Which Democratic candidates have the guts to take on Big Oil?

We’re just gonna go ahead and do CNN’s job for a minute here.

If you haven’t signed up for EXXONKNEWS yet, you can do so below.

Last week, we asked Sunrise activist and Northwestern University PhD candidate Isaac Larkin how he thinks presidential candidates can demonstrate their willingness to hold fossil fuel executives accountable for their role in creating, perpetuating, and lying about the climate crisis for over half a century. Even though a majority of voters across racial, gender, socioeconomic, and political backgrounds support efforts to do just that, this week’s debate moderators — once again — gave hardly any time to asking candidates how they’d address the climate crisis as a whole, let alone the industry standing in the way. 

SO: before the first votes are cast, we’re going to dig a little deeper into where those candidates who qualified for Tuesday night’s Iowa debate stand on the issues.

The Contenders

Joe Biden

When former Vice President Joe Biden is asked about his plans to address climate change, he almost unfailingly pivots back in time to when he introduced the first-ever climate bill in the Senate: the Global Climate Protection Act of 1986. But for reasons you can probably guess (ahem, fossil fuel industry, cough, Reagan), that bill never passed. While his voting record on climate might be considered hit or miss, Biden promises to bring back the regulatory advances made by the Obama administration (nearly all of which have since been dismantled by Trump), and his proposal to address the climate crisis refers to the Green New Deal as a “crucial framework.” 

As we discussed in my interview with Isaac Larkin last week, Biden has been criticized for attending a fundraiser co-hosted by a fossil fuel executive even after being pressed by activists to reconsider. He has also received scrutiny for using technicalities and loopholes to accept donations from oil and gas executives, despite signing the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, and his campaign co-chair has a pretty consistent pro-fossil fuel voting record. And in spite of the science, Biden refuses to call for a ban on fracking(so do Buttigieg and Klobuchar).

In his climate plan, Biden vows to “take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment and poison our communities’ air, land, and water, or conceal information regarding potential environmental and health risks.” Sounds great — but he doesn’t exactly explain how he’ll make it happen.

✅Supports a version of the Green New Deal 

✅Promised to ban fossil fuel subsidies and new oil and gas leases on public land

✅Signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge

❌Would not ban fracking

(Image credit: Giphy)

Bernie Sanders

Sanders wants to make fossil fuel companies, rather than, say, the whole of humanity on a soon-to-be irreversibly warming planet, feel the burn. (This Sanders has similar goals in mind.) The U.S. Senator from Vermont has been speaking out against oil and gas companies’ corruption and fraud for years: “When you have people like the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil today spending huge amounts of money trying to deny that reality, it slows up the entire world from aggressively addressing what is an international crisis,” he warned in 2015 after InsideClimate News broke the story of Exxon’s decades-long deception on the dangers of burning fossil fuels. Sanders asked then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch a federal investigation into whether the industry broke the law.

In addition to having what some have deemed the most ambitious vision for a Green New Deal, Sanders continues to name the industry’s attempts to unravel climate policy and stand up for those who do the same — and he promises to hold lying corporations accountable in court. Late last year, Sanders told Vox that the industry “should also pay damages for the destruction they have knowingly caused,” and that his administration would “pave the way for actions that remunerate devastated communities requiring care and repair and the dollars to do it.”

✅Co-sponsored the Green New Deal

✅Signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge 

✅Promised to end fossil fuel subsidies and aggressively raise taxes on the industry

✅Promised to ban new oil and gas leases on public land

✅Climate plan calls for civil and criminal prosecution of fossil fuel executives 

Here’s Bernie blasting fossil fuel companies at Tuesday night’s debate:

Elizabeth Warren

The U.S. Senator from Massachusetts has warned about the dangers of fossil fuel companies writing climate policy, and she’s got a plan for that. In November, Warren proposed a “corporate perjury” law that would prevent companies from lying to federal agencies — and if broken, would result in criminal liability of up to $250,000 in fines or prison time. The plan would also ensure that courts and government agencies consider only peer-reviewed research with its funding sources disclosed, preventing continued corporate influence into lawmaking. “Where companies engage in egregious and intentional efforts to mislead agencies in an effort to prevent our government from understanding and acting on facts, they will face criminal liability,” the plan states.

In an effort to return the power of knowledge and the protection of laws to the people, Warren also promised to create a National Office of the Public Advocate to guide the public on providing input into policymaking. 

