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US ELECTIONS Biden's VP pick advocate of environmental justice, climate action

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US ELECTIONS Biden's VP pick advocate of environmental justice, climate action

Highlights

Harris would earmark $10 trillion for clean economy

Biden climate plan focuses on environmental justice

Washington — Just weeks after releasing an aggressive climate change and clean energy plan, former Vice President Joe Biden selected a US presidential campaign running mate who has also advocated for aggressive climate change action, including supporting a ban on fracking and ending fossil fuel leasing on public lands.

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After months of deliberation, Biden on Aug. 11 selected Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat-California, to join him on the Democratic presidential ticket, bringing her aggressive stance on energy and climate issues into the fold. In July, Biden unveiled a four-year, $2 trillion proposal that aims to completely decarbonize the US power mix by 2035, a timeline 10 years ahead of that required under legislation passed by Harris' home state of California.

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Harris has served in the Senate since 2017, following several years as California's attorney general. In California, she started an investigation into ExxonMobil over climate change risks and challenged the federal government on offshore fracking.

"As far as energy is concerned, we would start and end with this: Harris was an original Senate co-sponsor of the 2019 Green New Deal resolution," Clearview Energy Partners said in an Aug. 11 note.

Harris' climate plan

Harris has called climate change a national security threat and said "anyone who denies that has no business in our government." During her presidential campaign, Harris introduced a plan that would earmark $10 trillion of public and private spending over the next 10 years to "achieve a clean economy by 2045" and power the nation on 100% carbon-neutral electricity by 2030.

In doing so, the senator pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and exceed its goals, creating "millions of new, high-quality jobs," according to the plan. Those goals would require all new buses and vehicle fleets to be zero-emission and new buildings to be carbon-neutral. "I don't like to call it climate change. It's a climate crisis," Harris said during a June 2019 debate. "The fact that we have a president of the United States who has embraced science fiction over science fact will be to our collective peril."

When it comes to public lands, the senator's plan said the nation must "phase out fossil fuel development and extraction on these landscapes immediately," shifting to renewable energy development and conservation and ending "the fossil fuel exploitation of our public lands." She pledged to immediately halt all new fossil fuel leases on federal lands and waters as well as phasing out existing leases with the help of Congress.

Harris also called for implementing emissions mitigation strategies, capping methane flaring, and "linking production royalties to the social cost of carbon so that oil and gas companies are paying for the climate damages they are causing," according to the plan.

Harris would focus on increasing renewable energy production on public lands, including both onshore and offshore wind development. She has also called for a "climate pollution fee" to force greenhouse gas emitters to pay for their emissions.

"It's not a question of debating the science, it's a question of taking on powerful interests, taking on the polluters, understanding that they have a profit motive to pollute," Harris said during a September 2019 town hall. "So let's take them to court and let's require that if they don't change those behaviors, they will pay those fines, and there will be accountability and consequence."

President Donald Trump was quick to highlight Harris' anti-fracking stance when reporters asked about her being selected. "She is against fracking. She is against petroleum products," Trump said. "How do you do that and go into Pennsylvania or Ohio or Oklahoma or the great state of Texas?"

During the primary campaign, Biden stopped short of endorsing a fracking ban, but said he would work to end federal subsidies for fossil fuel production. The text of the climate plan he released in July does not mention fracking.

Environmental justice advocate

Biden's climate plan focuses heavily on environmental justice matters, and Harris has also spent time working on those issues while in Congress and during her legal career.

Harris and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat-New York, recently introduced an environmental justice climate bill aimed at ensuring "front-line" communities are at the table when relevant rules and regulations are drafted.

Front-line communities are those that have experienced socio-economic disparities and include Indigenous peoples and communities of color. Scientists have noted that many of those communities will be among the hardest hit by the physical and economic impacts of climate change.

A draft version of the Democratic Party's official 2020 platform calls for "immediate action" to reverse the Trump administration's environmental and climate rollbacks. In line with Biden's climate plan, the platform calls for eliminating carbon emissions from the US power sector by 2035 and rejoining the Paris Agreement. It also embraces a "technology-neutral" approach that includes all zero-carbon technologies including hydropower, geothermal, existing and advanced nuclear reactors, and carbon capture and storage.