Beto O'Rourke rolls out $5 trillion plan to combat climate change, a pivotal 2020 issue for Democrats

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Rep. Beto ORourke (D-TX) speaks at a campaign town hall, April 28, 2019, in San Francisco.PlayStephen Lam/Getty Images
WATCH Beto O'Rourke visits Iowa after announcing 2020 run for US president

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke unveiled a sweeping, $5 trillion plan on Monday to combat what he calls the "greatest threat" facing the United States today: climate change.

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The four-pillar plan, which marks the first major policy rollout of the former Texas congressman's presidential bid and would be carried out through both executive action and legislation, calls for an initial $1.5 trillion federal investment to "transform" the nation's infrastructure "and empower our people and communities to lead the climate fight," which would then "mobilize" $5 trillion total, according to a campaign memo released Monday.

O'Rourke is pledging to make the plan, which he announced during a visit to Yosemite National Park in California on Monday, the first piece of legislation he introduces to Congress, and also says he wants to work with Congress in his first 100 days in office to "enact an enforceable standard that guarantees the United States will achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and be halfway there by 2030."

The announcement also comes as O'Rourke has faced criticism in the early stages of his campaign for lacking specific details on his policy goals.

While other plans are likely forthcoming, O'Rourke's is among the first in the Democratic field to take on the issue of climate change with significant federal action, and comes as the party's progressive wing, bolstered by young voters, is continuing to call for candidates to take a more aggressive approach.

Earlier this month, young climate change activists came to Washington D.C. to tell Congress that their lives are at risk unless the U.S. government takes bold steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“The government is taking actions that are directly contributing to the destruction of our planet,” said Aji Piper, an 18-year-old high school dropout from Seattle who is suing the federal government for failing to curb carbon emissions.

O'Rourke, who has struggled to regain the early momentum generated by his initial campaign announcement, is hoping that those same young voters will reward his focus on climate change, even as he competes for the same voters who have gravitated towards Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year old, openly gay Mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

"The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change. 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 said in a statement released Monday accompanying the plan. The campaign says the proposal aligns with the goals outlined in the "Green New Deal" proposed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, and "reflects the ambition and urgency of organizers, activists, and young people all across the country."

O'Rourke's campaign claims the $5 trillion investment to fight climate change will be paid for by "revenues generated by structural changes to the tax code that ensure corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share and that we finally end the tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks currently given to fossil fuel companies."

Echoing a commitment made by nearly the entire Democratic field, the plan would also re-enter the United States in the Paris Climate Accord and then taking the lead on even more aggressive goals to combat climate change by 2030 and beyond. It also calls for 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."

PHOTO: Firefighter Jose Corona sprays water as flames from the Camp Fire consume a home in Magalia, Calif., Nov. 9, 2018. Noah Berger/AP
Firefighter Jose Corona sprays water as flames from the Camp Fire consume a home in Magalia, Calif., Nov. 9, 2018.

The plan garnered praise from a number of prominent environmental organizations hoping to see climate change rise to the upper echelon of issues as Democrats continue to sort out their crowded and competitive primary.

"This plan to confront the climate crisis is the kind of leadership 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," Tiernan Sittenfeld, the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, wrote in a statement Monday provided to ABC News.

“Beto’s new climate platform is an important contribution to the national effort to boldly tackle the climate crisis...We’re excited to see consensus building among 2020 candidates that stopping fossil fuel expansion — starting with oil, gas, and coal production on public lands — is necessary to protect our most vulnerable communities from climate catastrophe," Greenpeace USA Climate Campaigner Charlie Jiang wrote in a statement released Monday.

Climate change finds a newfound prominence as the 2020 primary heats up

The roll-out from O'Rourke also comes as Democrats continue to debate the best way to combat climate change, an issue that is poised to take on a greater level of importance this cycle than any the party has held in year's past.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, another Democrat running for President, has proposed that the Democratic National Committee hold a debate solely focused on climate change, an idea that some in the field, including O'Rourke, have expressed support for.

“We want to look at the details of the debate that you proposed, but I like that idea...I can’t see why we wouldn’t want to participate in that," O'Rourke said during a campaign event in Las Vegas last week.

PHOTO: Gov. Jay Inslee, surrounded by Democratic lawmakers from the Senate and House, talks to the media following the Washington Legislature adjourning its 105-day legislative session, April 29, 2019, in Olympia, Wash. Rachel La Corte/AP
Gov. Jay Inslee, surrounded by Democratic lawmakers from the Senate and House, talks to the media following the Washington Legislature adjourning its 105-day legislative session, April 29, 2019, in Olympia, Wash.

While Inslee has yet to release a full-fledged plan on climate change, his website also previews a four-point plan on the issue which prioritizes "Powering our economy with clean energy," "Investing in good jobs, infrastructure and innovation," "Fighting for environmental justice and economic inclusion," and "Ending fossil fuel giveaways."

Last week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker released the specifics of what he calls his "environmental justice plan," which he says would take "immediate steps" to strengthen the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which he accuses the Trump administration of "gutting."

“Right now under this president, the number of actions that are being taken against polluters has gone dramatically down," Booker said during a campaign stop in Columbia, South Carolina last Friday.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks often of the "climate crisis" on the campaign trail, and released a plan earlier this month on protecting public lands, which would roll back many of President Trump's environmental policies, halt offshore drilling on publicly owned lands and restore original boundary line for two national monuments shrunk under the current administration.