Cory Booker 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. Cory Booker. Credit: Dustin Chambers/Getty Images

Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat running for president. Credit: Dustin Chambers/Getty Images

"The opposite of justice is not injustice, it's inaction, indifference, apathy."
—Cory Booker, October 2018

Been There

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.

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Done That

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.

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Getting Specific

  • Booker was among the first senators with eyes on the Oval Office to endorse the Green New Deal in December 2018, right on the heels of Bernie Sanders. The sweep of its policy prescriptions reflects his own broad agenda: more than a year ago he proposed model jobs legislation that would include federal employment support in 15 pilot cities. Booker also favors Medicare for all.
  • His past policies have not been quite that ambitious. As recently as 2016, Booker co-sponsored a non-binding resolution to establish a national goal of 50 percent clean electricity by 2030. That's a more moderate goal than the Green New Deal's crash program for zero emissions economy-wide.
  • Still, 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 opposed the Keystone XL pipeline. He has said he favors a price on carbon; depending on its details this could address economic disparities.
  • Booker is one of several candidates who are willing to embrace new nuclear technology as part of a climate solution. He has been critical of fracking for natural gas, which can contaminate groundwater and impact local communities.
  • Booker 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 and says his last non-vegan meal was on Election Day in 2014. 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.

Our Take

Booker once remarked on Twitter that the very first question he was asked as a candidate in Iowa was about climate change. But he rarely mentions it on the social media platform—just twice in a recent 30-day period, once when he signed the pledge not to take contributions from fossil fuel companies, and once while visiting flooded farmland. By comparison, he tweets constantly about other hot-button issues like gun control, health care, reproductive rights and social justice. A significant voice on racial and class inequities, Booker adds nuance to a debate that others sometimes give short shrift.

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