This week, Tom Perez, the Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), informed Jay Inslee (and later the public via Twitter) that the DNC does not plan to host a climate debate. This comes after over half a dozen top-tier candidates have expressed a desire for such a debate, and hundreds of thousands of young people and voters signed petitions demanding one as well. It comes after multiple polls have shown that the climate crisis is one of the very top concerns of Democratic voters, and major candidates have released a raft of robust climate plans more detailed than ever before in a presidential primary.
In the aftermath of the DNC’s out-of-touch and premature refusal, young people, voters, advocates, and some candidates themselves have doubled down in their demands, unwilling to take no for an answer. Oil Change U.S. is proud to stand with the youth of this country and with our partners and continue demanding a dedicated debate on candidates’ plans to confront the fossil fuel industry and address the mounting climate crisis.
As news of the denial broke, #ClimateDebate began to trend on Twitter, and the DNC apparently went to work recruiting surrogates to defend the decision and attack proponents of the idea. They trotted out tired arguments such as not having enough time to devote full debates to specific issues, and hard-to-believe assurances that climate change will get its due attention during the usual debates (particularly hard to swallow given the history of climate change discussions in previous debates, as outlined by Lisa Hymas from Media Matters for America here).
But one argument from some really stuck out as so beyond the pale that it deserves some attention. The suggestion was that there simply is not enough to ask candidates about to fill an entire debate on the climate crisis.
[I’ll pause here to allow you to stop laughing and compose yourself.]
This is obviously a ridiculous assertion that shouldn’t need a response, but it got us wondering…off the top of our heads, just how many questions could we come up with that we’d like to see candidates asked about the climate crisis? So we made a list. To spare you from being forced to read a novel on climate wonkery, we decided to limit it to 60…enough to ask one question per minute for a full hour, although each of these deserve to be discussed at far greater length.
In no particular order, and undoubtedly still missing many critical questions…
- What do you think is the single most important step you can take as president to show leadership on the climate crisis?
- Have you signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge? Why or why not?
- Describe your plan to put the United States on a managed decline of fossil fuel production in line with climate science.
- What do you believe are the key elements of a just transition for workers and communities as we move our economy away from fossil fuels?
- Please describe how the principles of environmental justice and concerns from low income communities, frontline communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color will be heard and incorporated in the planning and implementation of your climate agenda?
- By when do you believe the US should strive to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions?
- Please describe how you would ensure the US lives up to the bedrock principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities as outlined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate change?
- After you commit the United States to rejoining the Paris Agreement, what will your next step on the international stage be?
- What do you believe is the appropriate level of ambition for the United States’ next revision to its Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement?
- Describe an action you’ve taken in your career in public service that you believe has been most beneficial to our climate fight.
- What level of funding do you believe is appropriate for the United States to contribute to the Green Climate Fund annually?
- How will you work with G20 nations to finally live up to the decade-old commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies?
- How will you take action to ensure our public lands are put to public good rather than used to dig up more fossil fuels?
- In your climate plans, what do you believe can be done through executive action alone, and what will need Congressional action?
- In order to get climate policy through Congress, will you support eliminating the filibuster? If not, what is your strategy to obtain 60 votes in the Senate?
- Do you support the immediate elimination of federal fossil fuel subsidies?
- Do you believe granting oil industry actors immunity from being tried for climate crimes is worth trading away to attract their support for a modest price on carbon that will not promote serious emission reductions?
- What lessons can you take from existing cap and trade policies in California and elsewhere to ensure communities at the fencelines of major emitters are protected from local pollution impacts?
- How would you define the “Green New Deal” and what role would it play in your administration?
- The Permian basin in Texas and New Mexico is set to see the largest increase in oil and gas development in the world over the coming years unless there is some intervention. How would you work with those states to ensure such a dangerous increase in production will be curtailed?
- A number of you voted in Congress to eliminate the crude oil export ban. Do you regret that vote? Do you support reinstating the crude oil export ban?
- How would you reform the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure it accounts for the climate impacts of natural gas infrastructure in its permitting process?
- The Obama administration’s Council on Environmental Quality issued guidance to incorporate climate impacts in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process agencies undergo in consideration of infrastructure projects, which Trump has since rescinded. Would you reinstate that guidance, and/or how would you strengthen it?
- Do you support a “Climate Test” for fossil fuel projects?
- What can the US do to help shift global financial flows toward clean energy, and away from dirty energy?
