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Biden-Sanders task force's climate plan excludes fracking ban, sees FERC role

The task forces created by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and former candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders to unify the party's agenda around key topics published their policy recommendations July 8.

Noticeably, a climate-change focused panel did not call for a ban on hydraulic fracturing. However, the panel did recommend eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 and a dramatic expansion of renewable generation, including the installation of 500 million solar panels and 60,000 wind turbines.

The recommendations of the panel, led by former Secretary of State John Kerry and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., took up 19 pages of a 110-page report that also covered the suggestions of other panels charged with tackling such issues as healthcare, education and criminal justice reforms.

Biden has historically outlined policies to reduce fossil fuel production and market share, including to halt fossil fuel leases on federal land. But unlike some of the more progressive Democratic contenders such as Sanders who have since pulled out of the race, Biden has not called for a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Also not mentioned in the report by name was the Green New Deal.

But the report did call for ending financing for coal projects overseas, repealing fossil fuel subsidies, reducing methane pollution through federal standards, and providing "targeted support" for replacing or repairing aging fossil fuel distribution systems. And the report suggested that Biden require that any federal approval or financial support for domestic and international infrastructure projects include a climate-change test that includes a full-lifecycle assessment.

The report specifically mentioned seeking ways to avoid, minimize and mitigate climate impacts from fossil fuel projects and export terminals, which has been a point of contention for some gas infrastructure projects approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

More broadly, the report embraced the concept of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 in the U.S. and globally. Some of the steps toward achieving that goal would include achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030, transitioning all American school buses to "zero-emission alternatives" within five years, installing half a million electric vehicle charging stations, and transitioning the 3 million vehicles in the federal, state, and local fleets to zero-emission vehicles.

As for the power industry, the report said technology-neutral clean energy and energy efficiency standards should be used to eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035. Of the 500 million new solar panels called for by the report, 8 million would be placed on roofs and community solar projects. And the 60,000 new wind turbines would be built both onshore and offshore. Biden should also create a battery storage and clean energy transmission line moonshot program, the report said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would also play a role under the report's recommendations, being called upon to "increase transparency and fairness in power markets for clean energy." In addition, the report cited a need to create a long-term transmission plan for effectively moving generation from renewables to markets but did not explain how that would be achieved.

The climate panel also stressed the importance of environmental justice in its recommendations. "For too long African American communities, tribal nations, immigrants and low-income families have been excluded from a clean and safe environment, basic infrastructure, and economic prosperity," the report said. "We must not repeat the mistakes of the past."

Some of the related recommendations included building a more inclusive workforce by expanding training to recruit historically marginalized and underrepresented groups. In addition, the task force urged Biden to target investments in job-creating clean energy and infrastructure projects in communities in transition. The plan would also require the use of U.S. made iron, steel and aluminum for water and clean energy infrastructure as a way to help promote American jobs.

The report said Biden should also create a task force focused on helping communities impacted by fossil fuel retirements such as coal-fired plants to attract private sector investments and receive federal resources.