Update: on Aug. 15, John Hickenlooper announced he was dropping out of the race for president.
"For some reason, our party has been reluctant to express directly its opposition to democratic socialism. In fact, the Democratic field has not only failed to oppose Sen. Sanders' agenda, but they've actually pushed to embrace it."
—John Hickenlooper, June 2019
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who calls himself "the only scientist now seeking the presidency," got a master's degree in geology at Wesleyan University in 1980. He then went to Colorado to work as an exploration geologist for Buckhorn Petroleum, which operated oil leases until a price collapse that left him unemployed. He opened a brewpub, eventually selling his stake and getting into politics as mayor of Denver, 2003-2011, and then governor of Colorado, 2011-2019. Both previous private sector jobs mark him as an unconventional Democratic presidential contender.
In 2014, when Hickenlooper was governor, Colorado put into force the strongest measures adopted by any state to control methane emissions from drilling operations. He embraced them: "The new rules approved by Colorado's Air Quality Control Commission, after taking input from varied and often conflicting interests, will ensure Colorado has the cleanest and safest oil and gas industry in the country and help preserve jobs," he said at the time. Now, as a presidential candidate, he promises that he "will use the methane regulations he enacted as governor as the model for a nation-wide program to limit these potent greenhouse gases."
Hickenlooper has made a point of dismissing the Green New Deal, which he considers impractical and divisive. "These plans, while well-intentioned, could mean huge costs for American taxpayers, and might trigger a backlash that dooms the fight against climate change," he declared in a campaign document, describing the Green New Deal.
But his plans are full of mainstream liberal ideas for addressing climate change:
- He endorses a carbon tax with revenues returned directly to taxpayers, and he says that the social cost of carbon, an economic estimate of future costs brought on by current pollution, should guide policy decisions.
- He offers hefty spending for green infrastructure, including transportation and the grid, and for job creation, although he presents few details. He favors expanding research and development, and suggests tripling the budget for ARPA-E, the federal agency that handles exotic energy investments.
- He emphasizes roping the private sector into this kind of investment, rather than constantly castigating industry for creating greenhouse gas emissions in the first place. For example, when he calls for tightening building standards and requiring electric vehicle charging at new construction sites, he says private-public partnerships should pay the costs.
- He would recommit the U.S. to helping finance climate aid under the Paris agreement. But he also says he'd condition trade agreements and foreign aid on climate action by foreign countries.
Hickenlooper's disdain for untrammelled government spending and for what he sees as a drift toward socialism in the party's ranks, stake out some of the most conservative territory in the field. He has gained little traction so far. But his climate proposals are not retrograde; like the rest of the field, he's been drawn toward firm climate action in a year when the issue seems to hold special sway.