The Big Economic Shift: Democratic Candidates 2020 Energy and Environment Report

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For the Democratic presidential candidates, there has been an intense focus on climate change, the environment and the energy sector.

A large number of the candidates’ policy proposals link in with or support the Green New Deal (GND).  The GND was one of the broadest and most aspirational proposals put forward by Democrats to change both the energy sector and the economy, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gases and fossil fuel use.  It is also the costliest ever proposed in the history of the country.  It was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in February 2019, and out of the 2020 Democratic candidates we are covering, it was co-sponsored by Sanders, Warren, Harris, and Booker.  Biden has also indicated his support for the GND.

The GND sets out several goals, including:

  • to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers
  • to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States
  • to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century
  • to secure for all people of the United States:
    • clean air and water
    • climate and community resiliency
    • healthy food
    • access to nature
    • a sustainable environment
  • to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’.

The GND then includes a number of proposed plans to bring about these goals, including:

  • building resiliency against climate-change related disasters
  • repairing and upgrading infrastructure in the US
  • meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources
  • upgrading to smart power grids
  • upgrading existing buildings
  • spurring growth in clean manufacturing
  • working with farmers and ranchers to make agriculture more sustainable
  • overhauling transportation systems
  • mitigating the long-term effects of pollution
  • removing greenhouse gases
  • protecting threatened ecosystems and endangered species
  • cleaning up hazardous waste
  • identifying other emission sources
  • promoting the international exchange of technology and expertise.

There are two main limbs to the GND: climate justice and investment.  The issue of climate justice relates to how the potential effects of climate change will affect ordinary people.  In terms of investment, the idea is that public investment would create green jobs.

Almost 50% of Americans worry “a great deal” about the effects of climate change.  In addition, “215 of the world’s biggest companies, including giants like Apple, JPMorgan Chase, Nestlé, and 3M, see climate change as a threat likely to affect their business within the next five years,“ and a Carbon Disclosure Project report noted that 73% of companies that reported to them have oversight of climate-change related issues at a board level.  Democratic candidates in 2020 are responding to these concerns from businesses and the public by putting forward policies that look into carbon emission reduction, resilience, research, and infrastructure changes.  The GND is a framework that the candidates are using to pursue these aims.

Many of the candidates have slightly different ideas or nuances to their plans that mean they approach these issues with varying proposals.  However, there is overlap in their plans to address environmental issues and the structuring of the energy sector.  As an example, all of the 2020 Democratic candidates support rejoining the Paris agreement.

Key Takeaways:

  1. All of the 2020 Democratic candidates support the GND in some way and propose numerous different approaches to implementing its framework.
  2. A large focus is on reducing reliance on fossil fuels and the oil and gas industries, with a shift towards 100% clean or renewable energy through a focus on research, innovation, and regulatory changes in the manufacturing, transport, and agriculture sectors.
  3. The final issues that all candidates attempt to tackle are climate resiliency, climate justice (focusing on those most potentially impacted by climate change), and “making polluters pay”.

Due to Harris dropping out of the race, the research will now focus on Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg.


Biden’s focus on environmental issues is long-standing and he has been described as a “climate change pioneer” by Politifact.  He supports portions of the GND and notes it as a “crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” but has not explicitly endorsed it.

One of Biden’s primary plans is his Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice.  In this plan Biden describes the issue of climate change as a “climate emergency,” and puts forward a number of proposals to implement the GND, as well as to “revitalize the U.S. energy sector and boost growth economy-wide.”  He believes that the US can be made into a “clean energy superpower,” and that clean energy technology can be created and exported in a way that creates and preserves middle-class jobs in America.

The Biden Plan sets out five primary goals, including:

  1. Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
  2. Build a stronger, more resilient nation (to climate issues).
  3. Rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change.
  4. Stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities.
  5. Fulfill our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth.

Biden also states that he would roll back the Trump administration’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act tax cuts to pay for the above goals, with the aim of creating a clean energy future.  The total cost of his plan is estimated to be $1.7 trillion in federal investment, combining this with private sector and state and local investments to total $5 trillion.

To enact his climate plan and the above five goals, Biden has also set out a number of more-detailed plans.  For example, to enact his plan for net-zero emissions no later than 2050, he would sign a series of executive orders. He does not explicitly state what he would include in each executive order.

In addition, he would also demand that Congress enact legislation making a historic investment in energy and climate research and innovation, establishes an enforcement mechanism, and incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy technologies.

