Where Trump and Biden Stand on Climate and Energy Policy

Source: By Timothy Puko, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Sunday, October 4, 2020

One candidate questions climate science. The other wants a vast government mobilization.

This article is part of a Wall Street Journal guide comparing President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on issues from climate change to health care and jobs.

The 2020 presidential election pits one candidate making climate change integral throughout his platform against another who dismisses its importance and pledges to keep pushing a deregulatory agenda.

Environmental policy is one of the biggest contrasts between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. Energy companies, auto makers and unions all may see major changes if there is turnover at the White House.

Mr. Biden calls climate change an urgent crisis and has proposed the most aggressive climate agenda of any major presidential finalist ever, analysts say. He proposes to marshal vast government resources, with $2 trillion in spendingand plans to make environmental policy and climate change a driving force in decisions on the economy, infrastructure, transportation, social justice, foreign relations and more.

Mr. Trump has challenged the science documenting global warming and cast Mr. Biden’s strategy as a threat to U.S. businesses. He vows to restrain the government influence Mr. Biden wants to expand. His campaign’s second-term agenda doesn’t mention climate, listing clean air and water broadly as priorities.

Diplomacy

The candidates’ contrasting environmental policies start with international relations, primarily the 2015 Paris climate accord to cut global greenhouse-gas emissions. Mr. Trump wants no part of it, while Mr. Biden and his party have promised to keep the U.S. in the pact.

The Trump administration has begun the process of withdrawing from the pact at the earliest possible date, Nov. 4, a day after the presidential election. In a Sept. 22 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Trump criticized the deal as one-sided and said even without it the U.S. is a world leader in reducing the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change. U.S. emissions have fallen sharply during the past 15 years as the country shifted from coal-fired power to burning natural gas, which releases less carbon dioxide.

Mr. Biden last month, in the second of two major climate speeches he gave this summer, said it is important for the U.S. to show international leadership on climate. As part of a recommitment he would make to the Paris pact, he would push other countries to further cut emissions.

One of the few mentions the Trump campaign agenda makes of environmental issues is joining “with Other Nations to Clean Up our Planet’s Oceans.” In 2018 Mr. Trump signed the Save our Seas Act reauthorizing U.S. participation in global efforts to reduce and clean up marine debris. The revamped North American free-trade pact Mr. Trump engineered includes new provisions for the U.S., Mexico and Canada to collaborate on removing litter from oceans.

Regulation

Mr. Biden’s target is to move the U.S. toward eliminating U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. The power sector would go first and end its emissions by 2035, with the government’s help. In contrast to Mr. Trump’s skepticism of climate science, Mr. Biden’s goals mirror the emissions-reduction path recommended by a U.N. scientific panel in 2018.

To reach those goals, the Biden campaign has proposed a mix of financial incentives, regulatory mandates and new laws that may face a stiff challenge in Congress. Mr. Biden has singled out the auto industry for new efficiency standards. The Trump administration this year eased tailpipe-emissions rules set when Mr. Biden was vice president. Mr. Biden wants to undo that with new rules even more stringent than what existed before Mr. Trump’s rollback.

Mr. Biden also wants to revamp regulatory enforcement as a way to promote social justice. He wants to give communities hurt by pollution—often poor and minority communities—more direct involvement with Justice Department officials pursuing cleanups, reversing some of the Trump administration’s moves.

“Joe Biden will rally the country and the world to spearhead a clean energy revolution that creates millions of good-paying, union jobs and tackles climate change at an unprecedented pace and scale,” said Matt Hill, a spokesman for the Biden campaign. “Vice President Biden’s ambitious clean energy agenda will develop resilient and sustainable infrastructure, supercharge America as a clean energy leader, and secure environmental justice and equitable economic opportunities.”

The Trump campaign has criticized Mr. Biden’s strategy. Mr. Trump says deregulation is the way to help companies create jobs, and his appointees have spent years making industry-friendly changes to rules governing coal, oil and natural-gas production.

A second term would give the Trump administration time to cement that work, especially in court. Dozens of Trump-backed rule changes face lawsuits filed by Democratic-led states and environmental groups. Mr. Trump’s appointees are defending those cases. A Biden administration would likely vacate or settle many of them.

The Trump administration would also likely continue efforts to give greater weight to cost when developing regulations and to limit the expansion of climate regulations under the Clean Air Act. These efforts are already under way but unfinished at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“President Trump and his administration are promoting both energy independence and environmental health through innovation,” campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella said. “We need a leader who will safely unleash our nation’s energy potential, not stifle America’s growth”

Infrastructure and Investment

Mr. Biden has tried to counter charges of overregulation by making his climate policy largely about infrastructure and investment. His proposal to spend $2 trillion over four years aims to ease global warming and harden infrastructure for what extreme weather can’t be avoided, but also to help revive the economy.

Those efforts focus on renewable energy and efficiency. The infrastructure proposals include rebuilding the country’s electric grid, and roads and bridges. They promise a nationwide expansion of mass transit in every city of more than 100,000 people, with an emphasis on emissions-free systems. They would upgrade more than four million buildings to improve efficiency, and boost research and development on clean-energy technology, including commercial battery storage and advanced nuclear power.

Mr. Trump would likely make another effort of his own at speeding up infrastructure development, said Mike McKenna, a lobbyist who led the energy transition team for Mr. Trump following his 2016 election. Mr. Trump favors oil, gas and coal interests, and they need more interstate pipelines and export terminals to keep growing, Mr. McKenna said.

Write to Timothy Puko at tim.puko@wsj.com