Elections

2020 Dems: We’ll Do Anything to Stop Climate Change, but We Won’t Do That

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake, Iowa, August 9, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)
Nuclear power, clean and carbon-free, is taboo for the major candidates

Democratic presidential candidates argued on Wednesday evening, during a seven-hour event broadcast on CNN, that they would stop at nothing to stop climate change.

Kamala Harris, who has faded in the polls, set the tone during her pre-primetime appearance. The California senator said that as president, she would somehow abolish the filibuster to implement the Green New Deal. By 2030, Harris vowed, America will have only electric school buses, and by 2045 we will have 100 percent zero-emission vehicles.

Harris would change dietary guidelines to reduce red-meat consumption. She would ban fracking. She would ban offshore drilling. She’d even ban plastic straws.

What about increasing production of nuclear power, which doesn’t produce carbon dioxide emissions?

“Given the existential threat to humanity posed by global warming,” one questioner asked Harris, “do you believe the time has come to put past nuclear-power failures into perspective and to embrace a new and smarter generation of nuclear-power technologies given all that has been learned and the scale of the crisis we’re confronting today?”

Well, Harris replied, she wouldn’t do that. “The biggest issue that I believe we face in terms of nuclear energy is the waste and what are we going to do with that.” Harris went on to say that it would “never” dispose of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Harris dodged when asked whether she’d phase out nuclear power entirely, as Bernie Sanders has proposed. She kept her focus on protecting states from having nuclear waste stored on federal land within their borders, a key issue in Nevada, which happens to hold the third nominating contest in the Democratic race.

It was the kind of calculating response one has come to expect from Harris. One half-expects  her to reassure voters today that her Paper Straws for All plan will be phased in over a ten-year period, and there will still be a plastic-straw option that is heavily regulated by the federal government.

Joe Biden was his typical self: blustery and struggling to make clear points. He wasn’t asked about nuclear power, and he didn’t bring it up. He favors keeping the plants in operation but not building new ones.

Surely Elizabeth Warren, who has been surging in the Democratic race as the candidate of ideas, would take a more serious approach than Harris to nuclear power? Nope.

Warren conceded that nuclear power is “not carbon-based” but said that it has “a lot of risks” associated with it, such as “the risks associated with the spent fuel rods that nobody can figure out how we’re going to store these things for the next bazillion years.”

“In my administration, we’re not going to build any new nuclear power plants, and we are going to start weaning ourselves off nuclear energy and replacing it with renewable fuels. . . . We’re going to get it all done by 2035, but I hope we’re getting it done faster than that,” Warren said. “That’s the plan.”

Bernie Sanders was on the same page as Warren, arguing in favor of shutting down nuclear-power plants. “I think if you talk to the people in Japan in terms of what happened at Fukushima, talk to the people in Russia what happened in Chernobyl, you know what, they may not feel so comfortable with nuclear power,” Sanders said when asked about the fact that nuclear plants safely generate 70 percent of France’s power. “So I’m not a fear-monger here, and I wish the people in France the very best. But I think that the way forward, the most cost-effective way forward, the way forward that is safest is moving to sustainable energies like wind and geothermal.”

In short, 2020 Democrats argued that there is an existential environmental crisis, but we can’t be bothered to find the appropriate dirt heap under which we would dump the waste of a carbon-free energy source already in existence that actually works.

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