Today we launched the RFF Candidate Tracker, which compares and contrasts the positions of the various 2020 presidential candidates on a range of climate, energy, and other natural resource policy topics. We had a number of resources to draw from: candidates’ past statements, recent media interviews, formal and published plans, debate and town hall comments, and more.
We’ve done our best to capture the subtleties in candidates’ positions—particularly in the differences between them—but inevitably made judgment calls about characterizations that some might not agree with. We did contact the campaigns to offer them the chance to review our write-ups and are very grateful for the time that a number of campaign staffers gave us in doing just that.
This tool will evolve, both as positions become clearer (or perhaps less clear), and as candidates leave—or perhaps still enter—the race. So I encourage readers to check back over the course of the election cycle to see how things have changed.
In the meantime, I wanted to highlight just a few of the topics we debated internally as we were putting this together:
How Can RFF Add the Most Value?
RFF is not the first institution to track candidates’ environmental and climate positions, and likely won’t be the last. We also don’t have a staff of journalist-style researchers tracking candidates’ comments in real time. But we do have deep policy expertise and wanted to create a product that was “RFF-y” in its level of commentary. For the sake of brevity and readability, the tracker contains relatively concise information—but we’re looking forward to supplementing that with Resources Radio podcasts that dive into a number of the tracker categories in more detail. We hope that, with this tool, we have struck a balance between brevity and nuance; by breaking the information into narrow issues and drawing out details (like candidates’ plans, or lack thereof, for using the revenue from a carbon pricing policy), we hope not only to provide information on candidates’ stances, but to highlight key policy issues that some candidates are considering.
How Do We Characterize the Green New Deal?
The Green New Deal has become a primary component of climate policy discussions among Democratic candidates, but its tenets have not yet been fully defined—and at least in my mind, it continues to mean different things to different people. This presented a challenge: it would have been relatively simple to say that many if not all Democratic candidates are for it, but what does “it” mean? Instead, we chose to incorporate some of the more specific elements often included in Green New Deal discussions into their own more specific categories.
What Do Candidates Mean When They Say “Clean” Energy?
Candidates’ words are typically presented in the context of campaigning, where policy specifics are not always warranted. (An aside: Elizabeth Warren is often noted for her level of policy specificity, so where that is matched by other candidates, perhaps we should call it “warrented”?!) At the risk of asking for too much precision, I nonetheless noticed that several candidates refer to “clean, renewable” energy—and these two terms can mean quite different things when the policy rubber hits the proverbial road.
Clean energy standards, for example, can include any or all of: existing nuclear, new nuclear, existing hydro, new hydro, biomass (controversially), and of course, renewables. Renewable energy standards, by contrast, usually include a smaller subset of technologies and primarily focus on expanding wind and solar. Does it matter at this stage? Probably not. But will it matter in the long run? Certainly.
Explore the tool on the RFF website.