When it comes to investing in renewable sources of energy and moving forward with initiatives to combat climate change, the Democrats have historically been the American political party most focused on these issues. The Republican Party has historically favored efforts that have been focused on maintaining affordable and reliable sources of energy through the use of fossil fuels. The Republican energy platform has been built around the idea that less regulations will keep energy bills lower, while also supporting economic growth. Republicans often criticize Democrats for focusing too much on the environment rather than the economy. Conversely, Democrats accuse Republicans of being overly concerned about economic growth instead of safeguarding the environment. These diverging opinions have been increasingly apparent in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Joe Biden’s Energy Platform
In early June, Former Vice President Joe Biden officially obtained enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. Since early April, after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race, Biden has been the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party. According to a national poll conducted by CNN, fighting climate change has been the most crucial issue for Democratic voters (Irfan, 2019). Therefore, energy and climate change have played a significant role in Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. As with the rest of the Democratic platform, Biden believes that climate change presents a tangible and urgent threat to nation, our national security, and to future generations. As part of the Obama administration, Biden supported efforts to protect public lands and the environment from the impacts of fossil fuel extraction, while also combating climate change.
In addition to simply supporting initiatives to weaken the fossil fuel industry, the administration under President Obama and Vice President Biden took bold action to issue more stringent fuel-economy standards and regulate carbon dioxide emissions. The Obama administration targeted coal-fired power plants as one of the biggest sources of sources of carbon emissions in the country. Joe Biden has championed a presidential campaign that has been centered around continuing the environmental efforts that President Obama had strived to move forward. Biden has also been a staunch supporter of the Green New Deal, which aims to reduce American dependence on fossil fuels.
The World’s Greatest Challenge
Joe Biden has said that climate change in the greatest challenge that is faced by the U.S. and the rest of the world. While Republicans have traditionally thought of the environment and the economy as two separate entities, Biden believes that the U.S. can utilize the development of renewable sources of energy to bolster economic growth. Biden has been extremely blatant about his views on fossil fuels. At a 2019 New Hampshire campaign rally, Biden professed that fossil fuels would be phased out after an energy-related question was asked by a young woman. Biden said, “I want you to look at my eyes. I guarantee you. I guarantee you. We’re going to end fossil fuel” (Peoples, 2019).
Even though the exact specifics of Joe Biden’s potential energy policies have not been revealed, he has exclaimed that the U.S. will achieve 100 percent clean energy and reach net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. To put this into perspective, this national goal is even more progressive than the plan adopted by the State of Vermont, which only has a goal to reach 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by the year 2050. While Vermont’s energy plan is one of the most ambitious in the country in terms of removing fossil fuels from a statewide energy portfolio, Biden’s energy plan goes a step further by calling for the complete elimination of fossil fuels by 2050. This comes in stark contrast with President Donald Trump’s fossil fuel agenda.
Trump Versus Biden
Cutting environmental regulations and establishing policies to bolster growth in the oil, natural gas, and coal sectors has long been among some of President Trump’s most bold and controversial promises. In the face of substantial criticism from Democrats and environmental professionals, Trump’s energy plan has been centered around a goal of developing more fossil fuels in a policy environment with fewer regulations. Trump says that less regulations related to pipeline infrastructure, fossil fuel extraction, and environmental permitting will help to revive the fossil fuel industry, support American jobs, and maintain low energy prices for the general public. Under the Trump administration, vehicle fuel efficiency standards have been slashed, and the U.S. has become the only nation in the world to back out of the Paris Climate Accord.
The contrasting energy plans of Donald Trump and Joe Biden have made for one of the most polarizing president races in modern history. While Joe Biden has been committed to rallying around the rest of the world to combat the issue of climate change, Donald Trump has called the issue of climate change “a hoax invented by the Chinese.” To the great pleasure of many of his supports in the Republican Party, Trump has ignored the consensus within the global scientific community that calls for action against the fossil fuel industry to avoid the impending impacts of climate change. While Trump has moved forward with policy initiatives to support the fossil fuel industry, Biden promises to roll back Trump’s tax incentives in order to pay for a federal investment of $1.7 trillion over the next decade to support clean energy instead of fossil fuels.
Biden’s Record on Climate Change
Joe Biden is a self-proclaimed “climate change pioneer.” Since Biden was first elected to political office in 1970, his record has shown that he has been focused on the issue of rising global temperature and supporting strong environmental regulations against the fossil fuel industry. As a former U.S. Senator, Biden introduced one of the first climate change bills in Congress. In 1986, he introduced a bill known as the Global Climate Protection Act. This initiative was ultimately signed into law by former President Ronald Regan.
