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Democratic US presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about modernising infrastructure and his plans for tackling climate change during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, US, July 14, 2020

Joe Biden unveils $2tn climate plan

Image credit: Reuters/Leah Millis

Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden has revealed an ambitious climate and jobs plan, which advisers say he would take to Congress “immediately” if elected President.

The new proposal outlines a $2tn (£1.6tn) four-year investment in clean-energy infrastructure and other climate solutions during his first term as President, while vowing to cut carbon emissions from electrical power to zero in 15 years. Last year, Biden proposed $1.7tn (£1.3tn) in spending over 10 years.

The plan signifies a more aggressive approach on climate policy than he adopted during the Democratic presidential primary, acknowledging progressives within the party who have been clamouring for swift, bold action.

“Let’s not waste any more time,” Biden said at a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday (14 July). “Let’s get to work now, now.”

As well as the goal to reduce carbon emissions, Biden said his climate package would provide a “badly needed jolt” to the US economy, which has taken a blow from the coronavirus pandemic, ultimately creating millions of new jobs in the clean-energy sector.

Biden also said his proposal would create a million jobs in electric-vehicle manufacturing, a million in upgrading buildings and a quarter-million cleaning up after extractive industries. He added he would give Americans money back for switching to cleaner cars and making their homes more efficient.

“When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax’. When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs’. Good-paying union jobs that put Americans to work,” said Biden, who will face President Trump in the election taking place on the 3 November.

Biden’s revised climate plan would require the country to be producing 100 per cent clean electricity by 2035, moving up his original target date by 15 years – a timeline borrowed from former presidential candidates Jay Inslee and Elizabeth Warren. And since emerging as the prospective Democratic nominee, Biden has been pressed by activists in the party to adopt more expansive climate policies.

“Addressing the economic crisis is going to be priority one for a President Biden,” a senior campaign official told reporters. “This will be the legislation he goes up to [Capitol Hill] immediately to get done. The reality is we will be facing a country that will be in dire need of these types of investments that are going to be made here.”

The climate plan is the second part of Biden’s 'Build Back Better' proposal, which he said he would focus on in his first four years as President because science tells us we have nine years before the damage is irreversible”.

Biden’s team painted a picture of a modernised America with the “cleanest, safest, fastest rail system in the world”, the biggest electric vehicle manufacturing sector, four million upgraded buildings and 1.5 million new sustainable homes and public housing units.

It also aims for a clean electricity system including renewable power and nuclear energy by 2035. Biden said, however, he would not ban fracking for natural gas, which would require an act of Congress, but instead would prohibit new fracking on public lands.

Gina McCarthy, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who is now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, said the plan was “by a long shot – the most ambitious we have ever seen from any President in our nation’s history”.

Labour unions and environmental justice communities would be central to climate efforts, campaign staffers said. A background document noted that climate change hits low-income and communities of colour hardest. 

Biden would create a national crisis strategy to ensure that government responses to disasters are equitable, start a taskforce to decrease climate risks for the most vulnerable, and establish an office of climate change and health equity.

Activist groups such as the Sunrise Movement, which have previously been critical of Biden’s climate plans, praised him on for showing more urgency on the issue. 

Varshini Prakash, co-founder of Sunrise Movement, said Biden’s revised plan responds to many of the group’s previous criticisms by “dramatically increasing the scale and urgency of investments, filling in details on how he’d achieve environmental justice and create good union jobs, and promising immediate action – on day one, in his first 100 days, in his first term, in the next decade – not just some far-off goals”.

However, two Republican congressmen from energy-producing states, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, criticised Biden’s proposal in a press call held by the Trump campaign.

They accused Biden of pandering to the party’s liberal wing and warned that instead of boosting the economy, the plan would do away with thousands of high-paying jobs and increase electricity costs, with middle- and low-income families bearing the brunt.

Meanwhile, Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley claimed Biden’s plan would put an end to 10 million American energy industry jobs and described it as a “socialist manifesto”.

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