with Paulina Firozi


Joe Biden has a go-to line when asked about what he wants to do about climate change as president. It's for voters to look back at what he has already done.

Throughout the 2020 campaign, the former vice president has cast himself as an ardent environmentalist, repeatedly pointing to his long history in government as evidence that he takes seriously the issue of warming temperatures.

But that record may not be enough for climate activists pushing the Democratic Party even further to the left on climate change. They say the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has gotten so dire that the old Obama administration policies are insufficient for addressing an urgent generational crisis.

That dynamic was on display Sunday evening when a volunteer for the youth climate group Sunrise Movement confronted Biden in North Carolina about why he decided to no longer oppose the creation of an outside group capable of taking unlimited donations in support of his candidacy. The decision to open the door to super PAC money has exposed Biden to criticism he will be beholden to wealthy donors.

“Since you're now taking super PAC money, how can we trust that you're not fighting for the people profiting off climate change?” activist Lily Levin asked.

“Look at my record, child,” Biden responded. "Look at my record."

The Sunrise Movement, which has pushed the sweeping Green New Deal climate plan, later admonished Biden for responding to the 18-year-old activist with “frustrated condescension.” "It's one thing to say 'look at my record,' ' said Stephen O'Hanlon, a co-founder and spokesman for the Sunrise Movement. "But we need a president who is putting out a bold vision for this crisis." 

Biden did embrace the idea of a Green New Deal, which calls for rapidly reducing the nation's contributions to climate change, when he released his climate plan in June.

This isn't the first time Biden, a veteran senator from Delaware before serving two terms as President's Obama's No. 2, has asked voters to check his record. The Democrat has repeatedly pointed out he was talking about climate change before many of his fellow senators.

“I’m one of the first guys to introduce a climate change bill, way, way back in '87,” Biden said in Iowa in May. “I said back in 1987, I said we have an existential threat,” he told a crowd in New Hampshire that same month.

Biden indeed was among the first senators to introduce climate change legislation. In 1986, he introduced a bill directing the president to form a task force on climate change. The legislation was eventually enacted through a 1987 funding bill. Fact-checkers at PolitiFact and the New York Times both rated Biden's claim favorably.

During his 36-year career in the Senate, Biden had an overall score of 83 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, which rates legislators on how they vote on various environmental issues, including climate change.

Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV's senior vice president for government affairs, said that many of the votes that counted against Biden's score reflect his occasional absence from the Senate — either during his previous runs for president in 1988 or 2008 or during his hospitalization for an aneurysm and other issues also in 1988.

“That tends to lower your score because you miss votes,” she said.

When serving as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee through most of the 2000s, Biden criticized the George W. Bush administration for abandoning an international climate treaty called the Kyoto Protocol. He and then-Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), the panel's top Republican, pushed for and passed a resolution asking Bush to go back to the negotiating table. 

“We won't talk about renegotiating that treaty … That sends a message to the rest of the world that, 'Hang on, folks, we consume most of the resources. We're going to continue to pollute. We don't care what you do on your own,' “ Biden told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in 2001.

Reengaging the rest of the world on reducing greenhouse gas is one of the planks of Biden's $1.7 trillion climate plan in the 2020 race. Biden calls for rejoining the Paris climate accord and legally committing the country to achieving net-zero emissions by at least 2050, though like many other Democrats he isn't precise how that to accomplish that goal.

But as Obama's vice president, that administration struggled to create rules designed to curb emissions at home. Democrats' efforts to pass a cap-and-trade bill, which would have cut emissions economywide, failed in 2010, while the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan targeting releases from coal-fire power plants was held up by the courts.

At times, Biden has taken environmental positions dramatically different from Obama — most notably in calling for an end of new oil and natural gas leases on public lands. 

Yet at other times he has not gone as far as either Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), his two main rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination, in trying to wean Americans from the use of fossil fuels. Both Sanders and Warrens have made banning both fracking and the export of fossil fuels part of their climate platforms, while Biden has not.

Sunrise's O'Hanlon said the 1986 bill was an important stance “at that time” but added that Biden's 2020 climate plan is “much less ambitious than his rivals'.”


— California is on fire: Fire crews were battling the Getty Fire fueled by heavy Santa Ana winds in Southern California while the Kincade Fire continued to tear a destructive path in the northern half of the state. The Getty Fire in Los Angeles had burned through 618 acres and was 5 percent contained as of Monday evening; there were about 1,100 regional firefighters battling the blaze that had destroyed eight homes and damaged six others, The Post’s Derek Hawkins, Andrew Freedman and Marisa Iati report. The Kincade Fire had burned through more than 74,300 acres in Sonoma County and officials had contained just 15 percent as of Monday night, The Post’s Hawkins, Freedman and Kim Bellware report. Officials say at least 123 structures, including 57 homes, have been destroyed, and about 90,000 structures are still threatened.  

