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Where the Democratic Candidates Stand Ahead of Wednesday's CNN Climate Forum

"As fires rage in the Amazon and Hurricane Dorian threatens the Southeast after pummeling the Bahamas, the gravity of the climate crisis is impossible to ignore."

A protester is seen during a climate change demonstration holding a placard that says, 'There Is No Planet B.'

A protester is seen during a climate change demonstration holding a placard that says, 'There Is No Planet B.' (Photo by Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As 10 of the 21 Democrats still vying for the party's 2020 presidential nomination prepare to sit down with CNN for the network's climate town hall on Wednesday evening, the threat of a changing environment is squarely on the national mind as Hurricane Dorian lashes the Southeastern U.S. after a devastating hit on the Bahamas.

"As fires rage in the Amazon and Hurricane Dorian threatens the Southeast after pummeling the Bahamas, the gravity of the climate crisis is impossible to ignore for everyone but Donald Trump," said Greenpeace U.S.A. senior climate campaigner Jack Shapiro. "At this stage in the race, no serious candidate can afford to put climate policy on the backburner."

Greenpeace's ranking of the candidates can be found on the group's homepage.

The 10 candidates have all delivered plans to address the climate crisis—but differ in the details of their approach. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, has pledged to spend over $16 trillion to combat climate change in order to hit an ambitious goal of zero emissions in the electricity and transportation sectors by 2030 and the full economy by 2050. Most of Sanders' opponents, on the other hand, like South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have only committed to a full zeroing out of the economy by 2050. Buttigieg has only pledged $2.5 trillion to the effort. 

You can read more about the plans at HuffPost and find a comprehensive rundown of the candidates on environmental issues from Inside Climate News here and from The Guardian here

Here's where the candidates stand on some of the key issues of the climate crisis:

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is controversial in the climate movement. Presented by energy interests as an acceptable alternative to fossil fuels in a zero emissions future, green groups regularly point out that the cost of nuclear power outweighs any benefits.

Still, a number of contenders support nuclear power as at least a temporary source of energy for the country.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) centers nuclear power in his climate plan, saying earlier in 2019 that it is "imperative for the United States to lead the way on tackling the world's climate crisis, and that must include the development of clean and innovative technologies like next-generation nuclear energy."

Booker is joined by businessman Andrew Yang and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke in supporting new investments in energy.

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Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden tack to the middle, rejecting any new nuclear infrastructure but support maintaining the power plants that already exist in the country.

Silent on the issue were Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.), neither of whom responded to questions about their positions from The Hill.

Sanders is the candidate most opposed to nuclear energy—his plan would refuse to renew leases on plants and calls for investments in renewable energy.

"We know that the toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology's benefit, especially in light of lessons learned from the Fukushima meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster," said Sanders.

Keystone XL

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, only nine of the Democratic candidates signed onto a pledge to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on day one of their administration. While Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro all signed, the majority of the candidates onstage Wednesday did not at press time—including frontrunner Joe Biden.

"U.S. presidents are not empowered to write up proclamations that give Big Oil a free ride, and bypass our nation's bedrock environmental laws written to protect our water, land, clean air, and a livable climate," says the letter demanding the signatures.

Fracking

Sanders and Booker favor a full ban on fracking, while Warren's campaign on Wednesday said she endorsed a "national ban" which is currently unclear in scope.

"Fracking is a danger to our water supply," Sanders said in a statement. "It's a danger to the air we breathe. It causes earthquakes. It's highly explosive. Safe fracking is, like clean coal, pure fiction. But, most importantly, methane from natural gas contributes to climate change and is setting us on a path to disaster. When we are in the White House, we will end the era of fossil fuels, and that includes fracking."

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, Sanders is the only candidate who has "called for such a complete and total fracking ban."

Most of the rest of the field at the Wednesday forum, however, endorse continuing fracking albeit in a regulated and limited form.

Biden's position remains unclear.

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