In addition, he would:

  • Require aggressive methane emission limits for new and existing oil and gas operations.
  • Use the Federal government procurement system to drive towards 100% clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles.
  • Ensure that all US government installations, buildings, and facilities are more efficient.
  • Reduce emissions from transportation by preserving and implementing the Clean Air Act and developing fuel economy standards.
  • Establish new appliance and building efficiency standards.
  • Require public companies to disclose climate risks and greenhouse gas emissions from their operations.
  • Protect biodiversity and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Biden would also establish ARPA-C, a new Advanced Research Projects Agency focused on climate.  The purpose of ARPA-C would be to help the US achieve 100% clean energy by using “game-changing technologies”, focusing on:

  • grid-scale storage at one-tenth the cost of lithium-ion batteries;
  • small modular nuclear reactors at half the construction cost of today’s reactors;
  • refrigeration and air conditioning using refrigerants with no global warming potential;
  • zero-net energy buildings at zero-net cost;
  • using renewables to produce carbon-free hydrogen at the same cost as that from shale gas;
  • decarbonizing industrial heat needed to make steel, concrete, and chemicals and reimagining carbon-neutral construction materials;
  • decarbonizing the food and agriculture sector, and leveraging agriculture to remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the ground; and
  • capturing carbon dioxide from power plant exhausts followed by sequestering it deep underground or using it to make alternative products.

Biden would also target airline emissions as a large source of greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, he would promote and fund carbon capture and storage research and technologies.

He would also improve the deployment of clean energy throughout the economy, including energy-efficient buildings, electric vehicles, local transportation solutions, better agriculture practices, mitigating urban sprawl, and creating a national strategy to develop a low-carbon manufacturing sector.  Tax credits and subsidies would also be available to businesses so that they can upgrade their equipment, factories, and processes, and be able to deploy these low-carbon technologies.

Another part of the Biden plan is to build a more resilient nation when it comes to climate issues.  This includes developing building codes to build and rebuild before and after natural disasters and working with the insurance industry to manage and reduce risk, and the cost of transferring risk.  For example, he would aim to lower insurance premiums for homeowners and would work with FEMA to expand the Community Rating System.  He would also promote and expand the development of climate resilience industries (such as coastal restoration or resilient infrastructure design) to increase jobs.

He would expand both passenger and freight rail systems to ensure the United States has the “cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world.”

Biden also notes a number of steps that he would take to expand the global response to climate change, including:

  • Convene a climate world summit to directly engage the leaders of the major carbon-emitting nations of the world to persuade them to join the United States in making more ambitious national pledges, above and beyond the commitments they have already made.
  • Lead the world to lock in enforceable international agreements to reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation.
  • Embrace the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, adding momentum to curbing hydrofluorocarbons, an especially potent greenhouse gas, which could deliver a 0.5-degree Celsius reduction in global warming by mid-century.

This plan also includes putting in place measures to stop other countries from “cheating on their climate commitments,” by interlinking trade policy with climate policy.  For example, a Biden administration would stop China from subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing carbon pollution.  He would also demand a worldwide ban on subsidies for fossil fuels.  Biden would also reform the IMF and development bank debt repayment standards, so that projects with high climate costs would become riskier to take on.  Further discussion of trade-related climate plans is discussed in our report on trade.

He also proposes a form of climate justice, essentially promoting policies to protect those who could be disproportionately affected by climate change.  To do this, he would make it a priority for all agencies to “engage in community-driven approaches to develop solutions for environmental injustices affecting communities of color, low-income, and indigenous communities.”

Biden also has a plan to handle the impact of the energy transition on workers in industries such as coal miners and power plant workers.

In addition, Biden’s plan also includes:

  • over 500,000 public charging stations for electric cars;
  • incentivizing innovation in sustainable aircraft fuels to reduce airline emissions; and 
  • improving commuter and freight train travel.

Biden would also aim to improve appliance and home-building manufacturing standards, to reduce emissions, and would “put in place a national program to target a package of affordable energy efficiency retrofits in American homes.”  A further goal is to have low-income housing made more efficient, and for the US Department of Energy to increase their efforts to add new efficiency standards.

Finally, he would restore the full electric vehicle tax credit.


Sanders’ plans on the environment and energy sector are the largest policy section on his website, titled “Green New Deal”.  Some of these policies are also covered in other sections, but the majority of his plans are covered in this part.

