Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate Plan

Source: By Katie Glueck and Lisa Friedman, New York Times • Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Mr. Biden’s plan links tackling climate change with economic recovery from the coronavirus and addressing racism, drawing praise from onetime critics.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. unveiled his $2 trillion climate plan for reducing fossil fuel use across the U.S. and creating jobs.

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Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. unveiled his $2 trillion climate plan for reducing fossil fuel use across the U.S. and creating jobs.Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced on Tuesday a new plan to spend $2 trillion over four years to significantly escalate the use of clean energy in the transportation, electricity and building sectors, part of a suite of sweeping proposals designed to create economic opportunities and build infrastructure while also tackling climate change.

In a speech in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Biden built on his plans, released last week, for reviving the economy in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, with a new focus on enhancing the nation’s infrastructure and emphasizing the importance of putting the United States on a path to significantly cut fossil fuel emissions.

“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,” he said, repeatedly criticizing President Trump’s leadership on issues including climate and the pandemic. “When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax.’ When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs.’”

The proposal is the second plank in Mr. Biden’s economic recovery plan. His team sees an opportunity to take direct aim at Mr. Trump, who has struggled to deliver on his pledges to pay for major improvements to American infrastructure. Even before Mr. Biden spoke, Mr. Trump’s allies denounced the plan as a costly threat to jobs in the energy sector, and his campaign sought to link the proposal to the Green New Deal, the far-reaching climate plan that Mr. Biden has not fully endorsed.

Nevertheless, the new plan does appear to have made some inroads with a different key constituency: the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which had long been skeptical about the scope of Mr. Biden’s ambitions on climate.

“This is not a status quo plan,” said Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a prominent environmentalist who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination on a platform of combating climate change and later endorsed Mr. Biden.

He added: “It is comprehensive. This is not some sort of, ‘Let me just throw a bone to those who care about climate change.’” Mr. Inslee called the proposal “visionary.”

Mr. Biden’s plan outlines specific and aggressive targets, including achieving an emissions-free power sector by 2035 and upgrading four million buildings over four years to meet the highest standards for energy efficiency. The plan also calls for establishing an office of environmental and climate justice at the Justice Department and developing a broad set of tools to address how “environmental policy decisions of the past have failed communities of color.”

Environmental justice, a movement that tries to address pollution and other toxic harms that disproportionately affect communities of color, plays a key role in the plan. In it, Mr. Biden set a goal for disadvantaged communities to receive 40 percent of all clean energy and infrastructure benefits. He also made explicit references to tribal communities and called for expanding broadband access to tribal lands.

Elizabeth Kronk Warner, the dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, said she was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Biden’s plan.

“Usually environmental justice is an afterthought or it’s not clearly quantified,” she said. “As a citizen of a tribe, I very much appreciate that he explicitly references tribal communities.”

Evergreen Action, an organization that advocates far-reaching climate goals and is led by a number of former Inslee staffers, also discussed ideas with Mr. Biden’s staff in recent months, the organization said. In a call with reporters on Tuesday morning, senior Biden campaign officials said the proposal was the product of discussions with scientists, climate and environmental justice leaders, union members and leaders, mayors and governors, and representatives from the small-business and manufacturing communities.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ top climate science body, holding global temperatures to a safe level will require global carbon pollution to fall to “net zero” by 2050 — that is, eliminating as many emissions as we put into the atmosphere.

Mr. Biden’s original plan called for spending $1.7 trillion over ten years with a goal of achieving net-zero emissions before 2050. The new blueprint significantly increases the amount of money and accelerates the timetable to four years.

Paying for it, campaign officials said, will come from a mix of increasing the corporate income tax rate from 21 to 28 percent, “asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share” and some still-undetermined amount of stimulus dollars. Campaign officials added that more details would be released “in the weeks ahead.”

Mr. Biden’s team said the proposal included a combination of executive actions and legislation — the latter of which would require congressional cooperation. That is hardly a certainty in a partisan political environment, especially if Republicans maintain control of the Senate or retake the House of Representatives, even as polls show the G.O.P. currently facing major political headwinds.

Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and the House Republican whip, suggested the plan was a boondoggle.

“The only thing I can think of is, that is Solyndra on steroids,” he said on a Trump campaign call, referring to the California solar company that went bankrupt and had received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration. “You would have higher energy costs and you would see who gets hit the hardest — it’s low-income families.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign said his plan would “create millions of good-paying jobs.”

One major element of the announcement will include charting a path to zero carbon pollution from the U.S. electricity sector by 2035. According to the Energy Information Association, coal and natural gas still account for more than 60 percent of the sector.

Campaign officials said they expected to achieve the goal by encouraging the installation of “millions of new solar panels and tens of thousands of wind turbines,” but also keeping in place existing nuclear energy plants. The plan also will call for investing in carbon capture and storage technology for natural gas.

Under the new plan, Mr. Biden also promises new research funding and tax incentives for carbon-capture technology.

Early reaction from the environmental community was optimistic.

Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, called Mr. Biden’s plan “ambitious” and said it gave her confidence that climate change would be a top priority in a Biden administration.

Varshini Prakash, the executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group, had been critical of Mr. Biden’s commitment on the environment but later joined a task force to help shape his platform. She said the new plan was a “huge step forward” and praised its call for increased investment in clean energy, as well as its focus on creating union jobs and linking environmental policy with addressing systemic racism.

“This, I think, represents a substantial increase in ambition on the part of Biden’s campaign,” Ms. Prakash said.

Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting.