"What's the point of being a progressive if we can't make progress?"
—Michael Bennet, November 2017
Sen. Michael Bennet frequently talks about the twin problems of drought and wildfire that have plagued Colorado for years, problems that scientists say will only worsen with global warming—longer wildfire seasons, shorter ski seasons, scorching drought. In an Iowa campaign speech, he said: "I spent the whole summer meeting with farmers and ranchers in places where I'll never get 30 percent of the vote in Colorado who are deeply worried about being able to pass their farms or ranches along to their children or grandchildren because they have no water because of the droughts."
Bennet, a scion of a political family with insider Democratic credentials, was initially appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy. He's since navigated through the minefields of climate and fossil fuel policy. Notably, he repeatedly broke with most Senate Democrats to vote for the Keystone XL pipeline, an act that climate activists might not swallow easily. He bemoaned the fight over Keystone as "one of those idiotic Washington political games that bounces back and forth and doesn't actually accomplish anything," as he said to the Wall Street Journal.
- Bennet has published an extensive climate platform that promises zero emissions by 2050 "in line with the most aggressive targets set by the world's scientists." But he hasn't embraced the Green New Deal: "I'm not going to pass judgment one way or another on the Green New Deal," Bennet said during an Iowa speech in February. "I'm all for anyone expressing themselves about the climate any way they want."
- His climate platform boosts ideas like these: Giving everyone the right to choose clean electricity at a reasonable price from their utility, and doing more to help them choose clean electric cars. Setting up a Climate Bank to catalyze $10 trillion in private innovation and infrastructure. Creating a jobs plan with 10 million green jobs, especially where fossil industries are declining. Setting aside 30 percent of the nation's land in conservation, emphasizing carbon capture in forests and soils, and promoting a climate role for farmers and ranchers.
- He calls for helping farmers move toward carbon-storing practices on a voluntary basis so they can participate in carbon markets. He also recommends incentives for farmers to produce zero-emissions energy — what the plan calls our "newest" cash crop — and developing an agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop technologies to sequester carbon.
- The problem he faces is squaring that with an ambivalent record on fossil fuels. His support for Keystone was not an anomaly: Bennet has been supportive of fossil fuel development generally, especially natural gas, such as his support for the Jordan Cove pipeline and natural gas export terminal project in Oregon. In a 2017 op-ed in USA Today, Bennet wrote that "saying no to responsible production of natural gas—which emits half the carbon of the dirtiest coal and is the cleanest fossil fuel—surrenders progress for purity."
- On the other hand, he favors protection for Alaskan wilderness from drilling.
- According to his campaign, Bennet "does not accept money from any corporate PACs or lobbyists." He signed the No Fossil Fuel Funding pledge on June 26.
- Bennet's climate plan doesn't outline specific carbon pricing goals, but he recently released a carbon pollution transparency plan to recognize the full climate costs of carbon pollution when assessing the benefits of environmental protections.
- In 2017, Bennet co-introduced a bill to allow businesses to use private activity bonds issued by local or state governments to finance carbon capture projects.
- And he has proposed legislation to expand economic opportunities in declining coal communities.
Bennet is a climate-aware politician from an energy-rich but environment-friendly swing state who doesn't aggressively challenge the fossil fuel industry's drilling, pipeline and export priorities. His platform covers the basics of emissions control, plays a strong federal hand and includes protections for public lands. But his support for the Keystone XL and other fossil development and his sidestepping of issues like carbon pricing shy away from some of the climate actions that progressives hope to push forward.