His first proposal is to reach 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030 and complete decarbonization by 2050.  Part of this would be done by creating another Power Marketing Administration and expanding existing PMAs to build more solar, wind, energy storage, and geothermal power plants.  $526 billion would be spent on creating a new, modern, underground, renewable electricity grid.  As part of the plan to reduce electricity use, he proposes to improve home and business energy efficiency with regard to buildings and lower energy bills.  Heating and cooling would also be brought onto the electric grid, instead of being fueled from natural gas, propane, or oil.

In addition, he intends to reduce emissions generally by 71% by 2030 and reduce emissions among less-industrialized nations by 26% by 2030.  All energy generated as a result of GND plans would be publicly owned.

Sanders would not allow any new nuclear power plants to be built.

In addition, he proposes to create 20 million jobs for solving the climate crisis, primarily in the industries of “steel and auto manufacturing, construction, energy efficiency retrofitting, coding and server farms, and renewable power plants.”  He also proposes to add jobs in the sustainable agriculture and engineering fields, as well as creating a Civilian Conservation Corps.  Some of the jobs that the Civilian Conservation Corps would do include “building green infrastructure, planting billions of trees and other native species, preventing floods and soil erosion, rebuilding wetlands and coral, cleaning up plastic pollution, constructing and maintaining accessible paths, trails, and fire breaks; rehabilitating and removing abandoned structures, and eradicating invasive species and flora disease; and other natural methods of carbon pollution sequestration.”

He states that to create all of the above jobs, he would make a “historic” $16.3 trillion public investment “in line with the mobilization of resources made during the New Deal and WWII.”  He does not lay out the specifics of this plan.

He would also make sure that displaced fossil fuel industry workers would be guaranteed “five years of a worker’s current salary, housing assistance, job training, health care, pension support, and priority job placement.”  For any fossil fuel industry workers who are displaced by the plan, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit would be provided to employers who hire them.

Another of his efficiency proposals is to build “affordable and high-quality, modern public transportation”, and he would also set up grants and trade-in programs for the purchase of high-efficiency electric vehicles.”  Electric vehicle charging infrastructure would also be expanded, at the cost of $85.6 billion.  All school and transit buses would also be replaced with electric vehicles, and all diesel shipping trucks would be replaced with long-range electric trucks.

With regard to the transport industry generally, Sanders aims to massively increase public transit ridership.  He would expand the high-speed rail system, with a focus on intercity rail.  In addition, Sanders proposes to invest in decarbonizing the shipping and aviation industries as soon as possible.

He would also make large investments in sustainable agriculture practices.

Sanders would create a $40 billion Climate Resiliency Fund, intended to protect those who would be most affected by changes occurring as a result of climate change.

He would also put forward $200 billion towards the Green Climate Fund and would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.  The Green Climate Fund helps to promote the transfer of “renewable technologies, climate adaptation, and assistance in adopting sustainable energies” to developing countries, so that they can shift more rapidly towards low-carbon economies.

To pay for the GND, Sanders suggests:

  • Making the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Generating revenue from the wholesale of energy produced by the regional Power Marketing Authorities. Revenues will be collected from 2023-2035, and after 2035 electricity will be virtually free, aside from operations and maintenance costs.
  • Scaling back military spending on maintaining global oil dependence.
  • Collecting new income tax revenue from the 20 million new jobs created by the plan.
  • Reduced need for federal and state safety net spending due to the creation of millions of good-paying, unionized jobs.
  • Making the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share.

One of his ideas to promote research and development in sustainable energy, is to expand funding into an initiative called StorageShot.  He would put $30 billion towards this initiative.  It is based on the previously successful program, SunShot, which was run by the Department of Energy in 2011.  The intention of the StorageShot plan is to “invest in public research to drastically reduce the cost of energy storage, electric vehicles, and make our plastic more sustainable through advanced chemistry.”  The aim of this would be to replace coal and natural gas plants that serve as base generation for the electricity grid.

Under a Sanders administration, particular trade deals would be renegotiated with the aim of reducing pollution.  Agreements would be renegotiated in a way to “ensure strong and binding climate standards, labor rights, and human rights with swift enforcement.”

Public infrastructure would be retrofitted with climate resilience in mind.  This would include readying public highways, bridges and water systems to ensure that they are ready for any climate impacts that may come.  He would also invest in infrastructure and programs that are intended to protect the people and communities that will be most affected by climate change, including flooding, wildfires, extreme storms, drought, and sea-level rise.

