Joe Biden finally unveiled his plan for addressing climate change, calling on the United States to "go well beyond" the Obama administration to eliminate climate-warming emissions by the middle of the century while attempting to create millions of new jobs.
Biden's 22-page climate plan, which Jeff Stein and I reported earlier Tuesday morning, appears partly aimed at blunting the criticisms of environmentalists and others on the left who have argued Biden’s presidential campaign is out of step with the Democratic Party's recent leftward shift on an array of issues, including the environment.
Some of Biden’s rivals for the Democratic nomination — including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who in most polls comes second to Biden, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is basing his entire campaign around climate change — lambasted Biden’s climate politics after Reuters reported last month that Biden was seeking to chart a “middle ground” on climate policy. Biden aides denounced the story as inaccurate, but it set off a firestorm on the left from those who said it revealed the vice president was not prepared to confront the scale of global climate change.
To that end, Biden’s climate plan adopts the rhetoric — and at times, many of the actual policy proposals — of the Green New Deal resolution put forward this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), which calls on the nation to eliminate its carbon footprint by 2030.
Biden is trying to make his case on climate change — setting his own date for the nation to achieve net-zero emissions as 2050 at the latest — while vowing to help coal workers transition in a new clean-energy economy that he promises can create more than 10 million well-paying jobs.
In a calculated embrace likely meant to assuage party progressives, Biden calls the Green New Deal "a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face."
“It powerfully captures two basic truths,” it goes on. The first is that “the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge” and the second is that “our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.”
Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, whose protests in Congress originally brought the Green New Deal to the fore, said Biden's climate plan is a "major victory for the tens of thousands of people who have raised their voices."
As for what exactly Biden, who leads most polls for the Democratic nomination, would do as president, here are some of the details:
Reentering Paris climate accord: Biden said on his first day in office, he would rejoin the international agreement brokered by the Obama administration in which nations voluntarily set goals for reducing greenhouse gas pollution. The Trump administration decided to pull the United States out of the agreement.
- International pressure: Biden’s campaign added that a potential Biden administration would pressure other nations to get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels, to ban offshore drilling in the Arctic and to increase their emissions targets under the accord, though it did not provide precise levels.
- China: Biden’s camp called out America's chief economic rival in particular for financing fossil-fuel projects throughout the world, adding that any future U.S.-China agreements would hinge on carbon mitigation.
Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050: Biden also calls for that commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of the century to be written into law, but is vague on precisely how that goal would be achieved. And passing such a bill would be a tall order politically, even if Democrats take back the Senate as well as the White House next year.
- Flashback: A decade ago, the Obama administration unsuccessfully tried to pass into law its own enforcement mechanism for reducing emissions in the form of a cap-and-trade scheme, forcing moderate House Democrats to take a tough vote. The party lost the House a year later, in 2010.
- And back to today: Biden still faces pressure from the left to set his decarbonization date even earlier. "The UN says we need to achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2050 and it’s irresponsible not to set an earlier deadline for the US than for developing nations who have historically contributed far less to the problem," Prakash said.
$1.7 trillion price tag: Biden’s plan says his climate proposal would cost that much over a decade, and that he would foot the bill by paring back the 2017 Republican tax law he says “enrich corporations at the expense of American jobs.”
- How does that compare to his rivals' plans? Inslee (D-Wash.) recently released a $9 trillion plan to cut emissions, while Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) called for $5 trillion over 10 years to combat climate change.
- But: It is unclear if Democrats would be willing to raise that much money in new taxes from corporations, even assuming the party regains Congress and the White House. The Republican tax law lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Setting it at 27 or 28 percent, as Barack Obama and most congressional Democrats have called for, would only raise about $700 billion over 10 years, according to Marc Goldwein, senior vice president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan think tank.
Nuclear energy: Unlike some of his Democratic rivals, Biden supports nuclear energy, calling for money to be put toward developing the new generation of small modular nuclear reactors. While nuclear reactors today constitutes the largest portion of low-carbon electricity in the United States, the industry faces an uncertain future as cheaper forms of power, such as natural gas and renewable energy, eat away at its market share. Biden also calls for mounting an Apollo-style program to pour $400 billion into other clean energy research over 10 years.
- On the other side of the intraparty debate over nuclear is Sanders, who calls for a complete phaseout of nuclear energy over concerns of radioactive waste storage and the risk of meltdowns.
Railroads: Of course a climate plan from "Amtrak Joe" would talk about trains. Biden calls for cutting the commute between Washington and New York by half and for reviving a high-speed rail project connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco that was indefinitely postponed by California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom (D), over delays and cost overruns.
Read about the rest of Biden's plan here:
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— Lawmakers finally send disaster bill to Trump: The House finally passed the long-delayed $19.1 billion disaster-aid bill in a bipartisan 354-58 vote. The bill notably had to be rewritten at times amid the continued impasse, as more natural disasters hit the country while the package remained stalled, The Post’s Erica Werner reports. “The legislation languished for months as Trump and Democrats fought over aid to Puerto Rico, which will ultimately receive more than $1 billion in the bill. There were also internal squabbles among Republicans, a fight over immigration and, finally, after the Senate passed the bill last month, objections by a handful of conservatives in the House who prevented the bill from passing while Congress was out of town for Memorial Day.” The bill now moves to the desk of Trump, who is expected to sign it.
What’s included: Among the bill’s many provisions is $2.4 billion for community development block grants to address disasters that have hit since 2017, an extension to the National Flood Insurance Program through Sept. 30 and a provision to cover industrial hemp by federal crop insurance, which was sought by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Here’s who has been waiting for aid: For months, people across the country that have been affected by hurricanes, volcanoes, wildfires, tornadoes, storms and floods have been awaiting the disaster aid that’s been stuck in Washington gridlock. Politico has one breakdown of some of those communities in waiting, including farmers whose planting season has been disrupted by floods, prisoners in correctional facilities that were damaged in the wake of hurricanes, fishing communities in need of economic aid, and communities in Hawaii that were displaced or otherwise affected when a volcano erupted for the first time in more than two centuries.
