regularly takes questions about climate change, including on Friday, when he told a questioner in Las Vegas that it was his “north star” issue — citing his children and the need to act to protect their generation.
The plan begins with proposed executive actions, including rejoining the Paris climate agreement on day one of an O’Rourke administration and moving quickly to raise efficiency standards for buildings, cars and appliances. Longer term executive actions include setting a net-zero emissions carbon budget for federal lands by 2030 and adding more national parks and monuments to protect land and seascapes.
The meat of the O’Rourke plan is a promise to send Congress, as his first piece of legislation, a bill that would mobilize $5 trillion over the next 10 years to upgrade infrastructure and spur innovation — including more than a trillion dollars in tax incentives to reduce emissions, and $250 billion dedicated directly to research and development.
O’Rourke proposes to mobilize this capital with a $1.5 trillion investment from “revenues generated by structural changes to the tax code that ensure corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share and that we finally end the tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks currently given to fossil fuel companies,” according to his campaign’s release.
The O’Rourke plan also has an ambitious long range goal — in line with the Green New Deal, which O’Rourke supports — to guarantee the United States becomes a net-zero emissions country by 2050. The framework proposes to work with Congress to set a “legally enforceable standard” in the administration’s first 100 days, with a goal to be halfway to net-zero by 2030.
The plan’s fourth pillar focuses on fighting the most immediate impacts of climate change, in the form of severe weather. O’Rourke proposes to expand federal crop insurance programs, increase spending on pre-disaster mitigation grants, and develop legislation to make sure communities affected by disasters build back stronger after storms.
O’Rourke campaign spokesman Chris Evans said the plan was developed in concert with “impacted individuals and communities, academics, scientists, entrepreneurs, advocates and activists, and local, state, tribal and federal government leaders.”
Evans added that O’Rourke has learned first-hand about floods in Iowa, drought in Nevada, and the fight over offshore drilling in South Carolina — directly linking the plan’s development to O’Rourke’s early campaigning, which has included dozens of town-hall-style events in which climate change is a regular topic.