Assessing the New Biden Climate Plan
Vice President Biden’s new climate plan, released the week of July 13, has garnered a lot of attention. That makes sense. It proposes significant new investments in clean energy and climate infrastructure and clean energy innovation to drive our nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession and to shock-proof our country from the worst impacts of climate change.
Rather than a move to the left, as some have described it, the Biden plan is the appropriate response to a country with a $2 trillion shortfall in infrastructure investment. It would help revitalize a private sector that has shed 15 million jobs since February 2020, while the unemployment rate stands at 11% and 7 million more Americans have had their wages cut. The plan also represents a clear consensus among Democrats, climate experts, and many in the investment and business community that the United States needs to leverage every zero-emission option to eliminate climate pollution.
In fact, many of the investments Biden has proposed have long been supported by groups like Third Way, the New Democrat Coalition, the Center for American Progress (CAP), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and more moderate Democratic presidential candidates like Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg. This includes:
- Using every zero-carbon option, including nuclear power and carbon capture—two technologies that Sen. Sanders opposed during his presidential campaign;
- Investing in clean energy innovation instead of relying just on renewables, as called for by Sierra Club, 350.org, and Public Citizen;
- Proposing a Clean Energy Standard that has support from utilities and already has been adopted in some form by 31 states including Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, and Wisconsin;
- No nationwide ban on fracking, fossil fuels, or new pipelines, which would hurt workers in industrial unions and are unpopular in large parts of the Midwest and Southwest.
With this plan, Biden is not only responding to Americans’ growing, bipartisan concerns about climate change, but also building upon his own commendable history of climate action. As a senator, Biden was a lead sponsor of early climate legislation to plot a course against what he rightly called “the threat posed by global warming.”
The Biden plan makes clear that we need all clean energy technologies—not just renewables—to power our economy and address climate change.
- Third Way, NWF, EDF, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Resources for the Future (RFF) all support climate and clean energy policy that includes every technology at our disposal in the face of our climate crisis.
- The Biden plan did not adopt the 100% renewables platform from groups like the Sierra Club, 350.org, or Public Citizen. Instead, Biden supports other important technologies like carbon capture, utilization, and storage, direct air capture, and advanced nuclear.
The plan seeks a “historic investment” in clean energy innovation on a scale “beyond the Apollo Program,” and specifically calls out advanced nuclear, as well as direct air capture and renewable hydrogen, as technologies a Biden Administration would emphasize.
- Through the creation of a cross-agency climate research agency, Biden would support technologies that help us reduce emissions, including “advanced nuclear reactors, that are smaller, safer, and more efficient at half the construction cost of today’s reactor,” and tech that captures “carbon dioxide through direct air capture systems and retrofits to existing industrial and power plant exhausts, followed by permanently sequestering it deep underground or using it to make alternative products like cement.”
- Third Way has long made clear through its research that advanced nuclear and carbon capture technologies are critical tools for realizing meaningful reductions in climate pollution.
- With the exception of Sen. Sanders, every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who polled above 1% supported carbon capture as part of their energy platform.
- Key moderate candidates, including Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and Beto O’Rourke, all supported both advanced and existing nuclear in their campaign plans.
- The New Democrat Coalition actively supports economy-wide solutions and climate-focused incentives for businesses to be able to deploy clean energy technologies.
- In the summer of 2019, 71% of adults said it was likely that technological advances could reduce most of the negative impacts of climate change.
Both congressional Democrats and the full slate of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates recognize that America needs to make a massive infrastructure investment to keep our roads and bridges operable and increase our resilience against climate change.
- The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), in a much-cited 2017 assessment of American infrastructure, said the country needed $4.59 trillion in infrastructure investment by 2025 to prevent the loss of 2.5 million American jobs. ASCE tallied a $2 trillion shortfall in funding based on projected levels.
- Biden’s plan to invest $2 trillion in clean energy and infrastructure over four years is right on target, given the scale of needed repairs and the billions of dollars of investment the world still needs in order to develop the technologies that could deeply decarbonize the global economy. $2 trillion would kickstart much-needed fixes to inadequate infrastructure across the country. It’s also smart timing, given today’s low interest rates.
