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White House candidate Biden calls for 'clean energy revolution' in climate plan

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White House candidate Biden calls for 'clean energy revolution' in climate plan

Joe Biden, the leading Democrat in the 2020 U.S. presidential race, said he will sign executive orders and push for legislation to achieve a "100% clean energy economy" and net-zero emissions by 2050 if elected to the White House.

The pledges are part of a lengthy plan for combatting climate change that Biden's campaign released June 4.

"Getting to a 100% clean energy economy is not only an obligation, it's an opportunity," the plan said. "We should fully adopt a clean energy future, not just for all of us today, but for our children and grandchildren, so their tomorrow is healthier, safer, and more just."

SNL Image

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading a crowded field of contenders to become the Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential race, released his climate plan June 4.
Source: AP

Biden, who served as vice president under former President Barack Obama, vowed to sign a series of executive orders on day one of his presidency that would "go well beyond" the Obama administration's climate platform.

Those executive actions would include requiring "aggressive" methane emissions limits for new and existing oil- and gas-producing operations, urging the federal government to work toward 100% clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles, banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, and setting a goal to double offshore wind power generation by 2030. He also advocated "rigorous new fuel economy standards" aimed at electrifying 100% of new light- and medium-duty vehicle sales.

The White House hopeful also would ask the U.S. Congress to enact legislation during his first year in office that would establish enforcement mechanisms for lowering carbon dioxide emissions, including "milestone targets" that must be hit no later than the end of Biden's first term in 2025.

The climate proposal calls for a "historic" federal investment of $1.7 trillion over 10 years that will leverage additional private, state and local funds to generate over $5 trillion for a "clean energy revolution." To pay for the plan, Biden's proposal would reverse corporate tax cuts and incentives that President Donald Trump signed into law in late 2017.

As part of the clean energy push, Biden said he would make the "largest-ever investment in clean energy research and innovation," providing $400 billion over 10 years to develop technological breakthroughs to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan would include creating an Advanced Research Projects Agency focused on climate change that would be known as ARPA-C. The initiative would foster the new technologies to achieve Biden's 100% clean energy target, including lower-cost grid-scale energy storage, small modular nuclear reactors that could be built at half the cost of current reactors, carbon capture sequestration and utilization systems, and solutions for decarbonizing the food and agriculture sectors.

Biden proposed to double federal investment and enhance tax incentives for carbon capture storage and usage to make the technology more cost effective and widely available to power producers that rely on coal- and gas-based generation. The proposal also calls for the ARPA-C program to address challenges facing the nuclear energy industry, such as cost, safety and waste disposal hurdles, noting that "all low- and zero-carbon technologies" must be considered to address climate change.

The Democratic frontrunner also said he would have the U.S. rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, an agreement that about 200 countries signed in 2015. In June 2017, Trump announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the agreement, a process that would take several years.

In addition to rejoining the Paris agreement, Biden said he would pursue "strong new measures" to prevent other countries from skirting their climate commitments, including making future U.S.-China bilateral carbon-mitigation agreements contingent on China eliminating "unjustified" export subsidies for coal and other high-emissions technologies.

Another facet of Biden's plan calls for ensuring an easier transition for communities affected by the U.S. power sector's shift away from coal generation. Biden said he would make sure coal miners and their families receive guaranteed pensions and health benefits and that coal companies increase payments into the black lung benefits program. He also pledged to build on the vision of the Obama administration's Power PLUS Plan for spurring economic and workforce development in communities suffering from the loss of coal mining and coal-fired power plant jobs, including by establishing a task force to help those communities access federal money for workforce creation.

Climate change has emerged as a top issue for Democratic presidential primary contenders, who are pointing to a growing body of reports — including the federal government's fourth national climate assessment released in November 2018 — that warn of dire economic and health impacts from global warming. Democrats' focus on climate action has become particularly acute as the Trump administration works to unwind existing climate regulations, including the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and tougher fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is polling second behind Biden in a crowded field of Democratic primary contestants, according to a recent CNN survey, is a vocal supporter of the Green New Deal climate platform, which includes a goal to transition to 100% renewable, clean or zero-emissions electricity. Sanders is also pushing to ban all fossil fuel leases on public lands and to end U.S. exports of coal, natural gas and crude oil.

Other Democratic White House hopefuls, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, have announced similar goals to meet 100% of U.S. electricity demand from clean resources and work toward zero net carbon emissions by 2050, the latter of which climate experts say is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

In his climate proposal, Biden called the Green New Deal a "crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face," satisfying climate action advocates who had worried his campaign might not be aggressive enough on the issue.

Biden's plan "makes it clear: climate change is going to be a defining issue in the 2020 election, and we've raised the bar for what it means to be a leader on climate," said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, the youth organization that helped form the Green New Deal.

A key trade group representing the oil and gas industry blasted parts of Biden's proposal.

"These plans all seem to pit environmental protection against the working families who rely on affordable American energy in every facet of their lives," the American Petroleum Institute said in an emailed statement. "The U.S. natural gas and oil industry is working toward a future where access to energy and opportunity is within reach for all people, and has made reducing emissions while meeting record consumer energy demand a reality."