— The water woes continue: Investigators have seized former governor Rick Snyder’s state-owned mobile devices in the continued probe of the water crisis in Flint. Officials also have seized phones from 65 other former and current officials. “The warrants were sought two weeks ago by the attorney general’s office and signed by a Flint judge, according to documents the AP obtained through public-records requests,” the Associated Press reports. “The warrants seek data from the devices of individuals who have been charged in the probe but also uncharged officials such as Snyder, former Environmental Quality director Dan Wyant and various people who worked in Snyder’s office including Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, top aide Richard Baird and chief of staff Dick Posthumus.”
Meanwhile: Speaking at the National Press Club, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler addressed the crisis in Flint and suggested the water has reached safe levels. “Right now, Flint, Michigan, is attaining the water quality standards,” he said. “We test their water on a regular basis, we’re working with the local city as well as the state. We’re still providing bottled drinking water to people if they need it, but at this point the water quality in Flint, Michigan, is safe to drink.”
EPA chief takes a jab at the press: During his remarks at the National Press Club event, Wheeler also said the media “does a disservice” by not highlighting the government’s achievements on environmental policy. He referred to a yearly Gallup survey that asks people across the country if the environment is improving. He said the survey indicates people often say the environment is “getting worse.” “We need to fix this perception, and we need the help of the press. The public needs to know how far we’ve come, as a nation, protecting the environment,” he said, listing progress points for the United States. “My purpose in doing this is not to minimize the environmental challenges or threats we face today. … But the media does a disservice to the American public, and sound policymaking, by not informing the public of the progress this nation has made.”
— State lawsuits tackle PFAS: A growing number of state lawsuits are emerging to fight toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, also known as PFAS. Federal government research has pointed to the chemicals as linked to cancer and other health problems. “New Hampshire is the latest to join the fray, filing two lawsuits last week against major manufacturers for their products' impacts on natural resources,” E&E News reports. “New Jersey filed its own case three weeks ago, raising environmental and consumer fraud claims. Others taking legal action include Ohio, New York and New Mexico. PFAS-related cases in North Carolina and Vermont recently settled.” Matthew Schroeder, an attorney with Akerman LLP who advises companies on legal issues related to the chemicals told E&E News: "We've asked the question, 'Is this the new asbestos?' ”
— Environmental group president resigns following harassment probe: The president of one of the world’s largest environmental groups, the Nature Conservancy, is resigning following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct at the organization. Brian McPeek and two other executives of the group were at the center of an internal investigation. The other two executives, Vice Presidents Mark Burget and Kacky Andrews, left the group last week, E&E News reports. "On May 31, Brian McPeek, president of The Nature Conservancy, and Mark Tercek, CEO, jointly agreed that the best way for TNC to move forward at this time is for Brian to resign," a spokesman for the organization told the outlet.
— Trump administration targets pipeline protests: The Transportation Department released a proposal calling on lawmakers to expand a law that threatens penalties on protestors who damage pipelines with fines and up to 20 years of prison time. The proposal echoes some efforts that have popped up in states to respond to growing pipeline demonstrations, Politico reports. “While House Democrats will almost certainly block the proposal, it intensifies fights already underway in several energy-producing states to tamp down the waves of pipeline protests launched by progressive environmental advocates around the country as they seek to stop production of fossil fuels,” per the report.
— A milestone, thanks to weather forecasters: The massive tornado swarm that swept across parts of Ohio and Kansas last week did so without any reported deaths, Matthew Cappucci writes for The Post. There were six deaths following a barrage of hundreds of tornadoes that blew from the High Plains to near Washington. “The relatively minimal death toll during the United States’ weeks-long tornado swarm is an enormous success story, a testament to how far we’ve come with advanced predictive methods and the ability to disseminate warnings,” Cappucci writes. “While any loss of life is tragic, that number is incredibly low, given the magnitude and extent of the destruction left in the storms’ wake. And none of the deaths was associated with two of the most violent (EF4) tornadoes.”
— The secret source of Tesla’s revenue: Two automakers — General Motors and Fiat Chrysler — disclosed to the state of Delaware deals they had made with Tesla to buy greenhouse gas credits needed to offset the sales of polluting vehicles. “These sorts of transactions have largely been shrouded in secrecy — until now,” Bloomberg reports. “They also represent the first acknowledgments from carmakers that they’re turning to Tesla for help to comply with intensifying U.S. environmental regulations.”
— Pipeline plans uncertain: The Minnesota Court of Appeals has put the fate of the replacement for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline into question, after ruling that the environmental impact statement for the pipeline was “inadequate because it did not address the potential impact of an oil spill into the Lake Superior watershed,” the Star Tribune reports. The court reversed the approval by state utility regulators and “acting on appeals from two environmental groups and three American Indian tribes, remanded the adequacy decision back to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and, it would appear, to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which conducted the environmental impact statement, or EIS.”
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on expanded deployment of grid-scale energy storage.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a nomination hearing.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on clean air and nuclear safety holds a hearing on advanced nuclear technology.
- The House Science Committee holds a hearing on biodiversity loss.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a nomination hearing on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests, and public lands holds a legislative hearing Wednesday.
- The House Science subcommittee on environment holds a hearing on ocean exploration Wednesday.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on climate preparedness Wednesday.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is scheduled to give the keynote address at the 5th Washington Oil & Gas Forum, which will be held Wednesday and Thursday.
— Tilting at Trump: Jay Inslee mocked the president’s previous comments on wind energy on Twitter.