Where 2020 Democrats Stand on Carbon Pricing [Updated]

Note: This article was originally published on June 26th, 2019 ahead of the first set of 2020 Democratic primary debates on June 26th and 27th. We have updated the article to reflect changes in candidates’ positions heading into the second round of debates on July 30th and 31st. 

Carbon pollution pricing has emerged as a cornerstone climate policy proposal in recent years, gaining traction in dozens of states across the country and in congress. As public policy, carbon pricing seeks to reduce carbon emissions, while creating jobs, preserving and even boosting economic growth, ensuring equity, and oftentimes investing in renewable energy projects and technology.

With the 2020 Democratic primary campaigns in full swing, we’ve compiled the candidates’ stances on carbon pricing. Attention was paid to three criteria: (1) where they stand on carbon pricing during the 2020 campaign, either they outright support or are just open to a carbon price; (2) whether they have supported carbon pricing in the past; and (3) if there is a specific carbon pricing plan on their official campaign website.

Candidates were given points for each criterion, which were added up to organize candidates into category groups. Each criterion was given a certain point value based on its importance in understanding a candidate’s support for carbon pricing.

Here’s Where the Candidates Stand

Carbon Pricing Leader (4/4)

Jay Inslee, John Delaney

Endorses Carbon Pricing (3/4)

Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang

Supports Some Type of Price on Carbon (2/4)

Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Bill de Blasio, Marianne Williamson

Open to a Price on Carbon (1/4)

Steve Bullock, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren

No Comment (0/4)

Michael Bennet, Kamala Harris


Tulsi Gabbard

See our detailed table of score calculations

Carbon Pricing Leader (4/4)

John Delaney

Former US Representative from Maryland John Delaney supports putting a price on carbon. The first Democrat to announce his intention to run for the nomination, Delaney was also the first to announce support for a price on carbon. His proposal calls for $15 per ton carbon dioxide fee, which increases by $10 a year until certain goals are met. In interviews, Delaney is often cited as favoring carbon pricing legislation saying he prefers a “specific, actionable plan to do something big in climate, like the bipartisan carbon tax dividend bill.” While in Congress, Delaney was a co-sponsor of a House carbon pricing bill.

Read John Delaney’s full carbon pricing plan here.

Jay Inslee

Governor of Washington State and former US Representative Jay Inslee supports a federal price on carbon. Inslee is very familiar with carbon pricing, having twice supported state-wide ballot questions in his home state to put a price on carbon (unfortunately, both did not pass). In June 2019, Inslee released a plan that explicitly endorsed a federal price on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane. Inslee’s plan would use revenue from the price to “provide dedicated support for frontline and low-income communities in addressing the impacts of climate disasters.”

Read Jay Inslee’s full carbon pricing proposal on his website here (click on the ‘holding polluters accountable box’), or a great summary here.

Endorses Carbon Pricing (3/4)

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor of South Bend Indiana Pete Buttigieg, has explicitly supported carbon pricing. Buttigieg first explicitly endorsed carbon pricing in his breakout March 2019 CNN Town Hall. In it he was open to the idea that a carbon price can be done in a way where “most Americans would be better off fiscally because we could return it [carbon pricing revenue] right back to the American people.” He also reiterated his support for carbon pricing on the Tonight Show, and was quoted at an Iowa rally as saying the US would definitely need a carbon price.

Read Pete Buttigieg’s carbon pricing proposal on his website here (click on ‘security’ then on ‘climate change’). 

Joe Biden

Former US Vice President and former US Senator from Delaware Joe Biden, has come out in favor of carbon pricing policy. Considered the early leader in the 2020 Democratic primary, Biden has favored passing Federal carbon pricing legislation by 2025. He has also advocated for so-called ‘carbon tariffs,’ which would only be possible if the US also had its own carbon price. Carbon tariffs work by placing a charge on imported goods from countries with a lower carbon price than the US, therefore accounting for the price difference and making American goods remain competitive. Joe Biden also previously supported carbon pricing while a US Senator from Delaware.

Kirsten Gillibrand

US Senator from New York and former US Representative Kirsten Gillibrand has specifically favored a carbon price and has a plan on her website. Speaking to the New York Times, Gillibrand said the US needs a federal carbon price that directs investments to renewable energy and other carbon-free technologies like batteries. She also believes that revenues should be invested in communities facing the biggest climate change burdens. She, like others, sees carbon pricing as part of a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change.

Read Kirsten Gillibrand’s carbon pricing proposal here.

John Hickenlooper

Former Governor of Colorado and former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has come out in support of a price on carbon and has posted dedicated plan for how to implement it. Hickenlooper envisions a carbon price where all revenue collected would be returned to residents, and favors a carbon border adjustment to keep US firms competitive. 

Read John Hickenlooper’s carbon pricing proposal here (about halfway down the page).

Andrew Yang

Entrepreneur and founder of Venture for America Andrew Yang, supports a price on carbon and has a dedicated plan for how to implement it. Yang initially envisions his carbon price to start at $40 per ton, but wants it to increase regularly. He wants half the revenue to go to paying for his cornerstone policy of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), with the other half funding investments in renewables and energy efficiency. Yang also calls for a ‘carbon tariff,’ at the border.

