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Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer Talks Climate, Polls, Trump

Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer has been spending a lot of time in North Carolina lately. The billionaire environmental activist and Democratic candidate running for president made campaign stops in Raleigh and Goldsboro last weekend. And this weekend, he has stops in Charlotte. And he joined All Things Considered on Friday. 

Tom Steyer: Nick, thank you so much for having me. 

Nick de la Canal: Now, as I just said, you're making multiple stops in North Carolina this month and you're doing it at a time when most other Democratic candidates are focusing their campaigns on Iowa and New Hampshire, which are voting on the Democratic field next month. Why is that?

Steyer: North Carolina is a very important state, Nick; it's a Super Tuesday state. It is one of the states that's absolutely critical for the general election. And I think it's important to be here. I think that you can't overlook the importance of North Carolina. 

De la Canal: Now, you've released a plan to fight climate change, which includes spending $2 trillion in the coming decade to move the country to clean energy. You want to completely eliminate air pollution from diesel engines, power plants, other sources. North Carolina primarily gets its electricity from coal. What would this plan mean for companies currently producing our electricity -- companies like Duke Energy, for example?

Steyer: Well, clean energy, solar and wind energy is cheaper than coal energy. So it's going to mean that, in fact, there's going to have to be a change in the way that Duke Energy generates energy here in North Carolina. But it's going to be cheaper and it's going to be cleaner. And there's going to be millions of jobs created as we rebuild America in a sustainable fashion. I'm the only candidate running for president who's saying that he or she will make climate his No. 1 priority. But I'm also someone who's saying I'll do it from the standpoint of environmental justice. And I'll start with leadership from the communities where it's unsafe to breathe the air because you've got asthma. That's a function of coal plants where it's unsafe to drink the water that comes out of the tap. And so those tend to be black and brown communities around the United States of America.

I will do my climate plans, starting with environmental justice and rebuilding. America will literally create millions of good, union jobs across the country right now.

De la Canal: You're polling below most other candidates. In the field in the event that you are not nominated, what do you hope you will have brought to the debate? 

Steyer: Well, let me say this. I actually am not sure you're right about that. If you look at a poll that was done this Monday, we just got the Morning Consult poll in the four early states which are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. They had me at an average of 15%, and I was in third place. 

De la Canal: And I think I did see those polls. But there are many other polls also that have been done that still have you in single digits, although there was that poll, as you said, that did have you, I think at 15%. But regardless, if you're not nominated, what are you hoping to at least have brought to the field? 

Steyer: One, I'm an outsider. I'm running because I think this government is broken, that it has been purchased by corporations. As an outsider, I have been putting together a coalition of American citizens to take on and beat those that unchecked corporate power for decades. I'm the person who's saying, "We need to redo Washington." I've been leading these corporations for decades, but we need to redo Washington, including term limits of 12 years for congresspeople and senators. That's different from anybody else.

And lastly, I've said I know you have to beat Mr. Trump. That's job one. And he's gonna be running on the economy. So whoever it's going to be, the Democratic nominee is going to have to be able to go toe-to-toe with him on the debate stage and take him down on the economy. 

De la Canal: Well, finally, you seem to be in the middle of a now-viral exchange between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders after the last Democratic debate where Warren had walked up to Sanders and accused him of lying about her on national television. I just want to ask, what was your view of that exchange?

Steyer: You know, it's funny, Nick. I literally went up just to say good night to two people who I've been on the debate stage with for two hours and who, you know, they were having their own private exchange. Which, of course, I picked up on. So I tried as fast as possible to do what I came to do, which is simply to say goodnight. 

De la Canal: OK. Tom Steyer, he's running for president. He's in Charlotte this weekend. Mr. Steyer, thank you.

Steyer: Nick, thank you so much for having me on your show. 

Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal