Where 2020 Democrats Stand on Carbon Pricing [Updated for the 4th Debate]

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. It was updated on July 29th ahead of the second round of debates on July 30th and 31st, and on September 10th ahead of the third debate on September 12th. It has now been updated to reflect the stances of the participants of the fourth debate on October 15th.

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)

No candidates participating in the October 15th debate met the criteria for this category.

Endorses Carbon Pricing (3/4)

Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang

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

Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke

Open to a Price on Carbon (1/4)

Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren

No Comment (0/4)

No candidates participating in the October 15th debate met the criteria for this category


Tulsi Gabbard

See our detailed table of score calculations

Endorses Carbon Pricing (3/4)

Cory Booker

US Senator from New Jersey and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker has come out in support of a price on carbon and has posted a dedicated plan on his website. As early as April, Booker expressed support for a carbon price where revenue was rebated to households progressively to reduce inequality and lessen the burden on low and moderate income families. Booker believes that a carbon price needs to be part of a larger effort to tackle climate change, and set the target of achieving carbon neutrality in the electric sector nationally by 2030.

Read Cory Booker’s carbon pricing proposal here.

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.

Kamala Harris

US Senator from California and former California Attorney General Kamala Harris has come out in support of a price on carbon and has published a dedicated plan for how to implement it. Originally quiet on the topic, Harris released a comprehensive climate plan ahead of the Climate Crisis Town Hall in September that includes a carbon fee-and-dividend. In it, Harris pledges to “involve frontline communities in the fee development process” to ensure revenue is used to improve the environment and local economy. 

Read Kamala Harris’ carbon pricing proposal here (scroll down halfway to ‘pillar 2’).

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)

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 favored a federal carbon price with revenue invested in renewable energy resources and battery technology. Castro continued that he wants to see revenue go towards reducing burdens of communities dealing with climate impacts and most impacted by climate change policies. In his most recent climate plan Castro briefly mentions the need for a “pollution fee on up-stream, large-scale polluters.”

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 becoming 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.” During CNN’s Climate Crisis Town Hall, O’Rourke specifically endorsed a cap-and-trade approach to pricing carbon, differentiating himself from other candidates who have tended to favor fee-and-dividend models.

Open To a Carbon Price (1/4)

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. Her most recent climate plan does not include a carbon price, but when asked by the media Klobuchar has said some kind of carbon price should be on the table.

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.

Tom Steyer

Billionaire hedge fund manager and liberal activist, Tom Steyer has not come out during the 2020 primary with a stance on carbon pricing, but has a history of supporting the policy. His plan focuses on ending “giveaways” to polluting companies. In the past, Steyer has put money towards funding efforts to pass a carbon price in Oregon

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. Most recently, when asked at the CNN Climate Town Hall if she would support a carbon price, Warren responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”


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

  • First published on June 26th 2019, including candidates who participated in the June 26th and June 27th Democratic Presidential Primary debates (as determined by the Democratic National Committee).
  • Updated prior to the second Democratic Presidential Primary debates (on July 30th and July 31st) to include those candidates who qualified (as determined by the Democratic National Committee). Eric Swalwell was removed for formally dropping out of the race, and Steve Bullock was added for qualifying for the second debate.
  • Updated prior to the third Democratic Presidential Primary debate (on September 12th) to include those candidates who qualified (as determined by the Democratic National Committee). Jay Inslee, Kirsten Gillibrand, and John Hickenlooper were removed for formally dropping out of the race. John Delaney, Bill de Blasio, Marianne Williamson, Steve Bullock, Tim Ryan, Michael Bennett, and Tulsi Gabbard were removed from this update for not qualifying for the third debate.
  • Updated prior to the fourth Demoratic Presidential Primary debate (on October 15th) to include those candidates who qualified (as determined by the Democratic National Committee). Tulsi Gabbard and Tom steyer were added for qualifying for the fourth debate. 

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