When asked at CNN’s Climate Town Hall how and whether she planned to encourage individual actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Warren shot back: “This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants us to talk about... They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers, when 70 percent of the pollution, of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air, comes from three industries [the building industry, the electric power industry and the oil industry].” 👏👏👏

✅Co-sponsored the Green New Deal

✅Signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge 

✅Introduced the Climate Risk Disclosure Act

✅Promised to ban fossil fuel subsidies and new oil and gas leases on public land

✅Climate plan calls for civil and criminal prosecution of fossil fuel executives

Warren spoke up about climate accountability at Tuesday night’s debate: 

Pete Buttigieg

Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has laid out plans to herald in a net-zero emission economy by 2050, among his other goals for addressing the climate crisis. On the debate stage Tuesday night, he said that “equity and environmental justice have to be at the core” of a clean energy transition. Where does he stand on holding fossil fuel companies accountable to make sure that’s the case? In October, Buttigieg told Vox that “corporate social responsibility means little if a company’s business practices are harming people, and we must have robust enforcement and serious accountability for wrongdoing,” but to date, like Biden, he has not released more details about how his administration would carry that out. 

He has also been dogged by accusations of hiring a “fossil fuel shill” as his climate adviser. 

✅Supports a version of the Green New Deal

✅Signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge 

✅Promised to ban fossil fuel subsidies and new oil and gas leases on public land

❌Would not ban fracking

(Image credit: Giphy)

Tom Steyer

At this week’s debate, a moderator asked the billionaire businessman-turned-climate advocate if, considering that he made his $1.6 billion fortune in part by investing in fossil fuels, voters should trust him to be a champion of climate change policy. Steyer responded by citing his personal pathway to divestment and efforts to put his money toward solving the problem it caused, his intent to declare a state of emergency on the climate crisis on his first day as president, and, repeatedly, that climate would be his number one priority. 

The candidate has released a “justice-centered” climate plan that pledges to focus on the most-impacted communities and fully transition the United States away from fossil fuels. He has said he will be “tough” on fossil fuel corporations for “putting the whole world at risk knowingly” and while he believes “there will be criminal sanctions,” that that is an issue for the courts, not Congress. 

“We have evidence that Exxon scientifically, as early as 1979, knew what was happening in terms of climate change,” he said at one New Hampshire event, “and then did what the tobacco companies did for decades, which was to pretend they didn’t know and to use their political power through lobbyists and donations to continue to make money and to put the whole world at risk.” 

✅Supports a version of the Green New Deal

✅Signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge 

✅Promised to ban fossil fuel subsidies and new oil and gas leases on public land

✅Climate plan calls for civil and criminal prosecution of fossil fuel executives

Amy Klobuchar

As a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Klobuchar often shares her vision of the climate crisis through its harrowing and costly impact on farmers and families in the Midwest (Pete Buttigieg, notably, does the same). Klobuchar serves on the Senate Climate Action Taskforce, and has focused on reinstating the climate and clean energy policies rolled back under the Trump administration, working towards a bipartisan carbon tax, and re-engaging the United States in the Paris Climate Agreement. But Klobuchar has called the Green New Deal “aspirational” rather than prescriptive, and her plans to transition the country away from fossil fuels seem nostalgic for a return to the foundations of Obama-era progress rather than a push for the urgent transformation called for in recent international reports. The Senator calls fracking a “transitional fuel,” and encourages the development of “clean coal” technologies. (I’m not wincing, you’re wincing.) 

Klobuchar told Vox, “[I] support efforts to hold companies accountable for their contributions to climate change and campaigns to mislead the public,” and says she would do so through campaign finance reform and by investigating potential wrongdoings

✅Co-sponsored the Green New Deal

✅Promised to ban fossil fuel subsidies and new oil and gas leases on public land

✅Signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge 

❌Would not ban fracking

(Image credit: Giphy)

We leave it up to you, reader, to decide which of these candidates is ready to stand with people over polluters and usher in a just transition. But take note: these potential nominees were all rearing to talk about their plans to address the climate crisis, even with the moderators doing everything in their power to cut them off. That’s in large part thanks to people like you, who’ve made it clear that this will be a priority on the 2020 ballot. Keep it up.


Anger Into Action 

We’re going with something a little different this week. Instead of something for you to do, we have something for you to watch: these excellent (and short!) videos put together by the team at The YEARS Project. If you’re new to EXXONKNEWS, or want to learn more, this is a great way to catch up on the story of Big Oil’s climate disinformation campaigns — and why they matter today.

Exxon Knew In The 70's

The Confusion Memo

Exxon's Car of the Future

AOC Reveals that Big Oil Knew

Big Oil Knew Part 1

Big Oil Knew Part 2

Big Oil Knew Part 3

Big Oil Knew Part 4

ICYMI News Roundup

Until next time. If you liked this issue, please give it a share!

Share EXXONKNEWS