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Pete Buttigieg Climate Profile: Making U.S. the World's Clean Tech Leader

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Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg answers questions from college students while appearing at the New Hampshire Youth Climate and Clean Energy Town Hall Feb. 2020, in Concord, New Hampshire. New Hampshire holds its first in the nation primary in six days.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

‘If this generation doesn’t step up, we’re in trouble. This is, after all, the generation that’s gonna be on the business end of climate change for as long as we live.’
—Pete Buttigieg, April 2019

Been There

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, often talks about the surprising catastrophic flooding that hit his city twice in two years after he took office. A 1,000-year flood occurred in 2016. Then, in early 2018, a 500-year flood hit, costing millions and damaging thousands of homes. “For as long as we’re alive, and the younger you are the more you have on the line, you know our adult lives are going to be dominated by the increased severity and frequency of weather and even crazy chain reactions that happen,” Buttigieg wrote in an email.

Done That

Indiana is heavily coal reliant, its state leadership across the board is Republican, and it has passed so-called pre-emption laws that curtail local initiatives to address climate change and fossil fuel use. Yet, Buttigieg set up an Office of Sustainability for South Bend. In the aftermath of the U.S. exit from the Paris climate accord, the city has jumped aboard campaigns by mayors to meet the treaty’s goals.

“We’ve continued to demonstrate our climate values by building LEED-certified fire stations, introducing free electric vehicle charging stations, empowering national service members to improve energy efficiency in low-income neighborhoods, and mentoring other Indiana cities seeking to lead on climate issues,” Buttigieg said.

His administration is also working to repair remaining damage from recent flooding and to ensure that vulnerable South Bend neighborhoods don’t get battered again. The city approved a contract to install gates on stormwater pipes that drain into the river, for the next time it reaches flood stage.


Getting Specific

•    Buttigieg released a climate plan in September in which he vowed to implement “a bold and achievable Green New Deal” and laid out an ambitious pathway to net zero emissions economy-wide by 2050 that focuses on expanding clean energy jobs and making the United States the world’s clean tech leader.

•    By 2035, he envisions a zero-emissions electricity system and all new passenger vehicles being zero emissions, with help from electric vehicle tax credits of up to $10,000 per vehicle. By 2040, he sees requiring net zero emissions for all new heavy-duty vehicles, buses, trains, ships and aircraft, and having “a thriving carbon removal industry.”

•    His plan to create 3 million new jobs includes a 10-year, $200 billion commitment to retrain workers displaced in the transition away from fossil fuels. He also has a plan to create a Climate Corps service program focused on helping communities build resilience and sustainability.

•    Buttigieg calls for “quadrupling federal research and development funding” for renewable energy and energy storage, investing $200 billion over 10 years, and spending $550 billion on deploying clean energy technologies.

•    He also envisions a bigger U.S. international leadership role on both climate change and the global clean energy transition, in part by developing a $250 billion “Global Investment Initiative” that would boost projects in developing countries that use U.S. technology. Buttigieg says he would recommit the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement and revitalize U.S. climate leadership in the Arctic Council “so we can reduce emissions and oppose drilling in that region.” A former U.S. Naval Reserve officer, Buttigieg wants to increase the military’s climate planning and create a senior climate security position in the Defense Department.

•    To nudge industries and consumers toward low-emissions choices, Buttigieg proposes an economy-wide carbon price with a dividend that would be sent to households to help offset higher costs. He also proposes a border adjustment tax on any imports not already subject to a carbon price in their home country. He wants to launch a $250 billion national green bank to funnel financing for clean energy projects into disadvantaged communities “where private capital is reluctant to go,” particularly in middle America.

•    He also spells out the climate roles American farmers could play. “There are some estimates that through better soil management, soil could capture a level of carbon equivalent to the entire global transportation industry,” Buttigieg told a young questioner at an MSNBC town hall in June.

•    Buttigieg has said he would ban all new fossil fuel development on federal lands. He wrote: “I favor a ban on new fracking and a rapid end to existing fracking so that we can build a 100 percent clean energy society as soon as possible.” He signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge in March.

ICN’s Take

Buttigieg, at age 37, is the youngest candidate in the Democratic primary. So, when the inevitable first question comes asking if he’s too young to run for president, Buttigieg points to climate change as a big reason for his candidacy. He explains that around midcentury, when he’s President Donald Trump’s current age, his generation will be suffering some of the worst effects of climate change if nothing is done now.

Buttigieg’s climate plan is generally more restrained on spending than those of other candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but it also includes some different ideas, particularly around America’s international role and climate planning and preparedness in the military. In a tacit nod to the links between his military record and his recognition of the climate crisis, his website lists climate change under the rubric of security.

Read Pete Buttigieg’s climate platform.

InsideClimate News is a nonprofit, independent news organization that covers climate, energy and the environment. Sign up for the ICN newsletter here.

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