  • What’s driving the high winds fueling worsening wildfires: “They’re hurricane-like winds that transform California’s coastal hills into a hellscape when they catch a spark. And this fall, they’ve been launching a nightmarish onslaught of fires in both northern and southern California,” The Post’s Jason Samenow and Freedman write. It’s the third year in a row that “Diablo Winds” in the San Francisco Bay region and Santa Ana winds in Southern California have fueled devastating blazes.
  • How climate change is intensifying the problem: “While there are multiple drivers, the flare-up in fire activity over the last decade or so has coincided with an observed trend toward hotter, drier, and longer-lasting fire seasons. According to CalFire, ‘climate change is considered a key driver of this trend.’”
  • More blackouts are coming: Pacific Gas & Electric said it could preemptively cut the power to 605,000 customers on Tuesday and Wednesday in Northern California as Diablo winds continue. “The blackout would cover more than two dozen Northern California counties and comes just days after a much larger power cut that covered nearly 1 million customers over the weekend,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
  • The smoke is a problem, too: The smoke shrouding parts of the state is a risk, especially for vulnerable residents. “People should not be spending lengthy time outside — especially sensitive people who have issues breathing,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brendon Rubin-Oster, Bloomberg News reports. In Northern California, some commuters were wearing face masks, and even ski masks, to protect fromselves, per the report. 
Thousands of people in Los Angeles were ordered to evacuate after a fast-moving brush fire ignited early Oct. 28 near the Getty Center museum. (The Washington Post)

— “This is only the beginning”: Former California governor Jerry Brown (D) warned that the wildfire siege is just a sign of what’s to come as the planet warms. “I said it was the new normal a few years ago,’’ Brown told Politico in an interview. “[B]ut this is only the beginning. This is only a taste of the horror and the terror that will occur in decades.” He also criticized Washington and the Trump administration for failing to quickly take action. “It’s unpredictable, other than the fact that it will get worse in present trajectory. Washington, under Trump, is doing very little — and even the Congress has been unable to mobilize under Washington,” he added.

— Trump vs. California: A coalition of major automakers announced it would side with the Trump administration in the ongoing legal feud between the administration and the Golden State over fuel economy standards, The Post’s Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report.

  • Which car manufacturers are siding with Trump: The group includes General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Hyundai.
  • Their reasoning: "John Bozzella, president of the Association of Global Automakers and a spokesperson for the coalition, said Monday that the companies intervening are not necessarily endorsing a White House proposal that would essentially freeze fuel standards enacted during the Obama administration,” Eilperin and Dennis add. “But he said the firms do support the long-standing principle that the federal government has the ‘sole purview’ for setting national standards.”
  • An industry divided: The announcement put GM and the other automakers opposite Volkswagen, Honda, Ford and BMW of North America, which in July struck a deal with California regulators to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles through 2025. Honda, which is part of the Association of Global Automakers, issued a statement dissenting from the group's decision.

— National Park Service takes back proposal to have protesters foot the bill: The agency withdrew a plan to require that demonstrators repay the federal government for the cost of security at protests in the District, a proposal that would have affected the frequent gatherings on the Mall and around the White House.

  • Numerous organizations said the proposal would violate the First Amendment: “About 750 First Amendment demonstrations converge on the Mall annually. The largest rallies often require additional support from Park Service personnel and Park Police to ensure safety and to limit harm to federal land, which prompted the agency to seek ways for recouping those costs,” The Post’s Michael E. Ruane and Marissa J. Lang report.
  • The reaction: The American Civil Liberties Union was pleased with the decision. “The National Park Service’s retreat should serve as a reminder that if the administration tries to come after our right to protest, it will have to get through thousands of ACLU members and supporters first,” senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane said in a statement.

— Another GOP lawmaker to retire: Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), an 11-term lawmaker who is the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced he plans to retire at the end of this Congress, The Post’s Mike DeBonis reports. Walden was vocal about addressing climate issues and finding bipartisan solutions and technological innovations to combat emissions.

— A growing buildup of FOIA requests: The Interior Department’s backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests has topped 4,000, E&E News reports, and that could serve as a test of the department’s new rules around records requests, which were publicized last week. Deputy Chief FOIA Officer Rachel Spector said the latest rules are just part of a plan to increase efficiency. “The near-tripling in Interior's FOIA backlog reflects, in part, a jump in the number of requests from reporters, advocates and others. The department fielded 1,551 FOIA requests in the first quarter of fiscal 2017; that increased to 2,046 in the first quarter of fiscal 2019,” per the report. “ … While Interior backed off from its most controversial proposals, the department's 42-page package still includes changes that will be tested by a daily deluge of often far-reaching requests.”



  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands holds a legislative hearing
  • The House Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development holds a hearing on a clean energy workforce.
  • The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment Subcommittee holds a hearing on “Fuel Efficiency Rollbacks on the Climate, Car Companies and California."
  • The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on “Dark Money and Barriers to Climate Action."