YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California, April 29, 2019 (ENS) – Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke today proposed a climate change action plan that would mobilize $5 trillion over 10 years, require net-zero emissions by 2050 and address “the greatest threat” facing the human race.

“Climate change is the greatest threat we face,” O’Rourke said today, announcing his plan today at Yosemite National Park, “one which will test our country, our democracy, and every single one of us.”

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Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke presents his newly minted $5 trillion climate crisis plan in Yosemite National Park,  California, April 29, 2019 (Photo courtesy Beto O’Rourke via Twitter)

“We are living in a transformed reality, where our longstanding inaction has not only impacted our climate but led to a growing emergency that has already started to sap our economic prosperity and public health – worsening inequality and threatening our safety and security,” said O’Rourke, a former U.S. congressman (January 3, 2013 – January 3, 2019) who hails from the border city of El Paso, Texas.

He worries that the costs of climate change will measure in the tens of trillions of dollars, in lives lost, and livelihoods devastated and destroyed.

“We are the first generation to feel the climate crisis, and the last generation with the ability to avert its worst impacts,” he said today. “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.”

President Donald Trump has called climate change “a hoax invented by the Chinese,” and withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement. The Democratic National Committee says that “by choosing to ignore the consensus of the scientific community on climate change,” Trump is “putting our country’s health, security, and economy at risk.”

Environmental concerns are top-of-mind for O’Rouke who reminds us that 60 million Americans live where the water they drink is unsafe; 140 million Americans live where the air they breathe is unsafe, and aging infrastructure and unchecked climate change will make these issues worse.

“Climate change has a distressingly disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities across the United States and around the world,” O’Rourke said.

In addition, climate change is worsening global conflicts, reversing social and economic progress, and driving families to migrate in order to escape disasters.

O’Rourke is taking seriously the U.S. military’s description of climate change as a “threat multiplier,” that poses new and severe risks to U.S. troops and military bases.

In 2014, then U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel called global warming a “threat multiplier,” saying rising seas and increasing numbers of severe weather events could exacerbate the dangers posed by threats ranging from infectious disease to terrorism.

As president, O’Rourke says he would begin to cut pollution with executive actions on his first day in office.

His first piece of legislation would initiate a 10-year mobilization of $5 trillion directly leveraged by a fully paid-for $1.5 trillion investment, a plan he calls, “the world’s largest-ever climate change investment in infrastructure, innovation, and in our people and communities.”

The $5 trillion would be funded with the revenues generated by structural changes to the tax code that ensure corporations and the wealthiest people pay their fair share and that the U.S. ends the tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks now given to oil, gas and coal companies.

O’Rouke believes this investment will drive economic growth and shared prosperity – spurring job creation and adding to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, reducing energy costs, improving public health, and boosting the country’s overall economic, energy, and climate security.

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Beto O’Rourke toured Yosemite National Park with Dr. Anne Kelly, right, from the University of California’s Merced Yosemite Station. They discussed the forest ecosystem and loss of biomass in the park due to fire, beetle infestation and drought. April 29, 2019 (Photo courtesy Beto O’Rourke via Twitter)

More than just a climate plan, O’Rouke’s proposal sets out other actions he would take to protect the environment. He would:

• Re-enter the Paris Agreement and lead the negotiations for an even more ambitious global plan for 2030 and beyond;

• Reduce methane leakage from existing sources in the oil and natural gas industry for the first time and rapidly phase-out hydrofluorocarbons, the super-polluting greenhouse gases that are up to 9,000 times worse for climate change than carbon dioxide;

• Strengthen the clean air and hazardous waste limits for power plants and fuel economy standards that save consumers money and improve public health, while setting a trajectory to rapidly accelerate the adoption of zero-emission vehicles;

• Increase consumer savings through new, modernized, and ambitious appliance- and building-efficiency standards;

• Create unprecedented access to the technologies and markets that allow farmers and ranchers to profit from the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions they secure;

• Leverage $500 billion in annual government procurement to decarbonize across all sectors for the first time, including a new “buy clean” program for steel, glass, and cement;

• Require any federal permitting decision to fully account for climate costs and community impacts;

• Set a first-ever, net-zero emissions by 2030 carbon budget for federal lands, stopping new fossil fuel leases, changing royalties to reflect climate costs, and accelerating renewables development and forestation; and

• Protect our most wild, beautiful, and biodiverse places for generations to come, including more of the Arctic and of sensitive landscapes and seascapes than ever before, and establish National Parks and Monuments that more fully tell our American story.

“Together,” O’Rourke said, “we will invest in the poor and minority communities that so often bear the brunt – both those on the front-lines of a changing climate and those disrupted by the forces of an economy in transition. Not only will those communities be the focus of our investment, they will also be the source of our inspiration and leadership. After all, we cannot, and will not be able to address this challenge without organized labor, farmers and ranchers, communities of color, businesses, or the young people who have the most to lose and the most to contribute.”

O’Rourke says he supports the Green New Deal, explaining in his proposal, “To have any chance at limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 °C and preventing the worst effects of climate change, the latest science demands net-zero emissions by 2050. By investing in infrastructure, innovation, and in our people and communities, we can achieve this ambition, which is in line with the 2050 emissions goal of the Green New Deal, in a way that grows our economy and shrinks our inequality.”

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Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakesh headlines a Green New Deal rally in Chico, California, April 27, 2019 (Screengrab from video courtesy Sunrise Movement)

But the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate group that backs the Green New Deal resolutions introduced February 7 by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York in the House and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts in the Senate, cites scientists who advise that the United States must act by 2030, not 2050.

Sunrise co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash is critical of O’Rourke’s plan. “Beto claims to support the Green New Deal, but his plan is out of line with the timeline it lays out and the scale of action that scientists say is necessary to take here in the United States to give our generation a livable future,” Prakash said in a statement.

A more supportive statement came from the League of Conservation Voters, LCV, which posted this statement on O’Rourke’s Twitter feed. “This plan to confront the climate crisis is the kind of leadship0 we need from our next president. We commend O’Rourke for putting forward an ambitious and detailed climate plan that would start on day one of his presidency and continue throughout every day of it,” said LCV senior vice president for government affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune also had a positive reaction to O’Rourke’s plan, saying, “Glad to see @BetoORourke’s outline of a climate plan with a focus on justice for the communities most affected. We’re eager to see strong, ambitious climate plans from every candidate as there’s no time to waste.”

There is already more action in Congress to tackle climate change issues than there has been since Trump took over the presidency in January 2017.

This week the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the Climate Action Now Act, which covers one of O’Rourke’s goals, that of re-joining the Paris climate accord. The bill requires the president to develop and update annually a plan for the United States to meet its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement on climate change. The plan must describe steps to (1) cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and (2) confirm that other parties to the agreement with major economies are fulfilling their announced contributions. The bill prohibits federal funds from being used to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

And even the Trump White House is being urged to consider the climate in its latest infrastructure planning. President Trump will host House the two top Democratic leaders – Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York – at the White House Tuesday for discussions on a major infrastructure bill.

In a joint letter to the president today, Pelosi and Schumer described the issue of infrastructure as “a bipartisan Congressional priority.”

The Democratic leaders wrote, “A big and bold infrastructure package must be comprehensive and include clean energy and resiliency priorities. To truly be a gamechanger for the American people, we should go beyond transportation and into broadband, water, energy, schools, housing and other initiatives. We must also invest in resiliency and risk mitigation of our current infrastructure to deal with climate change.”

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