Gillibrand lays down climate change markers, carbon tax, PFAS reform

Democratic presidential contender Kirsten Gillibrand is unveiling an ambitious climate change plan. She is pictured campaigning in Portsmouth in March at a Youth Climate Strike event.

Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand plans to unveil Thursday an ambitious climate change plan in the 2020 campaign, including a specific tax on carbon, $10 trillion of public/private investment and immediate implementation of the Green New Deal.

The New York senator vowed that, as President, she would work to eliminate the use of PFAS chemicals nationwide that have contaminated drinking water supplies in her home state as well as in New Hampshire, including in Merrimack, Litchfield, Bedford and Portsmouth.

“There is no higher-stakes fight than this one. We aren’t just working to protect jobs and communities; we’re called, right now, to save our planet,” Gillibrand wrote in her plan posted on Medium and obtained by the Union Leader in advance of Thursday’s roll-out.

“We can’t afford to delay or take half-steps. Together, we can face this challenge head-on and safeguard the future for the generations to come after us. As president, I’ll get it done.”

Climate change has gotten short shrift in the presidential debates but it’s a major policy theme for those seeking to unseat President Donald Trump.

Among this massive field, 14 Democrats including Gillibrand have embraced the Green New Deal while others like Joe Biden have called it a “crucial framework.”

There are 16 in the race including Gillibrand who signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, swearing they will reject any money from the oil and gas industry.

But Gillibrand’s plan in some detail goes beyond some of the more general rhetoric of her rivals. For instance, she’s endorsing a rate-specific carbon tax to try to convince private industries to choose cleaner energy sources.

“And I’ll put a meaningful price on carbon — starting at $52 per metric ton — to steer companies away from fossil fuels and toward investment in clean and renewable energy,” Gillibrand said.

“The revenue generated from this carbon tax, estimated at more than $200 billion annually, will then go directly back into our country’s transition to renewable energy.”

According to the Carbon Tax Center, eight candidates have talked about taxing carbon, but until Thursday, only three had mentioned specifics — South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney and Biden.

Buttigieg embraced the concept during an appearance on The Tonight Show, Delaney co-sponsored a 2018 bill that went nowhere and Biden endorsed the idea but with no rate starting in 2025, the Carbon Tax Center observed.

Gillibrand also wants to make polluters contribute to a new account to cover the cost of preventing or responding to climate disasters.

“I will create a Climate Change Mitigation Trust Fund, funded by an excise tax on fossil fuel production to generate $100 billion annually for climate mitigation projects,” Gillibrand said.

“The fossil fuel industry — not taxpayers — will pay for projects to lessen the effects of sea-level rise, extreme weather, and other climate-related disasters.”

She first pledged to get rid of PFAS chemicals during a climate change event in Portsmouth last March.

“I also introduced the Promoting Infrastructure and Protecting the Economy (PIPE) Act to create a $5 billion federal water infrastructure grant program to help communities address urgent water projects,” Gillibrand said.

Like several of her primary rivals, Gillibrand calls for setting an enforceable target of net zero carbon emissions by the end of 2050.

She’d start with the transportation sector and move to require newly made cars to have zero carbon emission by the end of the next decade.

“The next president has to be willing to take bold leaps to lead this effort and stand up to the climate change deniers, polluters, and oil and gas special interests,” Gillibrand said. “I will, because we can’t afford not to.”

If elected, Gillibrand said, she would sign executive orders to end all fossil fuel leases on public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf, to end all hydraulic fracking on public lands, and to end fossil fuel exports that she said were contributing to climate pollution overseas.

Gillibrand entitled her plan “Moonshot” and said the United States should lead on climate by by issuing a global challenge and by getting back into the Paris Climate Agreement that President Trump pulled out of.

“When President John F. Kennedy started the space race, he didn’t know if he could get to the moon within ten years. But he did know that by challenging Russia, he would galvanize all Americans to support the mission to get to the moon first,” Gillibrand concluded.

“Why not challenge China to a clean energy competition for this generation? So let’s commit to a 21st-century clean energy ‘space race,’ where we de-carbonize our economies through innovation and investment at a scale that rises to meet the global challenge we face.”