Julián Castro Defends Record on Fracking at Climate Forum

CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times

Julián Castro, the first 2020 Democratic presidential candidate at the CNN climate town hall, set the tone early in the night by giving a shout out to Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, the self-professed “climate candidate” whose six-part plan has been adopted by several other candidates since he dropped out of the race last month.

Calling climate change “an existential threat” — a phrase that is sure to come up several more times tonight — Mr. Castro said his first move as president would be to rejoin the Paris climate accord. The United States hasn’t actually withdrawn from the global climate change agreement and legally cannot until November 2020, but President Trump has vowed to do so.

Still, Mr. Castro said, “it’s actually what comes next that is most important” saying he would impose a fee on carbon pollution, enact an executive order prohibiting fossil fuel exploration and development on public lands and spend $10 trillion over 10 years to reach net-zero emissions by 2045.

The former secretary for Housing and Urban Development and mayor of San Antonio drew on his experience working with families who had lost their homes to flooding and called for subsidizing the National Flood Insurance Program.

An activist from the Sunrise Movement, a liberal environmental group, asked Mr. Castro why he should be trusted to move the country away from fossil fuels when he supported fracking.

“She’s right. When I was mayor of San Antonio, I did believe that there were opportunities to be had with fracking that was going on in South Texas.” But, he said, at the time natural gas was described as a “bridge fuel” to help wean the country off coal and toward cleaner fuels.

“We’re coming to the end of the bridge,” Mr. Castro said. He said while he isn’t calling for an immediate national ban on fracking, he supports local communities that do so and called for moving to cleaner sources.

Mr. Castro won some of his strongest applause when he leaned into his résumé as the nation’s housing chief and connected his work with the need to protect low-income communities from environmental damages. He recounted discovering that 70 percent of subsidized housing was within a mile of a superfund site saying, “That’s the environmental injustice of racism that we’re dealing with.”