What Presidential Candidates Said About Climate Change in the Florida Debates This Week

Chris Carnevale | March 11, 2016 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

The hosts of this week’s presidential debates in Miami did a service to the people of Florida by listening to the call of the 21 Florida mayors who requested the moderators to ask the candidates how they would respond to climate change and sea level rise. In the Democratic debate on Wednesday night, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were asked if it is possible to move forward with climate action without a bipartisan consensus on the cause of climate change. In the Republican debate on Thursday night, Marco Rubio and John Kasich were asked to acknowledge the reality of climate change and pledge to do something about it. Here is how the candidates responded in their own words.

Disclaimer: Some statements by the presidential candidates pasted below are false. The small percentage of claims that were fact checked are noted below with sources.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on if it is possible to move forward with climate action without a bipartisan consensus on the cause of climate change (full transcript here):

MODERATOR KAREN TUMULTY: Senator Sanders, is it possible to move forward on this issue if you do not get a bipartisan consensus, and what would you do?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, Karen, when you have Republican candidates for president and in Congress telling you that climate change is a hoax, which is Donald Trump and other candidates’ position, what they are really saying is, we don’t have the guts to take on the fossil fuel industry. What candidates are saying is if we stand up to the fossil fuel industry, and transform our energy system away from coal and oil and gas to energy efficiency and wind and solar and geothermal and other sustainable technologies, you know what happens to that Republican who listens to the scientists? On that day, that Republican loses his campaign funding from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

TUMULTY: So you’ve just described the problem, but how would you move forward given that this is the situation?

SANDERS: The way I would move forward in every other area. And what we are doing in this campaign is fighting not only to become president, but I’m the only candidate who says no president, not Bernie Sanders, can do it all. You know what we need, Karen? We need a political revolution in this country. And when millions of people stand up and tell the fossil fuel industry that their profits, their short-term profits are less significant than the long-term health of this planet, we will win. That is the way change always takes place.

TUMULTY: Secretary Clinton, can we do this without a bipartisan consensus? No major environmental legislation has ever passed without bipartisan votes.

CLINTON: Well, Karen, first of all, I was proud a number of mayors from Florida campaigned for me in South Carolina. I had a chance to talk to some of them about this issue. It is a really serious one. And there isn’t much time left to do several things that I will move quickly to do. You can see already what’s happening in Miami, particularly in Miami Beach with tides rising. So we do have to invest in resilience and mitigation while we are trying to cut emissions and make up for the fact that this is clearly man-made and man-aggravated. And there are certain things that the president has done through executive action that I will absolutely support. All the Republican say they will, if they’re elected, heaven forbid, repeal all of those executive actions. I will maintain them and act on them. The Clean Power Plan is something that Senator Sanders has said he would delay implementing, which makes absolutely no sense [editorial note: this claim was fact-checked by Politifact and rated false. Senator Sanders has not said he would delay implementation]. We need to implement all of the president’s executive actions and quickly move to make a bridge from coal to natural gas to clean energy. That is the way we will keep the lights on while we are transitioning to a clean energy future. And when I talk about resilience, I think that is an area we can get Republican support on. You know, you don’t have to do much more than look at rising insurance rates. You know, most of the property in Florida will be at risk in the next 50 years. I think I can get a bipartisan consensus on resilience and then implementing the president’s orders until we frankly win back enough seats, take back the Senate, and get back to bipartisan environmental legislation.


Let’s be clear. You’re looking at the senator who introduced the most comprehensive climate change legislation in the history of the United States Senate. Now, I hope that Secretary Clinton would join me if we are serious about climate change, about imposing a tax on carbon on the fossil fuel industry and making massive investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. And by the way, while we are on the subject of energy, I hope you’ll join me in ending fracking in the United States of America.

Marco Rubio on if he will acknowledge the reality of climate change and pledge to do something about it (full transcript here):

MODERATOR JAKE TAPPER: While we’re discussing the issues of importance to Floridians, I reached out to the Republican mayor of Miami, Tomas Regalado, to find out what he wanted to hear from you this evening. Mayor Regalado told me, quote, “Climate change means rising ocean levels, which in south Florida means flooding downtown and in our neighborhoods. It’s an every day reality in our city. Will you, as president acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus about climate change and as president, will you pledge to do something about it?” Unquote. Senator Rubio, the Miami mayor has endorsed you. Will you honor his request for a pledge and acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus of climate change and pledge to do something about it?