Clean Energy Standard
The plan includes a national Clean Energy Standard to get to net-zero in the electricity sector by 2035 that would leverage “the carbon-pollution free energy provided by existing sources like nuclear and hydropower.” This is a popular, mainstream policy for cutting carbon emissions.
- Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, and multiple territories already have some kind of CES, including states like Texas, Iowa, Missouri, and Montana, and battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and North Carolina.
- New Democrats squarely support a strong national CES for the power sector.
- The public wants to see Congress act more on climate change: a recent poll found that 63% of U.S. adults think Congress should do more to address climate change. A national CES would be a bold, ambitious way to reduce climate pollution.
Center-left groups like Third Way have publicly called for many of the transportation policies highlighted in Biden’s plan.
- Electric vehicles: Biden has recognized that we can decarbonize our transportation sector while also supporting American manufacturers by supporting the transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). Biden has emphasized giving a boost to the domestic manufacturing of batteries, ZEVs, and charging infrastructure, and funding the R&D needed to bring down battery costs. He also wants to drive ZEV demand through a federal commitment to purchase clean vehicles for federal, state, and local fleets; provide rebates for people to buy cleaner cars; make investments that build or retool facilities to assemble ZEVs and chargers; and build 500,000 EV charging stations.
- Fuel economy standards: Biden backs stronger fuel economy standards, which is a recognition of the continued role of gas-powered vehicles in the near-term and in line with the center-left thinking that informed the Obama Administration’s emissions agreement with automakers.
- Transit: Biden has set a goal of providing every American city containing 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options by 2030—including rail transit, expanded bus service, and bike/pedestrian infrastructure. Third Way supports public transportation investment as a way to create jobs, grow the economy, reduce emissions from driving, and provide better mobility for communities.
- Groups like CAP and EDF have also analyzed the impact of policies that expand domestic electric vehicle adoption and made similar recommendations.
Fossil Fuels and Pipelines
Biden’s plan would not ban fracking, oil and gas exploration on private lands, or the construction of pipelines.
- The plan wisely focuses on addressing the massive environmental and climate challenge from the growing number of abandoned wells. A recent report from RFF and Columbia University found that a federal program addressing half a million orphaned wells could create as many as 120,000 jobs.
- It also supports advances in carbon capture technology that would both help reduce emissions from industrial processes that still rely on fossil fuels and imbue historically fossil fuel-heavy states like Wyoming, North Dakota, and Texas with renewed economic opportunities.
- Just like a significant majority of the 2020 Democratic field for president, Biden supports a ban on fossil fuel leasing specifically on public lands, and backs the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.
The campaign’s climate plan includes environmental justice as a primary part of policy decision-making and ensures communities of color and low-income families are specifically supported throughout a clean energy transition.
- Environmental justice was a key component of the original climate and clean energy plan Biden articulated in June 2019.
- The New Democrat Coalition is already making sure that historically disadvantaged, frontline communities benefit from the transition to clean energy.
Biden’s plan ensures public dollars support the private sector’s ability to innovate and invest in building new infrastructure to create good-paying jobs.
- Biden’s plan would create and restore jobs in clean energy, while Trump’s bad pandemic policies have resulted in the loss of an estimated 2 million-plus clean energy jobs.
- Estimating clean energy job losses is difficult without firm data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but a much-cited report placed sector losses due to the pandemic at almost 600,000 jobs.
Biden has scaled his climate plan in line with the depth of the ongoing recession. His plan would uplift the economy while shock-proofing us against climate change. Democrats across the board believe we need to “build back better,” and that includes supporting clean energy, focusing on environmental justice, fixing our crumbling transportation, and investing in a strong, clean, domestic manufacturing sector—all of which are front and center in Biden’s plan.
Biden’s bold, aggressive climate and clean energy plan is exactly what America needs: a roadmap to a bright future for our country. The platform he articulated this week is both a natural extension of positions he’s always held and an endorsement of the kind of mainstream climate and clean energy policies that have circulated for years.