One of the major proposals in Sanders’ policy is that he would “make the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution.”  As part of this, he would massively raise taxes on corporate polluters’ and investors’ fossil fuel income and wealth.  In addition, he would raise penalties on pollution from fossil fuel generation and would require fossil fuel infrastructure owners to buy fossil fuel risk bonds to pay for disaster impacts.

He would also require corporations to audit and report their climate risks, which would contribute to a national report called the Climate Risk Report.  This Climate Risk Report would be created by the SEC and the EPA.  Corporations the violate domestic climate goals would be subject to sanctions.

Sanders would also end fossil fuel subsidies and would end all new and existing fossil fuel extraction from public lands.  In addition, he would ban offshore drilling, and would stop the “permitting and building of new fossil fuel extraction, transportation, and refining infrastructure.”  Old and abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure would be required to be cleaned up, and leaking infrastructure would be required to be repaired by fossil fuel corporations.

Under a Sanders administration, fracking would be banned, and mountaintop removal coal mining would also be banned.  The import and export of fossil fuels would also be banned. Federal pensions would also be divested away from fossil fuels, and “financial institutions, universities, insurance corporations, and large institutional investors” would be pressured to move their investments away from fossil fuels and into clean energy bonds.

For imports, Sanders would place a fee on Carbon Pollution-Intensive Goods under the World Trade Organization General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Article 20.”

Several different government agencies would be reorganized and restructured to deal with a shift towards a clean energy economy, including the Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Energy Information Administration, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Federal Emergency Management Agency.  He would require these departments to work as part of a “centralized taskforce to phase out fossil fuels by expediting research, development, deployment, and technical support for polluting industries to ensure a smooth transition.”

He also proposes that all projects flowing from the GND would have “fair family-sustaining wages, local hiring preferences, project labor and community agreements, including buying clean, American construction materials and paying workers a living wage.”  Workers in clean energy jobs would also be encouraged to form a union, by establishing Bernie’s Workplace Democracy Plan.

Sanders proposes to support family farms by investing in regenerative and sustainable agriculture.  He would fund $410 billion towards carbon sequestration ideas, increasing resiliency, and focusing on design, technical assistance, equipment, infrastructure, and repaying debt.  As part of his plan he would also invest $41 billion to help large animal feeding farms to transition towards more regenerative practices, and $41 billion to help socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers who have traditionally been underserved by USDA programs.  Sanders also proposes the Rural Energy for America program to promote clean energy options for the agriculture industry.  This would allow farmers to grow and harvest renewable energy alongside their crops.

For more about Sanders’ proposals in relation to agriculture, take a look at our report.

Sanders’ plan also sets out that communities that need extra assistance in the transition to a clean energy economy would be eligible for additional funding through regional commissions.  $5.9 billion in funding would be distributed as follows:

  • $2.53 billion for the Appalachian Regional Commission
  • $506.4 million for the Delta Regional Authority
  • $304 million for the Denali Commission
  • $405 million for the Northern Border Regional Commission
  • $94 million for the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission 
  • $2.02 billion for Economic Development Assistance Program

GND funding for parks and public lands would be distributed equally throughout urban, rural, and suburban areas, and urban sustainability initiatives would be undertaken to improve the environmental and social conditions of low-income neighborhoods and communities.

Finally, he sets out a number of environmental justice principles.  This includes that “hazardous waste sites, chemical and industrial plants, aging lead pipes, and decaying infrastructure that endanger the health of all citizens will be fully regulated.”  He would also expand permitting rules to measure cumulative environmental impacts and require polluters to remediate those impacts.  In addition, all agencies would be required to comply with Executive Order 12898, which requires them to “identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law.”

Sanders notes that the first two years of the GND would be a big upheaval, and he would focus the first portion of the transition on energy assistance, by passing the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, to “help low-income families pay their heating and cooling bills.”  This would ensure that price changes due to the GND do not impact families as much.  He would also invest $964 billion for low- and moderate-income families to invest in cheaper electricity for heating and cooling needs.  Sanders introduced the Residential Energy Savings Act, which created a voluntary loan program allowing property owners or tenants to finance energy efficient upgrades to residential buildings.

Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have also proposed the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act.  This legislation would fund $180 billion over 10 years, with the purpose of retrofitting and improving public housing to reduce the energy costs of these homes. Energy retrofits would include things such as “new cladding, efficient window glazing, and electric appliances.”  This Bill was also co-sponsored by Warren.

Due to the link between energy and food, Sanders would also fund $215.8 billion for free, universal school meals.


