with Paulina Firozi


Democrats are talking a lot more about climate change compared to past presidential campaigns. 

And increasingly, they have a new demand: They want the chance to do it in front of a national network audience.

A growing number of Democratic politicians and environmental activists are demanding a live televised primary debate dedicated to climate change. The calls are coming as Democratic voters — especially young ones who stand to see significant global warming in their lifetimes — are increasingly revved up about the foreboding environmental crisis.

Such a debate, in which White House hopefuls would try to outdo each other in their commitments to tackle climate change, would also be a way for Democrats as a group to further distinguish themselves from their main opponent, President Trump, who often dismisses climate change as a hoax.

But those pushing for a climate-centric debate have yet to convince one key group — the Democratic National Committee, which officially sets the terms of the party's dozen primary debates.

Still, at least 11 of the presidential candidates who could participate in those debates have endorsed, to varying degrees, the notion of a climate-centric debate. That group include front-of-the-pack candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and long shots such as entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former senator from Alaska Mike Gravel.

“We don't just want a sound bite,” said Karla Stephan, a 14-year-old activist from Bethesda, Md., with the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, one of the environmental groups pushing candidates to support a debate. “We want to hear actual solutions.”

The pressure for them to do talk about climate change is coming from both the bottom up and top down within the Democratic Party. 

petition on MoveOn.org calling for some sort of debate or forum on the issue has garnered 53,000 signatures. And on the campaign trail, activists with the U.S. Youth Climate Strike have hounded candidates to support a climate debate.

“The answer is yes,” said Sanders when asked by activists whether he supported a debate. “There are very few issues more important than the survival of our planet.”

And when former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) was similarly cornered in Nevada by activists, he said: “We want to look at the details of the debate that you propose, but I like that idea . . . I can’t see why we wouldn’t want to participate in that.”

And the Sunrise Movement, the grassroots group that brought the idea of a Green New Deal to the fore in Washington only to see Senate Republicans force a vote to defeat the progressive measure, is turning its attention toward getting presidential candidates to pledge their support for a climate debate by the end of July. 

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, three Democratic senators not running for president want to see a climate debate even sooner. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico wrote to the chairman of NBC News, Andrew Lack, asking him to make a pair of back-to-back debates happen in late June in Miami — parts of which already regularly flood even on sunny days — that would be focused on climate change.

“Voters deserve a vigorous debate with an informed moderator that can press candidates for detailed answers and hold them accountable,” the trio of senators wrote in their letter last week.

The senators, and others, make their case for a climate-centric debate with the 2016 election in mind. During that contest, not one question about climate change was asked of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton during the three general-election debates. The omission still rankles climate activists.

“Big fat zero,” Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash told a crowd of activists at Howard University this month. “And that is not okay, because what gets talked about in these presidential debates defines what's the priority for the next administration.”

But NBC News has given no indication it will heed their call. The news bureau has not replied to the letter, Whitehouse's office said. NBC News did not reply to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

The DNC, which sets the rules for the Democratic debate across all networks, has been noncommittal, as well. “The DNC is currently ironing out the details for all 12 debates and will work with the networks to ensure that Democrats have a platform to discuss these issues directly with the American people,” DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in an emailed statement.

Days after Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) blocked passage of a disaster aid package, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) blocked a second effort to pass the bill on May 28. (C-SPAN)

— Yet another GOP congressman blocks disaster relief: This time it was Rep. Thomas Massie. The Kentucky Republican objected to the bill due to how it would add to the national debt and didn't fund Trump's border wall, The Post's Jeff Stein reports. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) made a similar argument when striking down the aid funding last week. For the past week, House leaders have tried to pass the disaster bill during a "pro forma" session — that is, without a full House vote — a move Massie derided as “legislative malpractice."

— "I am still in disbelief": The Trump administration overruled its own scientists on pollution requirements at the site of Foxconn's $10 billion flat-screen manufacturing facility in Wisconsin, according to documents newly released by the Sierra Club and reported by Bloomberg News. That move allowed Taiwan-based electronics maker to forgo installing expensive pollution-control equipment. "The decision followed weeks of objections from EPA career staff, who said they saw no technical basis to justify it, according to correspondence released under a public records request," Bloomberg News says. As one EPA employee wrote in an email, “I am still in disbelief."

— The decline of nuclear energy threatens climate progress: That's the conclusion of a new report from the International Energy Agency. Right now, nuclear reactors are the second biggest source of low-carbon power in the world. But that fleet of reactions is aging — especially in the United States and Europe — meaning as many power stations go offline they will be replaced by natural-gas generation. “Without an important contribution from nuclear power, the global energy transition will be that much harder,” Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said in a statement.


Coming up:

  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry is scheduled to speak at the Governor’s Energy Summit on Thursday.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds a briefing on the Nuclear Regulatory Research program on Thursday.
  • The Carbon Utilization Research Council, the Global CCS Institute, and the Carbon Capture Coalition continue briefings on carbon capture on Friday.
  • EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks at the National Press Club on June 3.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on climate preparedness on June 5.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is scheduled to give the keynote address at the 5th Washington Oil & Gas Forum, which will be held on June 5 and 6.