Dec. 20--LOS ANGELES -- Environmental issues took center stage at Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate in Los Angeles, with 2020 candidates highlighting the toll of California's wildfires and debating the federal government's role in relocating victims after natural disasters.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar cited the deadly Camp Fire that killed 85 people in the town of Paradise last year in arguing that the country should do more to prepare for climate change.
"Climate change is an existential crisis, and you are seeing it here with the fires that you just had," Klobuchar said. "You saw it in Northern California, as was mentioned with Paradise. ... Great leaders make decisions not for this generation, but seven generations from now. This president doesn't keep his decisions for seven minutes."
She also praised Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was seated in the front row at the debate, for fighting President Donald Trump administration's move to roll back clean car standards.
Recent polls show likely California March 3, 2020 primary voters increasingly concerned about the environment, with many considering it their top issue. A July poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found 85 percent of Democratic likely voters and 59 percent of Independents say the consequences of global warming have already begun.
Three in four Democrats surveyed also said they believe global warming poses a very serious threat to the economy and quality of life for California's future.
The candidates characterized climate change both as a threat to human life, and also as an opportunity to re-engineer the American economy with electric cars and renewable energy.
"We shouldn't build another highway in America that doesn't have charging stations on it," former Vice President Joe Biden said.
The most notable difference of opinion between the candidates was their thoughts on how the country should go about relocating people who live in areas that are prone to natural disasters, and whether nuclear power should be a part of their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dismissed the question about relocation, saying it ignores the broader need to tackle climate change.
"It is not an issue of relocating people in towns," Sanders said. "The issue is whether we save the planet for our children and our grandchildren.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang said "we should obviously pay to relocate Americans."
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for the country "to keep some of our nuclear in place," as did Yang.
Billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who has pushed environmental legislation in California, urged the country to go in a different direction. "We have the technology that we need. It's called wind and solar and batteries."
Steyer then tangled with South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, insisting he is the only candidate on stage "who will unequivocally say this is my No. 1 priority." Buttigieg replied that climate change would "be a topic of Day 1 action."
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