Washington — If former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidential election in November, a significant portion of voters will be expecting bold action to implement a federal climate policy and return the US to a position of leadership in combating global warming on the world stage, speakers at the Democratic National Convention said Aug. 18.
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The unconventional convention, as it was dubbed by celebrity presenters and others, is taking place virtually Aug. 17-20 as the US continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats late Aug. 18 officially nominated Biden as the party's presidential nominee, following a virtual roll-call vote that featured videos of support from delegates in every US state and territory.
Democrats participating in the convention and partner events advocated modern, sustainable infrastructure upgrades and aggressive action on climate change early in the Biden administration if he takes the White House.
Stef Feldman, Biden's policy director, said President Donald Trump has ignored or flat out denied climate risks. Biden, on the other hand, made tackling the climate crisis a core tenet of his "Build Back Better" plan, she said during an Aug. 18 roundtable briefing hosted by the DNC's Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee and Business Forward.
That plan includes $2 trillion in infrastructure and clean energy investments over four years. Feldman noted that the accelerated timeline, as opposed to 10-year or longer windows typically seen in policy budget discussions, recognizes "the need for urgent action" to grow the economy, create jobs and pull the US out of recession.
Biden's plan also includes enforceable standards. Notably, it calls for carbon-free electricity by 2035.
"Biden has positioned his infrastructure and clean energy investment as core to his economic recovery package," Feldman said. "That means that this isn't just something that is on his list of things he'd like to achieve one day, but it's fundamental to getting things right at the beginning of his administration."
Further, Feldman said Biden's plan was "designed to lock in progress during the first four years of his administration" to put the country on a path toward a strong economy that will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Feldman expressed dismay with the multitude of Obama-era environmental regulations Trump has been able to unravel, but noted that certain inroads toward a clean energy future could not be undone by Trump. That progress included the installation of new wind turbines and electric grid improvements, she said.
"So there are big infrastructure investments that a President Biden will make at the beginning of this administration, so we will be on an irreversible path toward a clean energy economy by the end of his first term. So no future president can undo that again," Feldman said.
Bob Blue, executive vice president and co-chief operating officer at Dominion Energy, chimed in that "a rigorous and understandable process for siting infrastructure" will need to be on Biden's agenda in addition to the investment promises.
Without an understandable process for siting infrastructure projects, he said, using electric transmission as an example, those projects become very challenging to bring online, or even just to start construction.
First 100 days
During a later panel discussion convened by the DNC Environmental and Climate Crisis Council, Washington Governor and former presidential candidate Jay Inslee said Biden, with a stroke of the pen, could put an end to Trump's efforts to stifle state action aimed at embracing zero-emissions vehicles and energy efficiency standards, if he is elected.
To have the most impact on climate within his first 100 days in office, Inslee also suggested actions on public lands to prevent fossil fuel drilling were among steps Biden could take without congressional approval.
But he asserted that Biden's energy proposals were both effective and achievable politically.
"One of the things I liked about Biden's plan is it is sufficiently bold enough, but also electorally practical to be able to pass through the Senate," Inslee said. "It appeals to every part of our constituency, from the labor community, to the environmental justice community, to the business development entrepreneurs. It's got something for everybody."
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who served as a congressman from 2007 to 2019, said the most important thing Biden can do at the start of his term, if elected, would be to make it clear that climate policies and actions lawmakers, clean energy advocates, environmental groups and others are already promoting have the president's support.
It will also be imperative for a Biden administration to re-establish the US' standing in the global climate arena, rejoin the Paris climate accord and rebuke foreign entities that may have slacked on their environmental obligations in light of the example set by Trump.
Ellison contended that the technical tasks of passing legislation and crafting new rules would need to get done, but first the most important thing was tone setting, domestically and internationally.