- How should the US support international climate action through its overseas climate and development finance?
- Describe your intended approach to engaging major emerging economies such as China, India, and/or Brazil in partnering with them to achieve climate goals.
- Do you support enacting a ban on exporting liquified natural gas?
- How will you address the increasing petrochemicals and plastics production in the United States as it relates to our climate crisis?
- How will you engage young people in developing and implementing your climate policy agenda?
- Do you believe companies like Exxon should be held accountable for lying to the public and shareholders about the dangers of their product and business model as it relates to the growing climate crisis?
- What do you believe is the best approach to address emissions related to deforestation?
- What do you say to the members of Congress who still deny the realities of the climate crisis?
- Do you support the rights of state Governors and governments to reject permits for fossil fuel projects via Section 401 of the Clean Water Act? If so, how will you go about protecting that right from future assaults such as that attempted by President Trump?
- Do you support the overturning of President Trump’s executive order forcing the approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project? If so, how will you ensure the proposed pipeline is put to bed permanently?
- How will you approach working with cities and communities who will face sea level rise (e.g. Miami) in supporting their residents as climate impacts grow more disruptive?
- What deadline would you set for phasing out internal combustion engine passenger vehicles, and what approach would you take to achieve it?
- Do you believe the Republican Party will ever rid itself of the influence of the fossil fuel industry and support legitimate and robust climate action?
- How would you adjust transportation policy to ensure cities and states are supported in pursuing public transportation?
- How would you adjust agricultural policy in the United States to support climate efforts? How would you include the voices and concerns of farmers, ranchers, and rural communities in ensuring a just transition away from fossil fuels?
- What key improvements to U.S. trade policy would you make to align it with our climate imperatives?
- Describe how you will deploy public finance for renewable energy to leverage private finance at home and abroad?
- What is your view on carbon capture and storage (CCS)?
- How would you work with the Energy Information Agency to ensure their energy modeling better guides work to incorporate more renewable energy onto the US grid?
- How would you reform the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to ensure their investments are aligned with climate imperatives?
- It is estimated that the military spends anywhere from $10.5 to $500 billion annually to secure oil supply overseas. How would you reign in these activities?
- Will you instruct the Department of Justice to drop the Government’s request to throw out the Juliana v. United States lawsuit and allow it to go to trial?
- What will you be looking for as you fill the positions of Secretary of the Interior, EPA Administrator, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of State and heads of other agencies directly related to our climate efforts?
- Do you believe that natural gas – also known as fossil gas, and much of it derived from fracking – is a “bridge fuel” in our climate efforts or that it is a “bridge to climate disaster”?
- Do you support a national ban on fracking?
- How would you reform campaign finance law to ensure the voices of people are heard over the dollars of fossil fuel companies and other big corporations?
- What is your view of new laws that have been passed in multiple states (and proposed by the Trump administration) to promote harsh penalties for protests of oil and gas infrastructure? How will you protect communities’ rights to protest dangerous infrastructure in their communities?
- Would you work to repeal the 45Q tax credit, which is used mostly by the oil industry to gain tax credits for injecting CO2 into the ground in order to dig up more oil?
- Do you support ending the use of eminent domain for private gain, including the taking of private land to construct oil and gas pipelines owned by private and foreign companies?
- How will you adjust U.S. immigration policy to react to the inevitable increase in refugees seeking shelter from climate impacts across the globe?
- Do you support ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, a key short-lived climate pollutant?
- Do you support removing fossil fuel industry actors from the UN climate negotiations, as has been done with tobacco industry actors in tobacco treaty talks?
- Will you acknowledge the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples to protect their traditional lands and waters from fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects? How will you work with tribes and nations to achieve this goal?
- Do you support a carbon tax? If so, why? If not, why not?
- How will you engage the labor movement to ensure they are a key part in our clean energy revolution and that jobs in the burgeoning renewable energy sector are quality union jobs?
You probably get the point. The climate crisis is one of the most urgent issues facing the world today. The answers to these questions matter.
The Democratic primary process needs a chance for voters to hear directly from 2020 candidates on how they plan to tackle the fossil fuel industry, supercharge a just transition to 100% renewable energy, hold climate criminals accountable, and invest trillions in the health and safety of our communities and the climate matters. There’s a major gap between the worst climate plan in the Democratic primary and the best few. And voters have made it clear they want to learn more about these differences.