Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who rolled out his first batch of major policy proposals this week, expressed support for a carbon tax and carbon capture—policies backed by the fossil fuel industry but criticized by environmentalists as "a distraction from real solutions to the climate crisis that we face."
"To create a system of continued fossil fuel extraction and development... is signing a death sentence for long-term climate stability."
—Seth Gladstone, Food & Water Action
On his website Thursday, Buttigieg—who is currently the mayor of South Bend, Indiana—released 27 policies sorted into three categories: freedom, security, and democracy. The first item under the security section is climate change.
Mayor Pete, as his fellow Hoosiers call him, says on the site that "security means protecting our environment and treating climate change and climate disruption like the national emergency it is." His proposed response is to "implement a Green New Deal with all available tools including a carbon tax-and-dividend for Americans, and major direct investment to build a 100 percent clean energy society."
In a video published Thursday by theSkimm, Buttigieg outlined some of his proposals. On the climate front, he said:
We no longer have the luxury of debating whether to prepare for climate change, it's on us... Well, as president, I want to massively increase research and investment in renewable energy—in solar, wind, and also technologies that can take carbon out of the atmosphere, because we're going to have to do both.
We also need to make sure we have carbon pricing—that's a way of charging a fee or a tax on things that pollute a lot... But then we can pay it back out in a kind of dividend to Americans, so most of us will actually see more money in our pockets.
This week was not the first time Buttigieg has called for a carbon tax-and-dividend. At a campaign event in Iowa last month, the candidate reportedly said, "the Green New Deal represents I think, right now, more a set of goals than a fully laid out game plan." The first policy he listed as part of the game plan he envisions is a carbon tax.
Karl Evers-Hillstrom and Raymond Arke explained in a report published Friday by OpenSecrets News—which mentions other 2020 candidates, but not Buttigieg—that some dirty energy giants are lobbying for carbon tax and capture policies:
As major oil companies have publicly accepted the reality of man-made climate change amid growing investor pressure, they're now calling for "market-based" solutions to lower emissions. Several major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, which is embroiled in lawsuits over allegations that the company hid its knowledge of climate change, have lobbied in support of increased investment toward carbon capture, one of the industry's favored methods for reducing emissions.
Carbon capture technology traps greenhouse gas as it's emitted, preventing it from entering the atmosphere, then either stores it underground or uses the captured carbon dioxide as a resource.
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Some fossil fuel companies, Evers-Hillstrom and Arke reported, have supported using carbon capture and storage technology not only at large point sources such as power plants to trap waste carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere, but also to remove carbon dioxide pollution that's already in the atmosphere through methods such as direct air capture.
Energy giants reportedly invested more than $1 billion in the three years following the Paris Climate agreement to sell lawmakers and the general public on gradual climate policy such as an expansion of carbon capture and natural gas. Their efforts may have paid off, as increased investment in carbon capture draws bipartisan support.
The USE IT Act would support and encourage carbon capture projects, opening up $25 million worth of prize money for direct air capture technology and setting aside another $50 million of federal funding for carbon capture research.
...Carbon capture isn't the fossil fuel industry's only preferred solution. Companies also support another long-standing bipartisan proposal popular in other countries—implementing a carbon tax. The likes of Exxon and Shell have lobbied on the issue regularly for years, joining separate ventures like the Americans for Carbon Dividends (AFCD).
Carbon capture and pricing have divided environmental advocates, with critics arguing that policies which allow for future fossil fuel production further imperil the planet and its residents by serving as obstacles to urgently transforming energy systems.
Summarizing the findings of a U.N. report from last year, Seth Gladstone, a spokesperson for Food & Water Action, noted that "the science is telling us that we really need to be at a point of 100 percent clean, renewable energy in about a decade."
"The only solution to this is actually getting off of fossil fuels," he told Common Dreams. "Given the urgency of the climate crisis we face, I think it's important that we're investing in proven technologies that transition us rapidly to truly clean, renewable energy."
Gladstone welcomed Buttigieg's call for investing in wind and solar, and to ultimately transition to clean energy—but, he said, "anything that would allow fossil fuel companies to maintain business-as-usual would have to be considered industry-friendly, and I think a lot of what the mayor has rolled out here would fit that category."
"To create a system of continued fossil fuel extraction and development," Gladstone warned, "is signing a death sentence for long-term climate stability."
This post was updated on June 18, 2019 to include more information from the OpenSecrets News report about fossil fuel companies and carbon capture and storage technology.