Read Andrew Yang’s carbon pricing proposal on his website here.

Supports Some Type of Price on Carbon (2/4)

Cory Booker

US Senator from New Jersey and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker explicitly supports a price on carbon. Responding to the New York Times in April, Booker expressed support for a carbon price where revenue was rebated to households progressively so as to reduce inequality and lessen the burden on low and moderate income families. Booker believes that carbon pricing needs to be part of a larger effort to tackle climate change.

Julian Castro

Former US Housing & Urban Development Secretary and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro supports a price on carbon pollution. Speaking to the New York Times, Castro supported a federal carbon price with revenue invested in renewable energy resources and battery technology. Castro also wants to see revenue go towards reducing burdens of communities dealing with climate impacts and most impacted by climate change policies. He sees carbon pricing as part of a larger decarbonization strategy.

Bill de Blasio

Mayor of New York City and former Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has come out in favor of a price on carbon pollution. In a candidate questionnaire circulated by the Washington Post De Blasio said he supports putting a price on carbon. He also joined a letter, along with other members of the US Conference of Mayors, asking for congress to adopt a carbon price.

Marianne Williamson

Self help author and activist Marianne Williamson supports carbon pricing at the federal level. Speaking to the New York Times, Williamson said, “I feel a federal carbon tax is important and is only one tool that we will need to address this imminent threat to our communities, country and environment.” She also appears to advocate for a price on carbon ranging somewhere around $60 per ton of carbon pollution. She advocates for a separate price on methane emissions, which are many times more potent than carbon dioxide. Williamson also wants to see revenue used to incentivize zero-carbon technologies and generally boost the renewable energy economy.

Open To a Carbon Price (1/4)

Steve Bullock

Governor of Montana and former state Attorney General Steve Bullock is open to a price on carbon. In a candidate questionnaire circulated by the Washington Post, Bullock says “a carbon tax shouldn’t be off the table if it contains safeguards to ensure lower-income communities are not disproportionately affected.”

Amy Klobuchar

US Senator from Minnesota and former County Attorney, Amy Klobuchar is open to a price on carbon. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Klobuchar said she would support a carbon price only if it didn’t increase prices on low and moderate income citizens.

Beto O’Rourke

Former US Representative from Texas and 2018 candidate for US Senate, Beto O’Rourke’s larger climate plan includes some elements of a carbon price. In his plan he introduces legally binding emissions standards, with the goal of achieving net zero by the year 2050. O’Rourke’s plan says, “this standard will send a clear price signal to the market while putting in place a mechanism that will ensure the environmental integrity of this endeavor.” While not explicitly mentioning a carbon price, the plan leaves the door open for one. In a later statement to the New York Times, O’Rourke elaborated, “we need transparent, science-based, science-driven carbon pricing to guide our decisions as a democracy, strengthen our communities, support our workers, and unleash a robust market response to climate change.”

Tim Ryan

US Representative from Ohio and former State Senator Tim Ryan has not ruled out supporting a carbon price. In a statement to the New York Times, Ryan said, “I’m open to it. I haven’t made a decision on it.”

Bernie Sanders

US Senator from Vermont and former Burlington Mayor Bernie Sanders was previously supportive of a carbon price but has made no statement during his 2020 campaign. In past years Sanders was among the most vocal supporters of a carbon pricing. In 2014 he wrote an op-ed which called carbon pricing a central part of any plan to address carbon pollution. During the 2016 Democratic primary, Sanders also repeatedly attacked Hillary Clinton over her unwillingness to support a carbon price. So far during his 2020 campaign he has made no statement for or against carbon pricing.

Elizabeth Warren

US Senator from Massachusetts and former Bankruptcy Law Professor Elizabeth Warren has come out in favor of a price on Carbon. In a candidate questionnaire circulated by the Washington Post, Warren said she supports putting a price on carbon.

No Comment (0/4)

Michael Bennet

US Senator from Colorado and former Superintendent of Denver Public Schools Michael Bennet has made no statement during his 2020 campaign.

Kamala Harris

US Senator from California and former California Attorney General Kamala Harris has made no statement during her 2020 campaign.


Tulsi Gabbard

US Representative from Hawaii and former Honolulu City Councillor, Tulsi Gabbard has come out against a carbon price. In a candidate questionnaire circulated by the Washington Post, Gabbard said she doesn’t think a carbon price is the right way to fight climate change, claiming it will impact those lower on the income spectrum. 

Methodology & Disclaimers

Candidates were assessed based off available public statements through existing media sources, website statements, and proposals posted on third party websites. An attempt was made to account for all public stances, statements, and plans on carbon pricing. Updates will be made in a timely manner to this web page based on any newly discovered information, changes in the candidate issue positions, and/or newly published plans. This assessment is  made using best judgement of the Climate XChange editorial team. To suggest updates or make suggestions please use this form.

This was limited to major Democratic candidates who are participating in the June 26th, 2019 and June 27th, 2019 Democratic party debates, as determined by the 2020 debate rules established by the Democratic National Committee. If a Republican primary debate is scheduled as part of the 2020 Presidential contest, a similar article will be posted. 

Summary of Changes

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