Kirsten Gillibrand on Climate Change: Where the Candidate Stands

How do the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls compare on their climate history and promises to solve the crisis? ICN is analyzing their records.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from upstate New York running for president. Credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

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Update: On Aug. 28, Sen. Gillibrand announced she was withdrawing from the Democratic primary race for president. 

“When John F. Kennedy said, ‘I want to put a man on the moon in 10 years,’ he didn’t know if he could do it. But he knew it was an organizing principle. … Why not do the same here? Why not say let’s get to net zero carbon emissions in 10 years not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard?”
—Kirsten Gillibrand, April 2019

Been There

As a senator from upstate New York, Kirsten Gillibrand has seen two climate hot-button issues land in her backyard: fracking and the impacts of extreme weather. She is continuing to seek funding for recovery from Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene and has cited the impacts from those storms—as well as the recent flooding in the Midwest—as evidence that leaders need to take on climate change urgently.

As a presidential candidate, Gillibrand has moved steadily toward more ambitious action on climate change. Some of her policy positions have evolved over time. Early in her Senate career, she saw fracking for natural gas as bringing an “economic opportunity” to New York—although she underscored the need for regulations. More recently, she has taken a “keep it in the ground” position that emphasizes limits on production of fossil fuels, especially on public lands.

Done That

Candidate profiles

Gillibrand boasts a 95 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation voters, having voted on the side of environmentalists 100 percent of the time since 2014. Since becoming a senator in 2009, Gillibrand has been a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, where she has co-sponsored multiple pieces of legislation, including bills calling for a carbon tax and for the Green New Deal. But in Republican control, the Senate has not passed strong climate legislation.

Getting Specific

  • Gillibrand released her “Climate Change Moonshot” platform on July 25. It spells out her agenda in more specific detail and marks an attempt to move to the head of the field, at least in the scope of her ambition. The scale of her proposals goes beyond the dollar figure she presents ($10 trillion in combined public and private investment over the course of a decade). It includes a call for “enforceable standards” to ensure that the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals are met.
  • She says she would impose an excise tax on fossil fuel producers to make them pay for the damages being caused by climate change, putting the money in a “trust fund” to pay for such things as sea walls and making polluters pay for climate harms. This tax, she says, could generate $100 billion a year.
  • She also describes a wholesale switch to electric vehicles and an end to the internal combustion engine, writing that she would “phase in new vehicle emission standards to require newly manufactured cars and other vehicles to be zero-emission by the end of the next decade.” Exactly what that would mean for timing is still a question.
  • Gillibrand favors a price on carbon as spelled out in a Senate bill offered by climate hawks that would tax greenhouse gas pollution starting at a relatively high $52 a ton, and that would invest some of the revenue in energy transformation rather than sending it all back to taxpayers. That could raise trillions of dollars, cut emissions steeply, and outpace the pollution reduction steps promised during the Obama administration.
  • Gillibrand signed the “No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge” and is an original co-sponsor of a Senate plan to create tax credits for renewable energy technology and energy efficiency. She has said that Congress needs to “facilitate the development of renewable technologies like wind and solar.”
  • Gillibrand has called for ending all new fossil fuel leases and fracking on public lands. She is opposed to opening new areas of the Outer Continental Shelf to offshore drilling and cosponsored legislation to keep the Trump administration from doing so.

Candidate profiles

Our Take

Gillibrand released her plan later than many of her peers in the 2020 race but has subsequently delivered an expansive, specific plan that sets out a highly ambitious climate change wish-list. Her plan was released at a time when she was lagging in the polls, signalling that she may be hoping to gain momentum by aligning herself more closely with the issue of climate change.

Read Kirsten Gillibrand’s climate platform.
Read more candidate profiles.