Joe Biden unveiled a plan Tuesday that would spend $1.7 trillion to set the United States on track to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, answering progressive critics and joining a handful of other Democratic presidential contenders to release comprehensive proposals to combat climate change.
The former vice president’s plan embraces elements of the ambitious Green New Deal – which it calls “a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face” – and seeks to go “well beyond” former President Barack Obama’s climate goals.
It aims to spur the creation of millions of new jobs and rally international institutions around the goal of sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And at home, Biden’s plan calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and a ban on new oil and gas permits on public lands.
The plan’s release comes as Biden’s campaign faces pressure from progressives who distrust his moderate message. Biden sought to answer those criticisms by accompanying his plan’s release with a pledge to reject campaign contributions from coal, oil and gas companies and their executives – a pledge 16 other candidates have made.
The former vice president’s plan carries a price tag of $1.7 trillion in its first 10 years, including $400 billion for research between universities and the private sector, which Biden’s campaign says it would pay for by undoing the tax cuts enacted by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. Investments from state and local governments and private companies would push the total to $5 trillion, his campaign said.
The plan leaves Congress to decide what enforcement mechanism would be used to require corporations in the United States to meet the goals Biden’s plan lays out – and penalize them if they fall short.
Biden would also re-enter the Paris climate accord – which Trump left – on his first day in office, and then seek to raise its ambitions through “a major diplomatic push to raise the ambitions of countries’ climate targets.”
Goods imported from countries that are failing to meet their climate obligations would face “carbon adjustment fees,” Biden’s plan says. And the United States would use international agreements and the country’s influence on security and trade to pressure countries to meet their Paris climate accord goals, while providing assistance to developing countries that set their own targets.
“More severe storms and droughts, rising sea levels, warming temperatures, shrinking snow cover and ice sheets – it’s already happening. We must take drastic action now to address the climate disaster facing the nation and our world,” Biden said in a statement.
“Science tells us that how we act or fail to act in the next 12 years will determine the very livability of our planet,” he said. “That’s why I’m calling for a clean energy revolution to confront this crisis and do what America does best – solve big problems with big ideas.”
Biden also released a nearly five-minute video outlining his plan Tuesday morning.
Biden has pledged on the campaign trail – including during a recent trip to New Hampshire – to make climate change a priority during his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
“This is no time to turn back. I’ve been saying for years that this is an existential threat that requires a green revolution and it does, it does,” Biden said in Manchester last month. “There is no one who’s been stronger and more effective I would respectfully suggest to you on climate and the environment than me, nobody, and we need to invest more as well in what we can do there in terms of climate.”
Weeks before he released his plan, Biden pushed back against criticism from progressives, like Ocasio-Cortez, who argued the former vice president would not go far enough to combat climate change.
They were citing a Reuters report that quoted a Biden adviser who touted the need to find a “middle ground” approach as progressives push the Green New Deal.
“I’ll be damned if the same politicians who refused to act (in past decades) are going to try to come back today and say we need a middle of the road approach to save our lives,” Ocasio-Cortez, a strong proponent of the Green New Deal, said last month.
Asked by CNN about the critique, Biden insisted he would provide a bold solution to climate change.
“You never heard me say middle of the road. I’ve never been middle of the road on the environment,” Biden, who introduced one of the first climate change bills when he served in the Senate, said in Concord, New Hampshire, last month. “They should calm down a little bit. Take a look at the record before. There’s nothing been the middle of the road about my effort in dealing with the environment.”
A proposal to fight climate change
Biden’s plan includes a list of 10 steps he would take on the first day of his presidency using the White House’s executive authority.
Those steps include more aggressively enforcing the Clean Air Act; developing new fuel economy standards designed at pushing for all electric-powered consumer vehicles; requiring methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations; imposing “aggressive” appliance and building efficiency standards; and banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.
“On day one, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track,” Biden’s plan says.
His plan also includes a year-one legislative agenda that would require the approval of Congress.
Its highlight is establishing an enforcement mechanism to get the United States to the target of net-zero emissions by 2050 – with a first target aimed for the end of what would be Biden’s first term in office.
“This enforcement mechanism will be based on the principles that polluters must bear the full cost of the carbon pollution they are emitting and that our economy must achieve ambitious reductions in emissions economy-wide instead of having just a few sectors carry the burden of change,” Biden’s plan says. “The enforcement mechanism will achieve clear, legally-binding emissions reductions with environmental integrity.”
It also calls for the creation of ARPA-C, “a new, cross-agency Advanced Research Projects Agency focused on climate,” which would tackle challenges such as creating small modular nuclear reactors and decarbonizing industrial heat and the food and agriculture sectors.
The plan calls for the federal stimulus package enacted early in former President Barack Obama’s administration to be used as a model for an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings in the United States by 50% by 2035.
It also says Biden would work with state and local governments to put in place more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by the end of 2030.
Biden’s plan also focuses on infrastructure, including a call for the “second great railroad revolution” – which would include shrinking travel times from New York to Washington; expanding the Northeast Corridor to the South; starting construction of a high-speed rail system that would connect the East and West coasts; and moving the California High Speed Rail project forward.
Biden’s plan also seeks to position climate change as a national security priority.
It includes steps such as commissioning a National Intelligence Estimate that would detail the economic and security effects of climate change; directing the national security adviser to develop a strategy to address the security effects of climate change; and directing the defense secretary and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to report annually “on the impacts of climate change on defense posture, readiness, infrastructure, and threat picture, as well as the Defense Department’s strategy to manage those impacts.”