WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump blasted the climate change proposals of his Democratic challengers for the White House on Wednesday as they began showcasing their plans in a marathon round of televised town halls.
“The Democrats’ destructive ‘environmental’ proposals will raise your energy bill and prices at the pump,” Trump said in a series of tweets, just minutes after the seven-hour event kicked off on CNN.
Former Obama administration Housing Secretary Julian Castro was the first of 10 Democratic presidential contenders to explain plans to tackle climate change in the forums likely to pit moderates like front-runner Joe Biden against progressives such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
The session offers Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to face Trump in the November 2020 election an opportunity in a crowded presidential field to stand out on an issue increasingly important to voters.
Castro described climate change as “the most existential crisis to this country’s future,” as he described the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian and Amazon wildfires dominating television footage.
He also rebuffed Republican criticism that climate action costs consumers, instead calling it an “opportunity” that could create jobs in renewable energy related industries.
Trump rejects mainstream climate science and has reversed Obama-era initiatives meant to curb emissions, promote alternatives to fossil fuels and join the world in fighting the crisis.
Concerns about the environment have spiked as fires burn in the Arctic and Amazon, ice melts in Greenland and strong storms this year have flooded farms in Midwestern states.
During the event, which began at 5 p.m. (2100 GMT), the candidates’ visions of the future of oil, gas and coal, and electric vehicles will be on the table.
They will also talk about their plans to adapt to climate change including protecting communities from the devastation of intensified storms, floods and droughts. The forums will feature individual candidates facing questions from moderators and voters.
Biden, a former vice president who is seeking to win back workers in industrial states who switched to Trump in 2016, could be asked how much of a lifeline he would give to the coal and natural gas industries that have driven the economies of Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Biden’s $1.7 trillion plan supports carbon capture and sequestration, a technique to bury carbon and help utilities transition to cleaner sources of energy. The plan has been criticized by rivals as offering a middle ground that would not achieve decarbonization goals.
But Biden, who was No. 2 to former President Barack Obama, has also said he would eliminate fossil fuels, saying in a recent debate: “We would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated.”
Sanders has taken a more confrontational approach. His $16.3 trillion plan does away with gasoline-powered cars and new nuclear power. It would also ban carbon capture and sequestration, even though U.N. climate scientists say that is integral to staving off the worst effects of climate change.
Warren’s $3 trillion plan, released on Tuesday, creates jobs in green research, manufacturing and exporting. Some of her plan would be funded by reversing Republican tax cuts that largely benefit businesses and the wealthy.
The town-hall format on climate emerged after the Democratic National Committee in August rejected debates on single issues like climate.
The other Democrats who qualified for Wednesday’s event were South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, former congressman Beto O’Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
MSNBC and Georgetown University will hold another climate forum on Sept. 19 and 20 expected to feature 11 candidates including Republican Bill Weld. It will feature many of the Democrats who did not qualify for Wednesday’s town halls.