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Democrats release climate plans ahead of town hall spotlight

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Ten Democrats stand together during presidential primary debate.
From left, Marianne Williamson, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock take the stage for the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN on July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit.
Paul Sancya | AP Photo file

Democratic presidential candidates are releasing their plans to address climate change ahead of a series of town halls on the issue as the party's base increasingly demands aggressive action.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Obama Cabinet member Julián Castro laid out their plans Tuesday. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar released hers over the weekend.

The release of the competing plans comes as issues of climate and the environment have become a central focus of the Democratic primary. On Wednesday, 10 Democrats seeking the White House will participate in back-to-back climate town halls hosted by CNN in New York. A second set of climate-focused town halls will be televised by MSNBC later in the month. Liberals had demanded that the Democratic Party focus at least one debate on climate change, but a climate debate resolution was defeated at the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting last month.

The issue is so urgent among Democratic voters that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made action to limit the worst extremes of climate change the core of his presidential bid. But Inslee dropped out of the presidential race in August after failing to earn a spot in the September primary debate. Warren says Inslee's ideas "should remain at the center of the agenda."

Warren's clean-energy proposal builds on Inslee's 10-year clean-energy plan in seeking to implement 100 percent clean-energy standards in three key sectors of the American economy. Warren says she will increase her planned spending on research and investment to cut carbon emissions to $3 trillion. She embraces tough deadlines for sharply cutting or eliminating the use of fossil fuels by the U.S. electrical grid, highways and air transit systems, and by cities and towns. That includes making sure that new cars, buses and many trucks run on clean energy — instead of gasoline or diesel — by 2030 and that all the country's electricity comes from solar, wind and other renewable, carbon-free sources by 2035.

Booker's $3 trillion plan includes nearly a dozen executive actions to reverse Trump administration moves. He says that by no later than 2045, he wants to get the U.S. economy to carbon neutral — a point at which carbon emissions are supposedly canceled out by carbon-cutting measures, such as planting new forests to suck up carbon from the atmosphere. Booker also urges massive restoration of forests and coastal wetlands as carbon sponges and as buffers against rising seas. He sets a 2030 deadline for getting natural gas and coal out of the electrical grid. He would get there partly by scrapping all subsidies for fossil fuels, banning new oil and gas leases, phasing out fracking and introducing a carbon fee.

If elected, Booker says, he will propose legislation creating a "United States Environmental Justice Fund," which — among its areas of focus — will replace all home, school and day care drinking water lines by the end of his second term.

Castro's $10 trillion plan aims to have all electricity in the United States be clean and renewable by 2035. He wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 and at least a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. And, like Booker, he focuses on environmental racism, in which people of color are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards. Castro says that within the first 100 days of his presidency he would propose new legislation to address the impact of environmental discrimination.

Among Democrats seeking the presidency, there is little disagreement that climate change is a building disaster. Candidates' primary differences are over how aggressively the U.S. should move now to cut fossil fuel emissions to stave off the worst of the coming climate extremes.

The relatively minor differences among Democrats on climate change come in sharp contrast to President Trump, who has dismissed and mocked the science of climate change and has reversed course on U.S. climate policy. Trump made pulling the country out of the Paris climate accord one of his administration's first priorities, and his wholehearted support of the petroleum and coal industries has been one of the enduring themes of his presidency.

"What you will find in every climate plan that has been put forward by Democrats is a recognition that climate change is real, a major threat, and we must act," Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climatologist and geophysicist, said Tuesday. "But contrast that with the other side. A president, in Donald Trump, who denies that climate change even exists."

Nationally, 72 percent of Democratic midterm voters said they were very concerned about the effects of climate change, and 20 percent were somewhat concerned. That's according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters nationwide.

But there were clear ideological differences in the degree of concern. Eight in 10 Democrats who called themselves liberal said they were very concerned about the effects of climate change. By contrast, about 6 in 10 conservative and moderate Democrats said they were very concerned; about 3 in 10 conservative and moderate Democrats said they were somewhat concerned.