Biden’s Global Climate Protection Act permitted the U.S. State Department to allocate funding towards government research related to addressing the issue of global warming. Furthermore, this allowed President Regan to establish a task force to develop and implement a national strategy to coordinate efforts on global warming. Interestingly, this bill also urged President Regan to emphasize the importance of climate protection within U.S.-Soviet negotiations.
The League of Conservation Voters, which is a well-known American environmental advocacy group, has given Joe Biden a score of 83 percent out of 100 percent for his overall record of supporting a variety of clean energy bills and environmental policies. President Trump, on the other hand, was given a score of zero by the League of Conservation Voters for his record on climate change and the environment. For a look into Biden’s future energy agenda, looking back at his time in the Obama administration may provide more details into his plans. Biden supported President Obama’s energy initiatives through the establishment of the Clean Power Plan and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was established during the height of the Great Recession of 2009 and represented one of the biggest investments in clean energy that has ever been enacted by any presidential administration in American history.
Actions and Rhetoric
Joe Biden was tasked with overseeing the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As the face of many of these policies to support clean energy, Biden’s political rhetoric was one of his signature methods to show his support. In 2013, Biden told a reporter from Rolling Stone that, “The president is going to use his executive authority to, essentially, clean up the bad stuff, encourage the good stuff and promote private industry moving in that direction. If we had a different Congress, I think you’d see a more aggressive emissions legislation.” (Irfan, 2019). Moreover, prior to the finalization of the Paris Climate Accord, Biden told the United Nations that addressing climate change was the most important things that the Obama administration was trying to address.
While Joe Biden has been a vocal advocate for reducing fossil fuel usage and moving forward with plans to address climate change, have his actions matched up with his rhetoric? Even though Joe Biden and the Obama administration were fiercely advocating for action on climate change, U.S. carbon emissions continued to rise throughout Obama’s tenure in the White House. Moreover, the fossil fuel industry continued to grow rapidly during the Obama administration. While Joe Biden was Vice President, the U.S. experienced the biggest expansion of the natural gas industry in American history. Moreover, the Obama administration praised low gas prices, removed a ban on U.S. oil exports, and supported a number of liquefied natural gas plants with the process of developing export facilities.
During the race in the Democratic primary, former Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee raised concerns about Biden’s middle-ground approach to addressing energy issues. As a robust supporter of renewable energy, Inslee said that Biden’s continued support for an all-of-the-above energy program would not substantially address climate change. One area that might be holding Biden back from taking more of a direct stance against the fossil fuel industry would be his support for union workers. Given that fossil fuel industry is much more unionized than the renewable energy industry, Biden might face pushback from some union supporters that say his energy initiatives will have an adverse impact on unions. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is one of the largest unions in the country. President Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO has publicly opposed the Green New Deal for its potential impacts on labor unions.
Are Biden’s Energy Commitments Legitimate?
Even with Joe Biden’s promise to reverse the Trump administration’s environmental policies, some environmental advocates are still encouraging Biden to get tougher on taking on the fossil fuel industry. For example, Biden’s investment plant to tackle carbon emissions is one-tenth of the size of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ $16 trillion plan to address climate change (Calma, 2020). Furthermore, alarming media headlines about climate change continue to put pressure on Biden to get tougher on the fossil fuel industry. For example, the Citigroup banking giant recently released a report that highlighted how inaction on climate change would cost the global economy nearly $44 trillion by 2060 (Siegel, 2020). Advocates for the Greenpeace environmental organization would like to see more of a commitment from Biden to implement plans to leave oil, gas, and coal resources under the ground.
While Biden has publicly said that he will end fossil fuels, he recently attended a fundraiser hosted by the founder of a prominent natural gas company. The Sunrise Movement climate action group blasted Biden for attending this fundraiser. Sunrise Movement founder Varshini Prakash said that, “If Biden is serious about taking on the power of the fossil fuel lobby, why is he going to a fundraiser hosted by the co-founder of a natural gas company?” (Nilsen, 2019). Even though Biden attended this fundraiser, he has maintained that his campaign is not accepting contributions from the fossil fuel industry.
Calma, J. (2020). “Joe Biden still has to fight for the climate vote.” The Verge.
Irfan, U. (2019). “What’s Joe Biden going to do on climate change? Look at his record under Obama.” Vox.
Lubben, A. (2019). “Joe Biden Got Grilled About a Fundraiser Hosted by a Co-Founder of a Fossil Fuel Company. He Still Went to It.” Vice News.
Nilsen, E. (2019). “Joe Biden is in trouble over a fundraiser tied to a fossil fuel company.” Vox.
Peoples, S. (2019). “In intimate moment with activist, Joe Biden vows to end fossil fuel.” The Seattle Times.
Siegel, J. (2020). “Biden may use financial regulations to slow fossil fuel investments.” The Washington Examiner.