Martin O'Malley Just Set An Extremely High Bar On Climate Change For 2016 Democratic Contenders

06/18/2015 05:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland and a contender to be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, called on Thursday for a phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050, citing the "moral obligation" to address climate change.

In an op-ed published in USA Today, O'Malley, who is Catholic, called the encyclical Pope Francis issued on Thursday on climate change a "clarion call for action."

O'Malley's piece also publicly rebuked some of the Obama administration's energy policies and promised to put climate and energy at the center of his presidential campaign.

"We cannot meet the climate challenge with an all-of-the-above energy strategy, or by drilling off our coasts, or by building pipelines that bring oil from tar sands in Canada," O'Malley wrote. The Obama administration has often touted an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy, and earlier this year proposed opening new areas of the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling. The administration has not yet issued a decision on whether to approve a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to Texas.

While O'Malley said the Obama administration's policies have made the United States more energy independent, he said the climate challenge requires the country to make "a full, complete transition to renewable energy -- and an end to our reliance on fossil fuels."

"I believe, within 35 years, our country can and should be 100% powered by clean energy, supported by millions of new jobs," wrote O'Malley. "But we have to accelerate the transition right now."

By comparison, the leaders of the Group of Seven nations recently pledged to phase out fossil fuels by 2100 -- 50 years later.

In an accompanying memo outlining the campaign's energy platform, O'Malley states that "reliance on local, renewable energy sources means a safer, more stable world."

He also says he would go further on emissions rules than the Obama administration has gone so far, expanding greenhouse gas regulations beyond power plants to other major industrial sources and cracking down on methane leaks from oil and gas operations.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, praised O'Malley in a statement for "driving the conversation toward the critically important goal of transitioning off of dirty fossil fuels to a healthy and just economy powered by 100% clean energy."

And Tom Steyer, who has spent millions to elect pro-climate candidates, issued a statement applauding O'Malley for "presenting real, concrete solutions to climate change that will secure our country’s economic security -- and break with the dirty energy politics of the past."

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