Warren also has a large number of policies on energy and environment-related issues.  For example, some of her plans include her plan for 100% Clean Energy for America, as well as her plan for Accelerating the Transition to Clean Energy.  She also sets out a dedicated plan for Fighting for Justice as we Combat the Climate Crisis, and a plan for Leading in Green Manufacturing.  She also has a separate plan titled Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On.

A lot of the plans from Warren have a significant amount of overlap, and some of her plans repeat the same proposals as other plans.  Her plan for Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On aggregates a summary of a lot of her plans in one place.

In her Plan for Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On, Warren sets out the areas in which she proposes energy and environmental sector plans.  This includes:

She then goes into more detail on each of these plans.  She first notes that her Green Manufacturing Plan “would invest $2 trillion over the next ten years in green research, manufacturing, and exporting.”  Her Green Manufacturing Plan has three key arms:

  • Green Apollo Program
  • Green Industrial Mobilization
  • Green Marshall Plan

The Green Apollo Program would commit $400 billion over 10 years to clean energy research and development.  This program would also create a model based on the National Institutes of Health, to create National Institutes of Clean Energy.  The type of research that will be prioritized is “research that can be commercialized to help close the gap in hard-to-decarbonize sectors — such as aviation and shipping — and in areas otherwise underrepresented in the existing R&D portfolio, like long-duration grid storage.”  Warren would also expand existing energy R&D programs like ARPA-E.

The plan for Green Industrial Mobilization is primarily the idea of using federal procurement and needs to drive demand, investing a $1.5 trillion federal procurement commitment in “American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy products for federal, state, and local use, and for export.”  This plan is intended to cover a wide range of technologies and would require federal contracts to receive energy efficiency designations.

Finally, the Green Marshall Plan is aimed at encouraging other countries to “purchase and deploy American-made clean energy technology.”  The Green Marshall Plan proposes to do so by creating a new federal office “dedicated to selling American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy technology abroad,” and would use a $100 billion commitment to help other countries purchase this technology.  The new federal office would offer financing options to foreign purchasers to create incentives to buy American technology.

Warren also notes that the impact of climate change, as well as the impact of a shift to a clean energy economy, will affect different communities in different ways.  As a result, she suggests “prioritizing resources for frontline and disadvantaged communities,” as well as “benefits to uplift and empower workers who may be hurt by the transition to a more green economy.”

Her plan to Accelerate the Transition to Clean Energy involves “using the power of public markets to accelerate the adoption of clean energy.”  The primary shift would be that she proposes that companies should be required to share “how climate change might affect their business, their customers, and their investors.”  She notes that there are a lot of companies that could be hugely affected by climate change, as well as that there would be large effects for particular industries such as the energy industry, during the transition to clean industry.

She would also require the SEC to tailor the disclosure requirements by industry, so that, for example, fossil fuel industry companies would have to make more detailed disclosure.

In her plan for 100% Clean Energy for America, Warren notes that she is following an approach already set out by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, in the form of the ten-year action plan to achieve 100% clean energy.  She ties this in with her Green Apollo plan to invest $400 billion in clean energy R&D, noting that her focus would be on a few key industries, because “electricity, transportation, buildings, and related commercial activity are responsible for nearly 70 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions.”  She also notes that the Green Manufacturing Plan and Green Marshall Plan would be a part of this goal, and that she would fund an additional $1 trillion on top of Governor Inslee’s proposals, funded from the reversal of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Her plan is to achieve:

  • By 2028, 100% zero-carbon pollution for all new commercial and residential buildings;
  • By 2030, 100% zero emissions for all new light-duty passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks, and all buses;
  • By 2035, 100% renewable and zero-emission energy in electricity generation, with an interim target of 100% carbon-neutral power by 2030.

Like Biden and Sanders, Warren also proposes measures to help workers affected by the transition to a clean energy economy, noting that she would “ensure benefits to uplift and empower workers who may be hurt by the transition to a more green economy … [such as] … providing them with financial security — including early retirement benefits — job training, union protections, and benefits, and guaranteeing wage and benefit parity for affected workers.”  New jobs created under her plans would also be unionized.

She also proposes the adoption of 100% clean electricity, by setting high standards for utilities nationwide, requiring utilities to achieve 100% carbon neutral power by 2030, and to achieve clean, renewable, zero-emission electricity generation by 2035.  She also proposes the creation of a Federal Renewable Energy Commission, to replace the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to regulate the US electrical grid.  Federal agencies would also be required to achieve 100% clean energy in their power purchases by the end of her first term.

