2020 Candidates Suggest Plastic Straw Ban, Buyback of Gas-Powered Vehicles at Climate Debate

September 5, 2019 Updated: September 5, 2019

Democratic presidential candidates voiced support for a number of bans or seizures during a CNN town hall on Sept. 4, including a ban on plastic straws and confiscating gas-powered vehicles in a move to electric ones.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said she supports a nationwide ban on plastic straws.

“Look, I’m going to be honest, it’s really difficult to drink out of a paper straw. If you don’t gulp it down immediately it starts to bend,” she said.

“So we have to perfect that a little bit more,” she added before laughing.

Andrew Yang, a businessman, was asked whether all Americans will be forced to drive electric cars.

“We are all going to love driving our electric cars,” Yang said.

“Will we have to drive electric cars?” pressed the moderator.

“There will still be legacy gas-guzzlers on the road for quite some time because this is not a country where you’re going to take someone’s clunker away from them. But you are going to offer to buy the clunker back and help them upgrade,” he said, in a seeming reference to the Obama administration’s “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Former Obama administration cabinet secretary Julian Castro kicked off the seven-hour town hall, saying if elected he would “incentivize wind energy production, solar energy production, invest in renewables” and would “challenge the rest of the world at latest to get to net-zero by 2050,” according to a partial transcript published by CNN.

As part of that effort, he plans to implement higher taxes on companies through a carbon pollution fee. He also said he would ban fracking on public lands.

After Yang, Harris appeared on stage and said she’d “get rid of the filibuster to pass a Green New Deal” if Republicans in Congress tried blocking the proposal, which calls for shifting the entire United States away from gas-powered vehicles, along with replacing or upgrading every home and commercial building in the country. Estimates peg the proposal at $93 trillion, though Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently outlined a version he said would only cost $16 trillion.

Harris, a former prosecutor, said that she’d tell the Department of Justice to take oil and gas companies to court by suing them for “causing harm and death in communities” and called for a ban on all fracking and offshore drilling.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she’d reinstitute certain guidelines that were put into place by the Obama administration, such as requirements for gas mileage for vehicles and energy.

Next, Former Vice President Joe Biden said he does not support a fracking ban but does want to stop oil drilling on public federal land. He also said that high-speed rail would lead to taking some cars off the road.

“I’ve been pushing really hard for mass transit and for rail. We can take millions of vehicles off the road if we have high-speed rail. I’ve been the champion of that for 25 years,” he said.

“It would literally take millions of vehicles off the road. But you have to have a rail system that makes people say, ‘If I get on that rail, I will get there as fast as I would have gotten had I driven and I can afford to do it relative to the coast of my driving.'”

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said later that he needs to travel by private planes during his campaign to meet with people across the nation.

“This is a very big country and I’m running to be president of the whole country,” he said.

He said the United States has an “inferior train system.”

“Think what it would mean for areas like the industrial Midwest if places from Indianapolis to Chicago to South Bend and Detroit and so on were just a few hours away from each other by train,” he said. “I’m not even asking for Japanese level trains. Just give me like Italian level trains.”

And he also claimed that combating climate change could be “more challenging than” winning World War II.

Sanders made perhaps the most controversial suggestion of the night, telling the audience he would push abortion for women in other countries as a way to cut down on population growth.

“The Mexico City agreement—which denies American aid to those organizations around the world that allow women to have abortions or even get involved in birth control—to me is totally absurd. So I think, especially in poor countries around the world where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies and where they can have the opportunity through birth control to control the number of kids they have, it’s something I very strongly support,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) noted that she’s called for mandating buildings that are carbon-free by 2028, mandating cars that are carbon-free by 2030, and mandating carbon-free electricity generation by 2035.

She said that oil and gas companies want people focused on plastic straws, light bulbs, and meat to distract from their pollution.

“This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about,” Warren said. “That’s what they want us to talk about.”

“Seventy percent of the pollution of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air comes from three industries and we can set our targets and say by 2028, 2030, and 2035, no more,” she added.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, up after Buttigieg, said that his administration would use government money to help people move away from flood-prone areas if their homes had been “repeatedly flooded.” Yang also expressed support for the move.

“Now it’s time to take some of that money and channel it to the needs of the American people,” Yang said. “There are already climate refugees in the United States of America, people that we relocated from an island that was essentially becoming uninhabitable in Louisiana and we moved those people.”

Cory Booker (D-N.J.), meanwhile, said that while he is a vegan, he wouldn’t want to force people not to eat meat.

“Freedom is one of the most sacred values—whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it,” he said. Yang also said the government can’t force people to stop eating meat.

Booker also said that he’s a proponent of nuclear power when talking about green energy, something opposed by some of his rivals, including Sanders and Warren.

“People who think that we can get there without nuclear being part of the blend just aren’t looking at the facts,” Booker said.

Warren said she doesn’t consider nuclear part of a green energy package, telling the audience, “We’re not going to build any nuclear power plants and we’re going to start weaning ourselves off nuclear energy and replacing it with renewable fuels.”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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