NEW HAMPSHIRE—Students at a youth climate town hall extracted promises from several presidential candidates that their climate-change policies will benefit low-income people, not hurt them.
“Equity has to be at the heart of climate policy,” said Pete Buttigieg, who appeared at the NH Youth Climate and Clean Energy Town Hall Wednesday morning, hours after partial returns showed him in first place in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana was responding to Dartmouth College MBA student Melina Sanchez Montanes, who asked what he would do to make sure low-income households “don’t bear the brunt of the transition” to cleaner energy.
Buttigieg cited his plan to fund a $250 billion clean-energy bank that would fund local energy projects, especially in disadvantaged communities. His plan to fund one million national-service jobs a year includes a climate corps, he noted. “A big part of what it would work on is projects that benefit economically vulnerable people,” Buttigieg said, including “weatherization of low-income seniors’ homes.”
Six presidential hopefuls answered questions from New Hampshire students at the all-day event in Concord, sponsored by Dartmouth College and other nonpartisan hosts. Eight candidates had RSVPed yes—including all the major Democratic candidates except Joe Biden—but the US Senate’s vote on President Trump’s impeachment scrambled the bookings of the four senators running for president. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren sent surrogates to the event, Michael Bennett of Colorado cancelled due to impeachment, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota moved her appearance to 8:15 am so she could catch a flight to Washington.
Klobuchar said she’d propose carbon-pricing legislation during her first week as president. “We have to make sure that money goes right back to people, to help with their heating and their cooling bills, or we’re never going to get it passed,” she said. “Some of that money will go to incentives for areas that are going to see job changes.”
Two students on a three-student panel pressed for details. “Would you support a carbon pricing bill that would give more rebates to lower income and rural communities?” asked Beatrice Burack, a 16-year-old student at Phillips Exeter Academy.
“Yes,” Klobuchar replied.
Clarice Perryman, 26, a PhD candidate in earth and environmental science at the University of New Hampshire, asked Klobuchar how she’d help fossil-fuel industry workers with the transition to a clean-energy economy, especially those who “may be unable to be retrained for new jobs.”
Klobuchar said her policy included “making sure we have replacements for the jobs that are going to change,” whether in green energy or other industries. She talked about job training, apprenticeship programs, and her proposal to double the size of the federal Pell Grant program.
Afterward, Perryman said she’d hoped to hear more. “There are workers who have worked for mining and power plants for 40 or 50 years. Because of their health, or age, they’re unable to be retrained or don’t want to be trained. What are you going to do to support those people?”
William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor challenging Trump in the Republican primary, said he would also seek to place a price on carbon, either through an act of Congress or a national emergency declaration. He said his bill would redistribute carbon fees to lower-income taxpayers through the income tax to fight poverty.
“I’m a big believer in the notion of environmental justice,” Weld said. “Minority communities, which have fewer defenses to the negative impacts of societal and economic changes,” might get “a bit of preferential treatment” in his policy, he said.
Deval Patrick, another former Bay State governor, noted that he had committed Massachusetts in 2007 to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program among northeastern states. Pressed by Katelyn Fournier, a 21-year-old biology major at Keene State College, to talk about his plan for vulnerable communities and the climate, Patrick called the growth of clean-energy technology a chance “to create opportunity and wealth, focused in communities where people have been chronically left behind.” In his closing remarks, Patrick, who is black, thanked the students for noting that “it is often people who look like me who are right in harm’s way.”
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.