She would also expand federal subsidies to speed up clean energy adoption and would “establish refundable tax incentives to speed utilities’ deployment of existing smart grid and advanced transmission technologies,” and would expand the coordination between regions and states.

Finally, in her 100% Clean Energy Plan she proposes 100% clean vehicles and buildings.  To do this, she proposes setting standards for vehicle emissions, including 100% zero-emissions for all new light- and medium-duty vehicles by 2030.  In addition, she would invest in the modernization of the manufacturing base and would expand consumer tax credits for the purchase of these kinds of vehicles.  She also proposes a “Clean Cars for Clunkers” which is modelled on the Recovery Act trade-in program, to encourage consumers to replace fuel-inefficient cars with zero-emission vehicles.  Other forms of transit would also be decarbonized, including maritime, rail, and aviation.

For clean buildings Warren proposes to adopt new zero-carbon building standards by 2023 and will link Federal agencies’ grant processes to energy and pollution standards.  She would also eliminate all fossil fuel use in new and renovated federal buildings by 2025.  Part of the Green Manufacturing Plan would also be used to purchase clean energy products for federal building purposes, such as retrofits and heating technology.  She proposes to use a combination of tax credits, direct spending, and regulatory tools to also encourage private capital investments in energy efficient buildings.

Warren also has a plan to protect public lands and proposes “a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling offshore and on public lands.”  She also suggests using these public lands instead for “providing 10% of our overall electricity generation from renewable sources.”

Warren also makes a number of proposals with regard to sustainable agriculture in her plan for A New Farm Economy, which can be read about in our Agriculture report.

Her plans on Environmental Justice include a recognition that some communities could be more negatively impacted by climate change than others.  To resolve this issue, she proposes to improve environmental equity mapping, and to implement an equity screening for climate investments.  She also reiterates her plan to support fossil fuel industry workers and those displaced by a shift towards clean energy.  She also proposes stricter standards for water quality standards, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the capitalization of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

She would also attempt to mitigate flood and wildfire risks by instructing FEMA “to fully update flood maps with forward-looking data, prioritizing and including frontline communities in this process,” and by improving fire mapping and prevention programs.  At-risk populations would be prioritized in this process.

Finally, she would also “encourage the EPA and Department of Justice to aggressively go after corporate polluters.”

Warren states that the cost of her Green Manufacturing Plan would be covered by her Real Corporate Profits Tax, which ensures that “the very largest and most profitable American corporations don’t pay zero corporate income tax,” as well as by ending federal oil and gas subsidies, and closing corporate tax loopholes.  As noted, many of her other climate plans are proposed to be paid for by reversing the tax cuts in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.


Buttigieg’s plans for energy and environment are included in several different policies. His primary plan is titled Rising to the Climate Challenge.

Buttigieg’s plan has three different pillars:

  • Build a Clean Economy
  • Invest in Resilience
  • Demonstrate Leadership

His section on “Build a Clean Economy” is the most extensive.  First, he sets out proposals for becoming a zero-emissions economy by 2050, including:

  • By 2025, double the clean electricity generated in the U.S.
  • By 2035, build a clean electricity system with zero emissions and require zero emissions for all new passenger vehicles.
  • By 2040, require net-zero emissions for all new heavy-duty vehicles, buses, rail, ships, and aircraft and develop a thriving carbon removal industry.
  • By 2050, achieve net-zero emissions from industry, including steel and concrete, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors.

He then sets out more-detailed plans for each of these goals.  First, he proposes investment to help the US become a leader in clean energy technologies.  He would create a price on carbon economy-wide, that would increase each year.  A border-adjusted tax would also be applied to imported goods that had not been subject to a price on carbon where they were produced.

Buttigieg would quadruple clean energy R&D funding to $25 billion per year by 2025, and over $200 billion over 10 years.  He would also create a number of clean energy investment funds, including:

  • American Clean Energy Bank, with $250 billion of capitalization, to provide loans, grants, and guarantees to finance clean energy technologies, energy efficiency, and resilient infrastructure projects.
  • Global Investment Initiative, with another $250 billion fund, to partner on clean energy and resilient infrastructure projects that use American technology and are built by American companies.
  • American Cleantech Fund, which will be capitalized with $50 billion to support projects of new technologies that are too risky for the private sector.

