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Bernie Sanders launches $16 trillion climate change plan

Photo of Bernie Sanders with supporters in background
Sen. Bernie Sanders at a news conference on climate legislation on Capitol Hill in April. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

2020 contender Sen. Bernie Sanders is going big on Thursday with the announcement of a $16.3 trillion energy and climate change plan.

Why it matters: The Vermont senator is battling Elizabeth Warren for 2nd place in the Democratic race behind Joe Biden, and polls show global warming is among the top priorities for the party's primary voters.

Meanwhile, the news comes as Jay Inslee, who offered a lot of climate and energy policy ideas that could be mined by other presidential hopefuls, is ending his White House run.

Driving the the news: Sanders' plan calls for 100% renewable power and transportation systems by 2030 and decarbonizing the whole U.S. economy by 2050. The plan explicitly calls itself a Green New Deal, the sweeping idea popular on the progressive left.

The campaign says the plan would be funded through trillions of dollars in higher taxes on fossil fuel companies and the rich, scaled back military spending, and more.

  • It arrives on the heels of Inslee last night ending his White House run that raised climate's profile in the race even though the Washington State governor never gained polling traction.
  • Per AP, Inslee will announce he's seeking a 3rd term as governor.

The big picture: A few pillars of the plan include...

  • Declaring climate change a "national emergency."
  • Emphasis on "frontline" communities, including people of color, via a new "Climate Justice Resiliency Fund."
  • "Massive" R&D investments.
  • Banning fracking, new offshore leases, fossil fuel imports and exports.
  • "Immediately end all new and existing fossil fuel extraction on federal public lands."
  • "Massively" raising taxes on the fossil fuel industry and "investors’ fossil fuel income and wealth."
  • Hugely increasing U.S. support for the Green Climate Fund, an existing multilateral effort to help developing countries cut emissions.

Yes, but: While the whole thing adds lots of specific policy and spending ideas to the vague Green New Deal framework, his plan is nonetheless more of a vision statement than a pathway for policy that stands much chance of implementation as proposed.

  • Huge sections, such as spending and tax code changes, would require Capitol Hill to play along. Needless to say, that's a heavy lift.
  • Few analysts would agree that there's any plausible pathway to fully renewable power and transit in 10 years.

What's new: Other points in Sanders' plan are...

  • One of the concepts for transitioning the electricity system is a renewables-focused, $2.4 trillion overhaul and expansion of federal Power Marketing Administrations that currently cover 33 states.
  • It's vague on carbon pricing. It doesn't flatly call for a carbon tax, which Sanders has in years past. But part of the wider section arguing the plan will "pay for itself" calls for "making the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies." The campaign didn't immediately respond to an inquiry.
  • Sanders is aggressively taking sides in the debate on the left over pushing for a fully renewable power system vs. a mix of renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels with CO2 capture. He's on the 100% renewables side, calling the rest "false solutions."

By the numbers: He wants to spend a lot of money on transportation initiatives, including...

  • $2.1 trillion in grants to help low- and moderate-income families buy EVs.
  • $86 billion on a national EV charging network and $407 billion to help schools and transit agencies electrify bus fleets.
  • $607 billion in regional high-speed rail investment.

Some other big-ticket items include...

  • $2.2 trillion for home and business efficiency upgrades.
  • $1.3 trillion to help workers in fossil fuels and other carbon-heavy sectors "receive strong benefits, a living wage, training, and job placement."

Sanders has Wall Street in his sights. "[W]e will establish new financial rules through the SEC and other regulatory agencies to pressure hedge funds, the insurance industry, and other large investors currently invested in fossil fuels to divest or pay for clean energy investments through clean energy bonds," the plan states.

Meanwhile, Inslee offered a great deal of policy ideas on domestic energy, weaving climate into international relations, agriculture policy, and much more.

  • So his campaign could live on if a future Democratic president mines his very detailed plans for ideas.
  • “We left an open-source gold standard of what will get us to a cleaner future and really will end our reliance on fossil fuels,” Inslee told HuffPost, noting "it could be used by anyone who ends up in the White House."

Go deeper: How Earth's temperature has changed since 1970

Editor's note: This piece was updated with further information on how the plan would be funded.