RUBIO: Well, sure if the climate is changing and one of the reasons is because the climate has always been changing. There’s never been a time when the climate has not changed. I think the fundamental question for a policy maker is, is the climate changing because of something we are doing and if so, is there a law you can pass to fix it? So on the issue of flooding in Miami, it’s caused by two things. Number one, south Florida is largely built on land that was once a swamp. And number two, because if there is higher sea levels or whatever it may be happening, we do need to deal with that through mitigation. And I have long supported mitigation efforts. But as far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather, there’s no such thing.

On the contrary, there is laws they want us to pass. There are laws they want to us pass that would be devastating for our economy or these programs like what the president has put in with the Clean Power Act or all these sorts of things that he’s forcing down our throats on the war on coal. Let me tell you who is going to pay the price of that? Americans are going to pay the price of that. The cost of doing that is going to be rammed down the throats of the American consumer, the single parent, the working families who are going to see increases in the cost of living. The businesses who are going to leave America because it’s more expensive to do business here than anywhere else. And you know what passing those laws would have — what impact it would have on the environment? Zero, because China is still going to be polluting and India is still going to be polluting at historic levels. [editorial note: this statement was fact checked by CNN and USA Today and rated false by both because even if the U.S. did go it alone, as the number two emitter in the world, it would make a significant difference in curbing climate change. A bigger point, glossed over by the fact checks, though, is that both China and India have committed to carbon reduction pledges.]

So, I am in favor of a clean environment. My children live in South Florida. My family is being raised here. I want this to be a safe and clean place, but these laws some people are asking us to pass will do nothing for the environment and they will hurt and devastate our economy.

TAPPER: So just to clarify, Senator Rubio, Mayor Regalado when he talks about the reality of the scientific consensus about climate change, the Republican mayor of Miami, he’s saying the scientific consensus is that man does contribute to climate change. When you talk to him, because he is the mayor of Miami and he has endorsed you, do you tell him that he’s wrong?

RUBIO: I would say to him that there is no law that they want us to pass that would have any impact on that. If we pass — if you took the gift list of all of these groups that are asking us to pass these laws and did every single one of them, there would be no change in our environment. Sea level would still rise. All these other things that are happening would continue to go on for a lot of different reasons. One, because America is not a planet. It’s a country. And number two, because these other countries like India and China are more than making up in carbon emissions for whatever we could possibly cut. Here’s what he will immediately — and Mayor Regalado is a great mayor and a good friend — but here’s what he’s going to immediately going to start hearing from. He will immediately start hearing from families in South Florida who are barely making it by, and now their electric bill went up $20 or $30 a month because we just made it more expensive to generate power. That cost will be passed on to working families. I am not going to destroy the U.S. economy for a law that will do nothing for our environment.

John Kasich on if he will acknowledge the reality of climate change and pledge to do something about it (full transcript here):

MODERATOR JAKE TAPPER: Governor Kasich, what would you say to the mayor of Miami?

KASICH: Well, I — I do believe we contribute to climate change, but I don’t think it has to be a, you know, either you’re for some environmental stringent rules or, you know, you’re not going to have any jobs. The fact is, you can have both.

In our state, we’ve reduced emissions by 30 percent. But let me tell you also what we’re trying to do. We want all the sources of energy. We want to dig coal, but we want to clean it when we burn it. We believe in natural gas. We believe in nuclear power. And you know what else I believe in? I happen to believe in solar energy, wind energy, efficiency, renewables matter.

Now, it doesn’t mean because you pursue a policy of being sensitive to the environment, because we don’t know how much humans actually contribute. But it is important we develop renewables. Battery technology can unleash an entirely different world.

So the fact is that you can have a strong environmental policy at the same time that you have strong economic growth and they are not inconsistent with one another.

Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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