He would also issue US climate action bonds, to help pay for clean energy and resilience deployment projects.  In addition, he would abolish subsidies for the oil, gas, and coal industries, including the intangible oil and gas deduction, excess over cost depletion, and other subsidies.

Next, he proposes to prioritize energy efficiency in a number of ways.  First, he would expand federal programs that offer affordable electricity access, including the doubling of the Weatherization Assistance Program funding, and $1 billion to the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program.

He also suggests a number of tax incentives, including an energy efficiency rebate to cover 30% of the costs of improvements for residential homes and apartments.  In addition, he suggests a tax credit for commercial building efficiency, and a new CarbonStar program that would provide consumers with information on which products have a lower carbon footprint.

His next proposal is to transform the energy sector in several ways.  His first proposal on this point is to establish a national Clean Electricity Standard (CES).  This standard would set national standards that still allow states and regions to develop more-tailored solutions.  However, the overall goal would be to meet the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

He would also incentivize clean energy deployment with tax credits for solar, wind, geothermal, and other clean energy technologies, as well as long-duration battery storage.  He also suggests integrating high quantities of renewables into the grid, with a nationwide network of high-voltage direct current transmission lines, and rules set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would help to work towards the zero-emissions clean electricity system by 2035.

On transportation, he would require that all new passenger vehicles be zero-emissions by 2035, and all heavy-duty vehicles be net-zero emissions by 2040.  The electric vehicle tax credit would be expanded to a maximum of $10,000 per vehicle, with the aim of helping lower- and middle-income families to afford electric vehicles.  He would also expand the EV infrastructure tax credit to build out charging infrastructure around the country.

Technology transition loan guarantees would also be offered to vehicle manufacturers, to help existing automobile assembly lines to shift towards different technologies.  In addition, he would expand the use of biofuels, and would establish a national clean fuel standard.

Finally, he would expand on the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge and would invest $100 billion over 10 years in surface transportation for cities, including modernizing subways and other transit systems.  He would also aim to enhance heavy-duty vehicle efficiency standards to try to move towards 100% clean energy heavy-duty vehicles by 2040.

Buttigieg also suggests setting up clean industrial technology standards and modernizing the manufacturing process, with the aim that industrial plants in steel, cement, and petrochemicals (for example) would be net-zero emissions by 2050.  To this end, $1 billion per year in R&D would be invested in advanced, low-carbon manufacturing research.  He would also enact rules that aim to reduce methane emissions and would support a Buy Clean program for federal government purchases.

He also has plans for carbon removal by 2040, including direct air capture.  This carbon would be stored underground and proposes to use this for carbon fiber material creation.

On farming and agriculture, he would support farmers to develop new tools and technologies to make agriculture more sustainable and productive and would commit $50 billion to R&D in agriculture for reducing carbon emissions.  He would also promote research in soil carbon measuring technologies and soil carbon sequestration.

Buttigieg also notes that he plans to create high-paying clean energy and infrastructure jobs in this transition and would also incentivize strong labor standards and would provide transition assistance for displaced workers and families.  He also notes that vulnerable and indigenous communities would be supported more strongly during this transition.  Finally, he also supports establishing the US Climate Corps.

In his second section, on investing in resilience, he proposes establishing “Regional Resilience Hubs” to help communities, which will help to understand and manage risks.  They will also be funded with $5 billion annually.  Buttigieg would also make sure that all federal infrastructure investments are climate resilient and would develop federal guidelines for investments and implementation of approaches such as nature-based climate solutions.  This is intended to build resilience to flooding, fires, and drought.  He would also establish national Catastrophic Extreme Weather Insurance.

His final section addresses how he would demonstrate leadership in this space.  He proposes using “every executive authority available” to take action to reduce emissions and require resilience in infrastructure.  He would also sign a “Buy Clean” executive order for federal purchasing.  In addition, he would strengthen SEC guidance on the disclosure of material climate risks faced by publicly listed companies.  He would also hold a Pittsburgh Climate Summit.

He also notes that he views climate change as a national security threat.  He would submit a more-ambitious US emissions reduction goal on an international level and would also take part in global efforts to reduce non-CO2 emissions.  He would also pledge $5 billion per year to collaborate with foreign governments on climate issues and would double the US pledge to the Green Climate Fund.  Bilateral and multilateral relationships on climate change, such as with China and India, would be focused on encouraging more climate discussions.


