The former vice president has faced a barrage of criticism that he's not taking climate change seriously enough, ever since Reuters released a report saying he's president is pursuing a “middle ground” approach.
Lost in the hubbub is what, exactly, a “middle ground” policy would even look like. The climate debate so far has been dominated by Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive ilk, whose Green New Deal proposal called on the U.S. to drastically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions over the next decade and had no chance of winning over Republicans and even some moderate Democrats. Those like Biden who are inclined to try to seek compromises with Republicans have yet to release a plan.
But a number of energy and environmental wonks — ranging from center-left to center-right — were happy to fill in the details about how such a "middle ground" policy could take shape. They outlined a set of climate policies they see as both realistic to execute and possible to pass on a bipartisan basis:
Natural gas: One of the biggest cruxes in the intraparty debate is over natural gas. To ardent environmentalists, it is another fossil fuel that is contributing to the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet and, therefore, must be kept in the ground indefinitely. Only adding to the problem is the groundwater pollution caused by the technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, increasingly used to extract the fuel.
A middle-ground approach would likely involve a role for natural gas in electricity generation for the foreseeable future. “It's a key reason renewables have grown so quickly,” Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser in the Bill Clinton White House who now advises the Progressive Policy Institute, said of natural gas. Unlike nuclear and coal plants, gas-fired power stations can turn on the juice quickly during cloudy or windless stretches when solar and wind generation lag behind. Until battery technology catches up, Bledsoe added, “it's utterly disingenuous of the left to pretend we can get rid of natural gas anytime soon.”
But to mitigate emissions of natural gas, Bledsoe and other want to see the federal government invest in carbon-capture technology, through both funding for researchers or tax breaks to corporations. But the devices to skim carbon dioxide from the air are, at the moment, still cost prohibitive. And some left-leaning environmentalists see recently enacted carbon-capture tax credits as yet another handout to corporate America.
Nuclear energy: This is another hot-button issue among Democrats. Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal resolution conspicuously avoids taking a stance on the energy source. The (still unresolved) issue of where to store radioactive waste has long made nuclear energy loathed on the left. Yet at the same time, the fleet of nearly 100 nuclear reactors in the United States is the nation's largest source of emissions-free power.
The middle-of-the-roadsters want to see policymakers embrace this proven source of low-emission energy, especially with competition from natural gas and renewable sources threatening the economic viability of nuclear energy. “We need to keep existing nuclear online,” said Josh Freed, head of the clean energy program at center-left think tank Third Way. “When nuclear is retired, it is far too often replaced by emitting sources of energy. That's a step backwards.”
Price on carbon: Maybe the biggest question in the intraparty climate debate is whether the federal government should make companies or consumers pay a price for emitting climate-warming gases.
Many economists like the idea of a carbon tax, or something similar, for discouraging climate-warming pollution without policymakers trying to pick which technology is best to achieve those reductions.
The idea is broadly popular with Democratic politicians. It has even gained traction among some elder GOP statesmen, such as former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz. Travis Kavulla of R Street, a center-right think tank, called such a policy a “clear-eyed, market-based approach.”
But some left-leaning environmentalists worry a complex pricing mechanism won't wean the country off fossil fuels fast enough to stop the planet from warming to dangerous levels. And many of the proposals for a price on carbon, including the one from Baker and Shultz, come with a catch environmentalists find hard to swallow: In exchange for taxing carbon, the government would erase anti-pollution rules already on the books.
What is Biden saying now? Without a public climate plan in hand, Biden is disavowing that “middle” brand. “You never heard me say middle of the road,” he told reporters in New Hampshire. “I’ve never been middle of the road on the environment.”
Still, there are signs of what Biden's climate plan will look like — and it probably will involve reinstalling Obama-era rules that President Trump's deputies are dismantling.
“Why in God’s name did this president freeze that?” Biden told reporters in New Hampshire, referring to the Trump administration's decision to reverse Obama-era regulations to make new cars and trucks more fuel efficient. “Even the automobile companies were for it.”
More to the point, Biden suggested recently that simply removing Trump from office is more important than any specific policy proposal at the moment.
As he said at a Philadelphia rally this weekend, “If you want to know what the first, most important plank in my climate proposal is: Beat Trump."
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— 2020 watch: Here's the latest on climate-related news from the growing field of presidential contenders.
Michael Bennet: The Senate Democrat from Colorado is the latest to unveil a plan to address climate change, with a proposal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the country by 2050. The proposal doesn’t specify how a Bennet administration would reach that goal, though the plan says it would “decide in the first 100 days of the administration” to “create consensus about what the right approach should be.” The plan would also create a $1 trillion climate bank of federal funding that’s meant to drive $10 trillion in private investment in innovation and infrastructure related to climate technologies.
Amy Klobuchar: The Minnesota Democrat announced she will sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, meaning her campaign will not take contributions from oil, gas and coal industry executives, lobbyists or PACs that are more than $200.
The youth climate activist group Sunrise Movement, which has been pushing candidates to sign the pledge, praised the move and called on other Democratic contenders who have not yet signed to follow suit.
Elizabeth Warren: The Massachusetts Democrat said she would support a debate among presidential contenders that focuses on climate change. In a video on Twitter, she read aloud a letter she received from a supporter who referred to a U.S. Youth Climate Strike movement to push 2020 candidates to agree to a climate debate. “I’m up for that,” Warren said.
— A dome placed over nuclear waste is at risk of leaks: For decades, the United States has housed deadly radioactive debris under a massive concrete dome on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. But the structure was meant to be temporary, The Post’s Kyle Swenson writes, even though no permanent alternative has been developed. “Today, due to disrepair and rising sea tides, it is dangerously vulnerable. A strong storm could breach the dome, releasing the deadly legacy of America’s nuclear might,” he writes. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres spoke recently about the dome during a visit to the Pacific islands to talk about climate change. “I’ve just been with the president of the Marshall Islands [Hilda Heine], who is very worried because there is a risk of leaking of radioactive materials that are contained in a kind of coffin in the area,” Guterres said.
— “We've spent too much time debating”: Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook told Tulane University’s graduating class over the weekend that not enough has been done to tackle climate change. “In some important ways, my generation has failed you in this regard,” Cook said during his speech in New Orleans. “We’ve spent too much time debating. We've been too focused on the fight, and not focused enough on progress.” He cited rising sea levels that have hit the Gulf coast especially hard, and urged the graduates to empathize with those feeling the impact of global warming. “When we talk about climate change, or any issue with human costs — and there are many — I challenge you to look for those who have the most to lose — and find the real, true empathy that comes from something shared,” he said. “When you do that, the political noise dies down, and you can feel your feet firmly planted on solid ground.”
— A subtropical storm forms before hurricane season officially begins: The National Hurricane Center announced Subtropical Storm Andrea formed Monday evening. It’s the fifth straight year with a preseason-named storm, The Post’s Brian McNoldy reports. The Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t begin until June 1.
— Two oil giants back push for carbon tax: BP and Royal Dutch Shell announced they plan to each invest $1 million in Americans for Carbon Dividends, a Republican-backed advocacy group pushing for a tax on carbon emissions. The companies say “their contributions put weight behind their calls for federal carbon pricing legislation. They will also be among dozens of companies lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week on the issue,” E&E News reports. “The momentum is clearly building among the business community, who are increasingly coming together and rallying behind market-based solutions to drive significant emission reductions in the economy,” the advocacy group’s Senior Vice President Greg Bertelsen said in a statement.
— Auto giant announces job cuts in redesign: Ford Motor Co. is planning to slash 10 percent of its global salaried staff, a decision that will lead to 7,000 lost white-collar jobs in a move to save the company $600 million a year, The Post’s Rachel Siegel reports. In the United States, the auto giant is set to cut 500 salaried employees this week. That will increase to 800 total jobs cut by June. “The automaker has been on a cost-cutting push since 2017,” the Detroit News reports. “Ford aims to cut $25.5 billion from its operating costs over the next few years. That's coupled with an $11 billion global redesign, which includes the salaried workforce cuts.”
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife holds a hearing on the president’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holds a hearing on mercury protections.
- The Senate Agriculture Committee holds a hearing on climate change and the agriculture sector.
- The House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight holds a hearing on preparing transportation infrastructure for climate change.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a business meeting to consider pending Interior Department nominations.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands holds a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
- The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management holds a hearing on disaster preparedness on Wednesday.
- Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a legislative hearing on legislation to address risks associated with PFAS on Wednesday.
— Only in Florida: A family visiting the state came across an alligator floating on an alligator-shaped pool float while staying at an Airbnb in South Miami, the Miami New Times reports.