Update: On Jan. 13, 2020, Sen. Booker announced he was suspending his campaign for president.
“The opposite of justice is not injustice, it’s inaction, indifference, apathy.”
—Cory Booker, October 2018
Sen. Cory Booker traveled to Paris during the negotiations of the United Nations climate treaty in 2015, and when he came back, he took to the Senate floor to recount conversations he had there with lawmakers from Bangladesh, one of the poorest and most vulnerable of the signatory nations. As the Himalayan glaciers melt and the oceans rise, he said, “right now Bangladesh is losing 1 percent of its arable land each year, displacing millions of Bangladeshis, literally creating climate refugees.” The richest people on the planet, he was saying, should make common cause with the poorest.
Since he rose to prominence as an organizer, council member and mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker has built a distinct environmental brand that centers on issues of racial and class equity. By 2017, as a U.S. senator and member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, he was pushing to strengthen federal environmental justice programs. This year, as a presidential candidate campaigning in South Carolina, Booker formally adopted the theme as a platform plank.
Booker has consistently achieved a nearly perfect voting record on the annual green scorecards of the League of Conservation Voters. But like most other Senate Democrats, there’s no enacted law he can point to that would mark him as an especially effective climate or environmental champion.
- Booker released a detailed climate plan in September that puts a spotlight on both environmental justice and smoothing a national transition to clean energy. It includes investing $3 trillion in programs to shift the country to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 and aims to have the entire economy carbon-neutral by 2045, in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
- To accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, Booker proposes ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out fracking, banning new fossil fuel leases on federal lands and revoking federal approvals for major oil pipelines, including Keystone XL and Dakota Access. He also proposes a carbon fee-and-dividend plan that would charge fossil fuel producers—and eventually industries—a fee for emissions that rises over time. Since companies typically pass those costs on to consumers, the fees would fund dividend checks sent to households monthly.
- To speed the spread of clean energy, Booker backs extending tax credits for wind, solar, energy storage and electric vehicles. To reduce vehicle emissions, he proposes turning the federal vehicle fleet all-electric by 2030, and providing grants for regional high-speed rail and electric buses and to encourage new construction to go all-electric. His housing plan also encourages more efficient housing and communities that reduce reliance on cars.
- Booker also emphasizes innovation and jobs. He proposes a $400 billion investment in “Moonshot Hubs” focused on clean energy research and development in every state.
- A key focus of Booker’s climate plan is environmental justice. That includes a proposal for an Environmental Justice Fund to invest in “communities long left behind.” It would be used for projects such as replacing school and housing water systems that have lead contamination and cleaning up abandoned coal mines. He also wants to hold polluters, including large animal feed lots (CAFOs), responsible for harm to low-income communities.
- Booker was among the first senators with eyes on the Oval Office to endorse the Green New Deal in 2018. His climate plan invokes FDR’s original New Deal, calling for reestablishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide jobs focused on wetlands restoration and forestry. Carbon sequestration in soils is also central to his proposal.
- Booker passes most, if not all, of the litmus tests that the party’s progressive wing is presenting to presidential candidates this year. He has promised not to take fossil fuel money—not a big sacrifice for a candidate whose main sources of corporate finance have been in other industries, such as finance and pharmaceuticals.
- In one distinction, Booker turned to vegetarianism as a young man. In an interview with Vegan News, he talks expansively about the climate and other environmental benefits of avoiding meat. How that plays in states where red politics thrive on red meat is an open question. But voters in Iowa, for example, may actually be more interested in his position on corporate agriculture, family farms and industrial concentration.
Booker once remarked on Twitter that the very first question he was asked as a candidate in Iowa was about climate change. He has since integrated the issue into his social justice-focused campaign. A significant voice on racial and class inequities, Booker adds nuance to a debate that others sometimes give short shrift.