Bennet links conservation with global warming in new climate plan

Democratic presidential candidate and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet speaks to guests during a campaign stop hosted by the Woodbury County Democrats on the campus of Morningside College on May 18, 2019 in Sioux City, Iowa. Bennet is one of more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination and the chance to face off with President Donald Trump in the general election in 2020. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

DENVER — Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet rolled out his presidential campaign’s climate change plan on Monday, announcing a proposal to significantly increase the protection of public lands, a target of achieving 100% net-zero emissions by no later than 2050 and creating a $1 trillion “climate bank.”

The plan thrusts Bennet into an ongoing debate inside his party as a host of 2020 candidates attempt to focus on an issue that polls show is among voters’ biggest concerns.

“This is a way of beginning to build a new coalition around climate,” Bennet said of his plan on a call with reporters.

“I think we have pursued a policy of one side of denial and the other side not being able to overcome the deniers. I think this is a plan that is attempting to do that.”

Bennet’s five-principle plan, if enacted, would commit the federal government to conserving 30% of America’s land and oceans, creating a vehicle for consumers to purchase 100% clean, net-zero emissions electricity from their power company and launching a so-called “2030 Climate Challenge” that would spur states to compete for federal infrastructure.

The priciest portion of the plan would be Bennet’s climate bank proposal, which would spend $1 trillion in federal money on infrastructure to combat climate change that, Bennet hopes, would spur $10 trillion in private investment.

“To combat this crisis as fast as possible, we must reignite America’s ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit in a shared mission,” Bennet’s plan reads.

“We must use every diplomatic and economic tool available to assert America’s leadership in this critical fight. We must do the hard work to build a diverse coalition here at home, and we can, once again, lead the world.”

Bennet said he believes that the plan, if implemented fully, will “build and sustain” 10 million jobs over 10 years.

Bennet did not detail exactly how his administration would reach the goal of achieving 100% net-zero emissions no later than 2050, saying his administration “would decide (that) in the first 100 days of the administration” as a way to “create consensus about what the right approach should be.”

The politics of climate are playing a key role in the 2020 Democratic primary process.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has staked his campaign on the issue, rolling out two plans to combat climate change.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has also rolled out his own climate plan.

And some congressional Democrats, with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have pushed the Green New Deal, a sweeping legislative package that would mean wholesale changes to the way the federal government combats climate change.

Polls show Democrats want this conversation. In a recent poll, 82% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents said climate change was a “very important” issue, ranking it at the top of the list ahead of universal health care, tighter gun laws and impeaching President Donald Trump.

Bennet said Monday that he believes what sets his plan apart from Inslee’s and O’Rourke’s is his efforts to create domestic markets to export clean technology from the United States and the focus on connecting conservation to climate change.

“I think it is great that we have a bunch of bold proposals out there,” Bennet said of his opponents’ plans. “We are going to have a competition of ideas.”

Bennet said he would look to push this plan early in his administration, hope he would have a receptive Congress.

Comparably, former President Barack Obama, dealing with gridlock and resistance from the legislative branch for much of his administration, fought climate change largely through executive actions, and those were ended once Trump took office.

Bennet said much of Obama’s climate work has been “ripped out by Donald Trump, a climate denier who never should have been president in the first place.”

“I am frustrated because I know a number of Americans support the fact that climate change is real and we have to do something about it,” Bennet said. “I am frustrated, not by them, but that we keep losing to climate denial.”

Trump, while running for president in 2016, equated efforts to combat climate with job losses, especially in the industrial Midwest and energy-producing states.

Bennet said he believes his plan can be “appealing to a lot of people in the middle of the country.”

“This is a way of beginning to build a new coalition around climate,” Bennet said. “I think we have pursued a policy of one side of denial and the other side not being able to overcome the deniers. I think this is a plan that is attempting to do that.”

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