THE LIGHTBULB

The group of youth-led climate activists who thrust the idea of the Green New Deal into the Democratic race for president has just ranked the climate plans of the top three candidates, each of whom are in their 70s.

And it is the oldest candidate of all, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who placed highest in their scorecard, released Thursday.

With a score of 91.5 percent, the independent senator from Vermont edged out his fellow New England progressive, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who scored 82.5 percent. 

The activist group, the Sunrise Movement, has determined that while many aspects of their plans for tackling climate change once in office were similar, it is Sanders who most forcefully speaks out as a candidate about the urgency of addressing what many Democratic voters see as a generational crisis.

“When we designed the scorecard, there wasn’t really anything like this out there,” said Evan Weber, Sunrise's political director. “We didn’t really have a sense of how people would rank.”

The top-polling candidate nationally, Joe Biden, placed third in the scorecard with a tally of 37.5 percent as Sunrise’s committee of five scorers found the former vice president’s climate plan too vague in many ways to rank any higher.

Sunrise said it intends for its scorecard not to be seen as an endorsement of any candidate, but instead as a way to prod White House hopefuls to raise their ambitions in addressing climate change.

“All of the candidates have areas where they can improve,” Weber said.

Sunrise scored not only the candidates’ specific policy proposals when it comes to curbing U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases and guarding vulnerable areas against sea-level rise and other climate impacts, but also how effectively the three candidates message on the issue.

Fifteen percent of the score was determined by how much Biden, Warren and Sanders talked about climate change on Twitter between June 26 and Oct. 28. In that category, Sanders’s frequent tweets about “a climate emergency” earned him the highest marks, followed by Warren and then Biden.

On policy specifics, Sanders outscored Warren for vowing to immediately stop construction of new fossil-fuel infrastructure if elected, a step Warren has not taken. 

And while the two left-wing candidates talk often about holding fossil-fuel executives accountable, it is Sanders in Sunrise’s view who has made those calls most forcefully.

Sanders has suggested holding those executives criminally liable under existing law for misleading the public about the dangers of climate change.

“Fossil fuel executives should be criminally prosecuted for the destruction they have knowingly caused,” Sanders said in August. 

Warren, meanwhile, has proposed a new law holding companies accountable when they lie to federal agencies. 

At times, Warren, who has issued a steady drumbeat of detailed policy proposals, had her Sunrise score knocked down for not yet having rolled out plans on certain issues.

“Warren doesn’t have an infrastructure plan,” Weber said. “So she lost a few points there.”

But in other categories, her detailed proposals allowed her to outscore Sanders and Biden. Warren's anti-corruption plan, for example, gave her higher marks than Sanders for reforming rulemaking at federal agencies.

Like Sanders and Warren, Biden embraced the idea of a Green New Deal — a comprehensive, if at times vaguely defined, plan for tackling climate change and economic inequality over the next decade — when he issued his own climate proposal in June.

Weber said that he was initially "impressed" with Biden, but that upon further reading "there's very little detail in his approach."

For example, both the Biden and Sanders climate plans include calls for reforestation. But Sanders goes into more detail, according to Sunrise, by saying he would reinstate a New Deal-era program that planted billions of trees in the 1930s and 1940s. Biden's climate webpage calls for "establishing targeted programs to enhance reforestation," without offering more specifics.

The Sunrise survey did not touch on some major — but among Democrats, contentious — energy and environmental issues, such as the role that nuclear energy should play in reducing emissions.

Founded in 2017, Sunrise has gained increasing influence both on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail after protesting in the office of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then the House speaker in waiting. Since that election, the group has focused on building support within the Democratic Party for the Green New Deal.

The group said it plans to score at least three other Democratic candidates — Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind.; Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey; and businessman Andrew Yang — before the end of the year.

POWER PLAYS

— Biden releases a tax plan that would pay for his climate proposal: Speaking of the presidential race, the ex-VP said Wednesday that he wants raise $3.2 trillion in taxes over a decade to pay for his domestic spending plans, including his climate and infrastructure proposal, The Post’s Jeff Stein reports. The former vice president’s climate plan would cost about $1.7 trillion.

— Birds are getting smaller because of climate change: A study that looked at birds that died after flying into Chicago buildings found a trend in which bird bodies are shrinking — their legs have gotten shorter and they weigh less, while their wings are getting slightly longer, The Post’s Ben Guarino reports. “These changes are present in nearly all of the species he measured, according to a study of 70,716 bird specimens from almost 40 years."

  • How climate plays a role: David Willard, a Field Museum ornithologist, and other researchers "examined precipitation, vegetation and other factors that could contribute to bird size. They determined an increase in summer temperatures is the strongest predictor for smaller birds,” Guarino writes. "Smaller animals have larger surface-area-to-volume ratios, and this allows them to lose body heat more quickly."
  • How the study was conducted: "The basis for the study began after an acquaintance mentioned to Willard that birds often dashed into a glassy convention center, McCormick Place, near the museum... Climate change wasn’t on his mind, Willard said, when he started gathering the birds to add to the museum’s collection."

— Rubio holds Trump nominee over offshore drilling: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has placed a hold on Katharine MacGregor’s confirmation to be the Interior Department’s deputy secretary because of the agency’s efforts to expand offshore drilling, Reuters reports. “When it comes to offshore drilling and exploration, the Florida delegation is united in opposition to allowing our shores to be subjected to new leases,” a spokesman for the senator told Reuters. The spokesman added the hold will be in place “until our office is able to discuss our concerns regarding offshore drilling with her directly.”

  • Why it's notable: “The move underscores opposition in most U.S. coastal states to a stalled Trump administration plan to open up nearly all U.S. offshore waters to drilling,” Reuters reports. “Environmentalists and lawmakers of both parties have expressed concern that an oil spill could pose a risk to wildlife and beaches, hurting tourism and the fishing industries.”

— Another Republican senator also admonished the Trump administration: During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) reiterated his call to halt a Russian-German pipeline project called the Nord Stream 2. Cruz, who is sponsoring a bill that would sanction companies building the pipeline, pointed to bipartisan support to stop the pipeline, saying the blame would be placed on the administration if they “didn’t exercise the clear power.” For his part, Trump has repeatedly panned the pipeline project. 

  • To quote: “Let me give you a very clear message to take back to your colleagues. … Time is of the essence,” Cruz said during the hearing. “A strategy that is, ‘Let's pursue our diplomatic options,' at this point, is a strategy to do nothing. … A strategy that will result with 100 percent certainty in the pipeline being completed and Putin getting billions of dollars and Europe being made energy dependent more so on Russia and in weakening the United States' position in the world.”

— Ex-Trump adviser speaks about stalled climate review panel plan: William Happer, a former Trump National Security Council official, claimed “brainwashed” officials in the White House nixed an effort to set up a panel to challenge the government’s own findings on climate change, E&E News reports. In his first public comments since he left the White House, Happer said Trump supported the plan for a climate review panel. He was speaking at an event hosted by the Heartland Institute in Madrid that took place while a global climate change summit was also taking place there.

  • To quote: “He's very sympathetic to trying to get some more rationality into climate policies,” Happer said at the event. “Personally, he feels very strongly that way, and many of the people in the White House who advise him are nervous about the political implications of that, which I can understand too.”

— The simplest of climate models run decades ago accurately projected global warming: Contra Happer, a new study assessed simple climate models published between 1970 and 2007 that were “uncannily accurate in projecting how much the world would warm in response to increasing amounts of planet-warming greenhouse gases,” The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports. The findings contradict common talking points that deny climate change and warn such models are not accurate. “The big takeaway is that climate models have been around a long time, and in terms of getting the basic temperature of the Earth right, they’ve been doing that for a long time,” said lead study author Zeke Hausfather, a University of California at Berkeley researcher.

— What if some places can’t be saved from rising seas? The first results have been released of a years-long effort by Monroe County in Florida, which includes the Florida Keys, to assess how high 300 miles of road must be elevated in order to stay dry as seas continue to rise, the New York Times reports. Not only did it find that costs were higher than what officials expected, it also revealed “some places can’t be protected, at least at a price that taxpayers can be expected to pay.”

  • The details: The results “focus on a single three-mile stretch of road at the southern tip of Sugarloaf Key, a small island 15 miles up Highway 1 from Key West. To keep those three miles of road dry year-round in 2025 would require raising it by 1.3 feet, at a cost of $75 million, or $25 million per mile. Keeping the road dry in 2045 would mean elevating it 2.2 feet, at a cost of $128 million. To protect against expected flooding levels in 2060, the cost would jump to $181 million. And all that to protect about two dozen homes.”
  • Now what? “How do you tell somebody, ‘We’re not going to build the road to get to your home’? And what do we do?” said Monroe County Manager Roman Gastesi. “Do we buy them out? And how do we buy them out — is it voluntary? Is it eminent domain? How do we do that?”

— PG&E’s wildfire woes: Pacific Gas & Electric is closing in on a $13.5 billion deal to pay those affected by the wildfires sparked by the company’s faltering equipment, Bloomberg News reports. The tentative deal includes both cash and stock payouts, though it has not been finalized. “A deal now would be a victory for PG&E, which has spent months trying to negotiate a viable restructuring plan to emerge from bankruptcy by the middle of next year,” per the report. “The utility has already agreed to pay $11 billion to insurers and other wildfire claim holders. The company also has a deal to pay $1 billion to local government agencies.”

Capital Weather Gang
It was the fourth straight busier-than-normal hurricane season, headlined by Category 5 Dorian.
Matthew Cappucci

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit holds a hearing on the economic, environmental and societal impacts of freight transportation. 
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on economy-wide deep decarbonization. 

EXTRA MILEAGE

— And the (other) “Word of the Year” is… Climate change was one key reason Dictionary.com picked “existential” as its Word of the Year. “Searches for existential spiked throughout 2019, especially after politicians used the word to characterize the dangers and disruptions climate change is widely held to pose for human life and the environment as we know them,” it wrote. Last month, Oxford Dictionaries picked “climate emergency” as its choice for word (or phrase) of the year.