Beto O'Rourke unveils plan to fight climate change
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (Photo: Screen capture)

In the first major policy rollout of his presidential campaign, O'Rourke focuses on one of the most dominant issues in his party.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke on Monday unveiled an ambitious plan to combat climate change that spurs $5 trillion for the cause and aims to achieve net-zero U.S. emissions by 2050.

In making the first major policy announcement of his campaign, O'Rourke sought to get specific on an issue that has dominated the Democratic primary and increasingly animated the party more broadly — including in Congress, where U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made waves with her crusade for a Green New Deal. That plan calls for net-zero global emissions over the next three decades.

And in further elevating climate in his White House run, O'Rourke charged into somewhat politically sensitive territory for himself, drawing skepticism from one rival and some activists who did not consider the proposal ambitious enough.

"The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change," O'Rourke said in a statement. "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."

O’Rourke’s proposal has four main components. On his first day in office, he would take executive action to reduce pollution by doing things such as recommitting the United States to the Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump withdrew the country from in 2017. He would also move unilaterally to strengthen waste limits for power plants and fuel economy standards.

Then, O'Rourke's first demand of Congress would be to “mobilize” $5 trillion over 10 years to update infrastructure and speed up innovation to take on climate change. In his first 100 days, O’Rourke would work with Congress to devise a “legally enforceable standard” to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 and halfway there by 2030. And finally, O’Rourke would boost resources to help communities already facing extreme weather, including pushing a 10-fold increase in spending on pre-disaster mitigation grants and broadening the federal crop insurance program to cover more threats.

The plan also puts an emphasis on protecting federal lands, setting a more ambitious zero-emissions target on them — 2030 — while banning new fossil fuel leases on them. One of O'Rourke's rivals, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, proposed a moratorium on new leases earlier this month, and after saying last week that he was willing to consider such a ban, he threw his support behind it at a rally Sunday in San Francisco where he offered a preview of his forthcoming plan.

“Every single purchasing decision, leasing decision, that the federal government makes, should include the cost of pollution and the cost to our climate," O'Rourke said. "No more leases on federal lands for oil and gas drilling, and let’s make sure those leases that are enforced right now are changed to reflect the true cost in the royalties that are paid."

O'Rourke's plan would not be cheap, and it calls for leveraging the $5 trillion mobilization by a "fully paid-for $1.5 trillion investment." O'Rourke proposes paying for that through "revenues generated by structural changes to the tax code that ensure corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share." O'Rourke would also free up money by ending tax breaks to fossil fuel companies.

The plan marks the first policy rollout of O'Rourke's month-and-a-half-old campaign aside from an earlier proposal to have cabinet secretaries hold monthly town halls. And it comes as O'Rourke, once the most buzzed-about candidate, finds himself settling into a more normal campaign rhythm while other candidates take their turns in the spotlight he once occupied.