RENO, Nev. (AP) — Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke said Thursday he's willing to consider a moratorium on new leases to drill for oil and gas on federal lands as a way to help combat climate change.
The Democratic presidential hopeful told reporters while campaigning in Nevada on Thursday the nation needs to rethink how it protects its public lands and "keep them from being diminished in size as has happened under" the Trump administration.
O'Rourke said that concern, combined with the need to reduce total greenhouse emissions, makes it especially important that U.S. taxpayers don't allow oil and gas companies "to contribute more to the problem."
"So, rethinking the leasing of public lands and perhaps creating a moratorium on any future leases — and reviewing all those that are in existence — is in order," he told reporters after a speech to the University of Nevada Young Democrats at a packed coffee shop on the edge of the Reno campus.
"If we continue to add to the problem and do not invest in the solution, which is going to be renewable energy, then we will have squandered this limited time that is left to us," he said.
O'Rourke said federal procurement policies are one of the biggest tools the government has to bring change on many fronts.
"What we buy and from whom we buy, and in what form the energy is — to whom we lease and to whom we allow to use federal and national lands — we should be the biggest player in the change that we know that we need to produce," he continued.
O'Rourke campaigned in Las Vegas last month on his first visit to the early caucus state. But it was the first time he'd appeared in northern Nevada. Later Thursday, he spoke to a crowd of about 200 at a restaurant in Carson City, including climate change as one of his themes along with immigration, health care and the economy.
O'Rourke said he's glad former Vice President Joe Biden formally announced Thursday that he too is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
"He is joining an extraordinary field of candidates with amazing diversity and backgrounds and experience and life stories," he told reporters in Reno.
"I think he brings some extraordinary experience in public service to this and glad he's in the race. I think it's good for our party, it's good for Democrats, good for America — so glad he's in."
O'Rourke said it's up to voters, not to him, to decide whether Biden should be considered the front-runner in the race or whether he's too much of a centrist candidate.
The former El Paso city councilman planned events in southern Nevada on Friday with UNLV Young Democrats in Las Vegas and at a brewery in neighboring Henderson.
Nevada's caucuses next February are third in the presidential selection process following New Hampshire and Iowa.