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Martin O'Malley calls for 100% clean energy by 2050

The former Maryland governor hopes to gain traction in the Democratic presidential primary with a big new climate plan.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has been struggling to gain traction in the Democratic presidential primary, proposed an ambitious climate plan this week calling for the U.S. to go 100% clean energy by 2050.

O’Malley, who is Catholic, pegged the roll out of his plan to the release of Pope Francis' new encyclical calling for urgent action to address climate change. “We have a moral obligation to act immediately and aggressively to stop climate change,” O’Malley wrote in a white paper released by his campaign.

O’Malley, who says he would make transitioning to clean energy his No. 1 priority as president, rejects so-called “all-of-the-above energy” strategies that call for continued use of fossil fuels in addition to renewable sources of energy. Instead, he wants to move to complete dependence on “clean, renewable energy” over the next 35 years. 

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The Democrat made environmentalism a hallmark of his governorship, and O'Malley says he would use executive action to advance his plan in the White House. That would include new Environmental Protection Agency regulations; the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline; stricter energy standards on the 90,000 buildings and 250,000 vehicles operated by the federal government; and the prohibition of new oil and gas drilling in Alaska and offshore.

O'Malley would also end all subsidies for fossil fuels, while expanding subsidies to renewable energy. Meanwhile, O'Malley says the plan would create millions of new jobs and he envisions a federal Clean Energy Jobs Corps that would employ people to retrofit buildings and improve green spaces. 

The sweeping plan, in its current form, is light on details and feasibility, but could help O'Malley stand out and excite Democratic primary voters who care about this issue. 

The proposal found a quick fan in Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist who has long supported Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. “Governor O’Malley is 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,” Steyer said in a statement.

“This is exactly the type of leadership on climate change the Pope, military and business leaders are calling for—and that we need from our next president,” he added.

Despite holding a fundraiser for Clinton last month at his San Francisco home, Steyer seems fond of O’Malley, and the two were spotted leaving a green building conference in New Orleans together last fall.

O’Malley earned plaudits from environmentalist as governor, with the environmental website Grist calling him “a real climate hawk” in a lengthy profile. In keeping with famous embrace of data-based governance, O’Malley created a program he called ClimateStat to monitor Maryland’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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While climate has not yet become a central issue of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, all four major declared candidates have taken strong progressive stances on the issue.

In her kick-off speech Saturday on New York City's Roosevelt Island, Clinton called for making America the “clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, while on the stump, often calls climate change the greatest threat facing the country. And former Rhode Island Gov.  Lincoln Chafee, who proudly drove a Toyota Prius in office, pushed new environmental and climate regulations in both his roles as governor and senator.

Republican candidates, meanwhile, are generally skeptical man-made climate change is even real. Catholic candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have sharply disagreed with the pope over climate change.