Climate change: What Democrats running for president will do to hold fossil fuel companies accountable

To find out how 2020 Democratic candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes eight candidates’ answers to the fifth question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page.

Right now there’s a nationwide push to hold fossil fuel companies accountable via lawsuits, shareholder resolutions, and divestment for their contributions to climate change and campaigns to mislead the public. Do you support these efforts? What do you see at the government’s role in holding polluters accountable?

Joe Biden: [I] will take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment and poison our communities’ air, land, and water, or conceal information regarding potential environmental and health risks.

As president, [I] will hold polluters accountable. Plain and simple. Under the Trump Administration, the EPA has referred the fewest number of criminal anti-pollution cases to the Justice Department in 30 years. Allowing corporations to continue to pollute — affecting the health and safety of both their workers and surrounding communities — without consequences perpetuates an egregious abuse of power. [I] will direct [my] EPA and Justice Department to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation as needed to hold corporate executives personally accountable — including jail time where merited.

Elizabeth Warren: Yes, I do. I have introduced legislation to hold top corporate executives criminally accountable if, as a result of their negligence, companies pollute the air or cause harm to our environment.

Kamala Harris: To succeed, this must be a whole society effort where we hold ourselves and one another accountable to act to meet the existential threat posed by this climate crisis. For my part, a Harris Administration will use the full extent of its authorities to hold polluters accountable. I know how to get this done, having taken on big oil companies throughout my career — from defending California’s climate laws in court to suing corporations like Chevron for damaging the environment.

Pete Buttigieg: Climate change and climate security is the defining challenge of our generation. We should push for change through every available avenue. Corporate social responsibility means little if a company’s business practices are harming people, and we must have robust enforcement and serious accountability for wrongdoing.

Beto O’Rourke: [I] understand that accountability is essential to moving forward on climate change. An O’Rourke administration would enforce our laws to hold polluters accountable — including for their historical actions or crimes — and would require public companies to measure and disclose climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains.

Tom Steyer: I strongly support the efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their corrupt actions to mislead and endanger the public — in fact, I’ve been directly involved in the divestment effort. I spent my years on Stanford University’s board successfully convincing them to dump coal holdings and pushing hard for full divestment from fossil fuels. It is time that we break the grip that these corporations have over our political system and strengthen laws that protect workers and the environment. In the past, once fossil fuel companies have gotten all the money they can out of a community or a piece of land they try to pull up stakes and move on without repairing the damage they’ve done in the process. This needs to stop. We need to step up enforcement and prosecute corrupt companies that poison our air and water. It is time that we tell these executives that they will not prevent us from taking action on the climate crisis, and create real — potentially criminal — consequences for actions they may have taken to knowingly spread false information and slow climate action. I will enact structural change that ends government giveaways to big corporate polluters, manages public resources for all Americans, and invests in a regenerative economy with good, clean jobs in fossil fuel communities.

Amy Klobuchar: [I] support efforts to hold companies accountable for their contributions to climate change and campaigns to mislead the public. [I have] signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and believe we also need aggressive campaign finance reform that takes on the political influence of special interests like the fossil fuel industry.

Michael Bennet: We should never elect another climate denier to the White House. We must hold polluters accountable for their actions.

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