Update: On Jan. 2, 2020, Castro announced he was suspending his Democratic primary campaign.
“We’re gonna say no to subsidizing big oil and say yes to passing a Green New Deal.”
—Julián Castro, January 2019
As U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration, Julián Castro spoke about the increasing frequency of natural disasters as a sign that the nation needed to build smarter and invest in resilience before the next storm hits. The success stories he saw from that position—including energy efficiency work in public housing and sustainable land-use planning after disasters—would go on to shape the policies he’s campaigning on now.
Before joining the Obama administration, Castro was mayor of San Antonio from 2009-2014, when he led the city-owned utility to pivot away from coal and toward more renewable energy. The utility adopted a goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, announced the closure of a coal-fired power plant, developed a plan to cut energy use, and expanded its purchasing of solar power. Castro tried to position San Antonio as a hub for clean energy by attracting new businesses and partnering with the University of Texas, San Antonio.
As Housing secretary, Castro oversaw a $1 billion grant program for innovative projects that aimed to make cities and towns more resilient to flooding and extreme weather. The program, developed with the Rockefeller Foundation after Hurricane Sandy, helped pay for projects in eight states and five cities, including coastal restoration in Louisiana and a plan to protect parts of Manhattan from rising seas. He also promoted a program that boosted energy efficiency in multi-family housing as a way to cut costs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But it wasn’t all green for Castro. His tenure as mayor coincided with a fracking boom in the nearby Eagle Ford shale, and Castro welcomed the jobs and investment that came with oil and gas development. In 2012, he told the San Antonio Express-News that the drilling boom brought an “unprecedented opportunity” and that high schools and colleges had to do more to train students for oil field work.
In a 2015 interview, Castro said that while he had concerns about the safety of fracking, he supported the practice as long as it is well regulated. “I believe that there is a utility to it and that it has a strong economic value, that natural gas is an important component of our energy future and at the same time keeping an open mind as research continues to come in,” he said.
- Castro’s “People and Planet First” climate plan, released in September 2019, proposes $10 trillion in federal, state and private investments over 10 years. It aims for electric power to be carbon neutral by 2030, all new light- and medium-duty vehicles to be zero emissions by 2030, and the economy to have net zero emissions by 2050. It also aims to create 10 million “good-paying” jobs.
- To help pay for investments in renewable energy and resilience, Castro says he supports a “carbon pollution fee,” but the plan doesn’t go into detail. Castro promises to “immediately stop” fossil exploration and extraction on public lands and end fossil fuel production subsidies. He has also said that his first executive order as president would be to recommit the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement.
- Climate change also plays a prominent role in Castro’s more detailed “People First Housing” plan, which includes a $200 billion green infrastructure fund that would go toward public transportation, electric vehicle charging stations, energy efficiency, upgrading the electricity grid and more. This would be part of an effort to “achieve net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, reduce U.S. emissions to at least half of 2005 emissions levels by 2030, and meet the promise of the Green New Deal.”
- The housing plan also calls for zoning changes to increase housing density, boost public transportation use over personal vehicles and make new development more resilient to the effects of climate change.
- Castro also promises to “propose new civil rights legislation to address the disparate impact of environmental discrimination and dismantle structures of environmental racism.”
- Castro has called for higher standards for factory farms, noting that sustainable farming is “a key component” for addressing climate change. He has said he would reverse the Trump administration’s moves to weaken Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act protections; expand protected areas to cover at least 30 percent of U.S. land and ocean area by 2030; and plant 30 billion trees by 2050.
- Like several of the Democratic candidates, he has vowed that his campaign won’t accept contributions from fossil fuel companies.
Castro has spoken often about the urgency of the threat posed by climate change, and in his campaign announcement he called it “the biggest threat to our prosperity in this 21st Century.” But while he has established credentials working to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy in San Antonio and as part of the Obama administration, climate change has not been one of his signature issues. Instead, he integrated climate change concerns into his other platforms, including his housing plan, and didn’t release a climate-focused plan until shortly before a national candidates’ town hall on climate change.