Presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday announced plans for a $2 trillion investment in clean energy over four years – a significant boost to his earlier proposal for $1.7tn in the next decade.
The climate proposals, first reported by Bloomberg, call for 100 per cent clean electricity by 2035 but don’t include specifics on how it would be paid for. Senior campaign officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to AP, said it would require a mix of tax increases on corporations and the wealthy and deficit spending aimed at stimulating the economy.
The aggressive overhaul to his climate agenda suggests that the former VP is heeding calls from progressives to tackle the climate crisis with greater urgency.
“These are the most critical investments we can make for the long-term health and vitality of both the American economy and the physical health and safety of the American people,” Mr Biden said during remarks to reporters near his home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Mr Biden acknowledged that the economy is in “crisis” because of the coronavirus pandemic, but said it offers “an incredible opportunity, not just to build back to where we were before, but better, stronger, more resilient and more prepared for the challenges that lie ahead”.
In his remarks, Mr Biden framed his latest policy proposal as offering a sharp contrast with President Trump on both job creation and the economy.
“When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax.’ When I think about climate change, what I think of is jobs,” he said.
Mr Biden said Trump and Republicans have embraced “backward-looking policies that will harm the environment” and “make communities less healthy.”
“It’s a mindset that doesn’t have any faith in the capacity of the American people to compete, to innovate, to win,” he added.
Last week, the Biden campaign’s “climate unity” taskforce, led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Secretary of State John Kerry, published recommendations that included eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035; achieving net-zero emissions for all new buildings by 2030; and vast expansions of solar and wind energy, with the installation of 500 million solar panels and 60,000 onshore and offshore wind turbines.
Tom Steyer, the former presidential candidate who has joined the Biden campaign to “mobilise” climate-focused voters, earlier told The Independent that “Joe Biden has been sharpening his pencil in terms of this policy overall. He’s been filling it out and it’s been getting more progressive across the board.”
Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist senator from Vermont who has also endorsed Mr Biden, told MSNBC last week that his revamped plan would make him “the most progressive president since FDR”.
During a Monday fundraiser, Mr Biden appeared to hint that he was upping the ante. He told donors that “2050 is a million years from now in the minds of most people. My plan is focused on taking action now, this decade, in the 2020s”, Bloomberg reported.
The former VP’s revamped climate agenda reflects ideas embraced by some of his more progressive allies during the primary, like Jay Inslee, whose campaign was built around the climate emergency. But it doesn’t go as far as the Green New Deal, the sweeping proposal from progressives in Congress that calls for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the economy by 2030.
Mr Biden’s plan does align with a climate bill spearheaded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in reducing emissions to zero by 2050, however. And it goes farther than that bill on achieving a carbon-neutral power sector. House Democrats’ proposal sets a 2040 deadline for that goal, while Biden’s aims to achieve it five years faster.
Mr Biden made no mention of banning coal or prohibiting fracking, the oil and gas extraction that has triggered a natural gas boom in the US in recent years. The issue risks alienating centrist voters in key swing states like industry-heavy Pennsylvania. Mr Biden limited his opposition to new fracking permits during the primary.
The new plan instead describes easing out burning oil, gas and coal through more efficient vehicles, public transport, buildings and power plants.
And instead of a ban on climate-damaging fossil fuels, the plan calls for carbon capture technologies to catch coal and petroleum pollution from power plant smokestacks.
The former VP also embraces nuclear power, unlike some of his Democratic primary opponents. He advocates for boosting research on still-developing power technologies like hydrogen power and grid-size storage to store power from solar and wind, overcoming a key drawback of those carbon-free energy sources now.
The plan places a heavy emphasis on updating America’s infrastructure and includes investments in improving energy efficiency in buildings and housing as well as promoting production of electric vehicles and conservation efforts in the agriculture industry.
It also includes a portion focused on environmental justice, including a requirement that 40% of the money he wants to spend on clean energy deployment, reduction of legacy pollution and other investments go to historically disadvantaged communities.
Trump campaign surrogates on Tuesday described Mr Biden’s energy plan as a waste of taxpayer money and sought to compare it to the Obama administration’s clean energy loan guarantee program created as part of the 2009 stimulus effort to bolster an economy reeling from the Great Recession.
Some companies that benefited from that program, including solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which won a $528m taxpayer-backed loan guarantee, collapsed after receiving federal subsidies.
“That is Solyndra on steroids,” said Republican House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, said on the call organised by the Trump campaign about Mr Biden’s plan. “Joe Biden has been here before. You can see his track record.”
On Monday’s fundraising call with renewable energy executives, Mr Biden pledged to make an irreversible impact on the nation’s efforts to combat the climate crisis.
“God willing I win and even if I serve eight years, I want to make sure we put down such a marker that it’s impossible for the next president to turn it around,” he said.
Senior campaign officials said Tuesday that the plan includes planks that could be achieved by executive action, and others that would require legislation. The officials told AP that many of the energy measures would be included in the first stimulus package Mr Biden plans to bring to Congress.
It would likely face steep opposition from elected Republicans. Democrats need to pick up at least three seats to take back control of the Senate.
But the former VP argued during his Monday evening fundraiser that the current “historic set of crises — a pandemic, an economic crisis and systemic racism” — would make it “easier” to pass major reforms like his climate plan.
Mr Biden said that it “is the existential threat to humanity, and it is real. It is real. And it is urgent, and the public is becoming aware of it. And it may be the very answer to get us out of this economic situation we’re in.”
This report has been updated. Contributed reporting from Associated Press
Biden unveils first general election TV advert in Texas
Trump claims Biden presidency would mean low ratings for media outlets
Tom Steyer on his role to get out the climate vote for Joe Biden
Democrat voters rally around Biden, according to new poll
Biden proposes $700bn plan to revive US economy