As stated in the Warren research, the Green New Deal would create significant changes to energy production and usage in the United States, with significant costs coming alongside. Many of the proposals are also reliant on technology that has not yet been invented.  This is a strong short-term negative as the economy will need time to adjust to new energy priorities.

The major issue with GND, and the candidates’ various proposals, is the cost.  The estimated cost of the GND is large and variable.  There have been a number of different estimates for the GND cost, such as “ $51.1 trillion to $92.9 trillion, or $316,010 to $419,010 per household,” from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and up to $93 trillion from the American Action Forum.

In response, many Democrats note that the costs of not dealing with climate change could be much higher and have much more than monetary effects.

The pathway to pay for these costs is a difficult one, as spending will need to be limited in other areas. Otherwise, taxes will need to be raised, or fines (for example, for polluters) would need to be significantly increased.

Another issue is the balance of energy sources that candidates’ are considering, as there is a difference between “clean energy” and “renewable energy”.  There are also major questions as to whether aiming for 100% renewable energy is feasible or realistic, especially to achieve in such a short time frame.

The problem with renewables including wind and solar is that they are variable.  They are not “dispatchable”, i.e. available to dispatch as need requires.  Rather, the amount of energy they produce changes day-by-day and hour-by-hour.  This non-dispatchable energy needs to be balanced with dispatchable energy from other sources, including nuclear and non-renewables.  Some suggest that non-renewable energy emissions could be balanced with carbon capture and sequestration, but this also comes with problems.

A major review performed by researchers for the Energy Innovation Reform Project found that effectively, above 60-80% decarbonization, the costs rise sharply and the benefits reduce.  While 100% decarbonization may be possible, it may be much faster and much less expensive to get 80% of the way there, and retain the use of some non-renewable sources, as well as nuclear.

The candidates’ focus on 100% renewables or complete decarbonization of the economy may result in increased costs that are simply unnecessary.  A better approach is a significant move towards decarbonization that is more balanced, faster, and more stable in terms of energy supply.  With heavy use of natural gas and coal, decarbonization past 60-80% would not be possible, but their continued use in limited amounts as backup energy sources could help an economic and energy sector transition towards significant decarbonization in a much quicker way.

Another good approach to reach decarbonization is the expansion of the grid to support the sharing of variable renewable energy sources.  This can help to balance out dips or variability in supply.  One major positive proposed by Sanders is the StorageShot program, which aims to allow energy to be stored much more effectively.  This kind of research could revolutionize the energy sector, and allow a much greater use of renewables, and their storage completely eliminates the issue of variability. 

On the positive side, the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act could promote massive manufacturing and job growth in areas with large amounts of public housing.  Many of these areas are so-called “red” states, and many blue-collar jobs would be needed to retrofit public housing in the ways proposed by the Act. For more about issues on housing, read our report.

Also, the creation of an energy department similar to ARPA-E would likely yield new innovations in electricity storage and batteries.  If scale electricity storage could be achieved, then the need for fossil fuels would abate rapidly as solar and wind would be able to generate the needed power.  If the candidates would divert more of their proposed spending to this task of solving storage, they would be able to solve the problem faster and have a larger, faster impact on the environment.

Essentially, the problem of greenhouse gases and climate change is one that the Democratic candidates are highly focused on, and their proposals are extensive in light of that.  The large costs of the GND make it a difficult “political pill” to swallow, as it would create major disruptions to the energy industry and would also require economic policy changes to get the necessary funding.

A problematic question is also a matter of cost: what are the costs to the economy and the population if radical changes to the energy sector do not occur (such as through a framework like the GND)?  While the economic costs of implementing the GND can be estimated, the costs of not implementing it are much harder to quantify.  Determining the balance between these options is therefore a complex one, as the results of each argument “winning” are not necessarily simple to determine.

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The Big Economic Shift: Democratic Candidates 2020 Finance Report


I'm Andy Busch

If things feel crazy in the world today, that's because they are. We are seeing huge shifts in risk and reward, leading to a lot of economic uncertainty and confusion about where we go from here.

As an economic futurist, I do things a bit differently than your typical economist — going beyond analyzing how today's financial policies impact economic growth, to focus on the super-charged trends driving much of today's global chaos and change.

  • What are Bloomberg’s GND-related proposals? I would be interested in seeing your excellent Biden/Sanders/Warren/Buttigieg reporting include Bloomberg.

    • Our metric for including a candidate is for them to be over 10% in polling. And the candidate needs to have put forward their policy plans. We’re still getting Bloomberg’s and will post if he breaks above 10%.

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