On Tuesday, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee announced his updated climate plan where he intends to focus on creating sustainable jobs, building modern infrastructure, addressing environmental justice and combatting climate change. His plan has already garnered praise from environmental leaders like Governor Jay Inslee of Washington and activists across the country. However, despite its improvements from before, some have already pointed out flaws and unaddressed issues.
1. Move ambitiously to generate clean, American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.
Already more progressive than his previous plan, Biden’s new strategy vows to accelerate the U.S.’s transition towards net-zero carbon emission, supplementing this proposal with goals for all new American-built buses to be zero-emissions by 2030 and to invest heavily in electric vehicle production. Using tax incentives and a “technology-neutral Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard (EECES) for utilities and grid operators,” Biden will encourage competition in the power sector and incentivize carbon-pollution free energy. He plans to create plenty of jobs in producing solar panels and wind turbines, while also taking advantage of nuclear and hydropower sources.
With a nod to revitalizing coal mining communities, Biden hopes to shift their focus towards manufacturing parts for the solar and wind industries. For “properties idled in communities left behind, like brownfields,” Biden aims to use these areas as critical hubs for generating clean energy. Despite these new promises, however, he has maintained the overall target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
2. Create sustainable infrastructure and a modernized auto/transit industry
During his speech on Tuesday, Biden made repeated jabs at President Trump’s failure to deliver on his promises for rebuilding Amerca’s crumbling infrastructure. In his plan, he strives “to lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.”
Creating at least 1 million construction and manufacturing jobs in the process, Biden will upgrade at least 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over 4 years, ensuring that American homes will be safer and healthier. Another element consists of constructing 1.5 million homes and public housing units to alleviate the affordable housing crisis and ensure there is high-quality housing for families of all income levels. Furthermore, Biden will provide “direct cash rebates and low-cost financing” to incentivize citizens to upgrade to more efficient home appliances and reduce their electricity use. Corresponding with the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, modernizing America’s schools to improve indoor air quality, technology, and health measures is also one of Biden’s top priorities.
Moreover, along with his clean energy plans, Biden hopes to aggressively spur auto manufacturing jobs by increasing demand for “American-made, American-sourced clean vehicles.” He not only plans to accelerate upgrading 3 million vehicles in government fleets but also to produce 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations.
In addition to revitalizing the auto industry, Biden has proposed creating a clean and safe rail system for passengers and freight, which will reduce America’s dependency on cars. This cross-country rail system would improve connections between major metropolitan areas and, through reducing diesel fuel emissions, encourage environmentally-friendly transportation.
Other transit measures Biden has promised include ensuring any city with more than 100,000 people will have high-quality, clean public transportation, ranging from light rail networks to more bus lines.
3. Invest significantly in environmentally-friendly innovation
Biden is committed to creating a new Advanced Research Projects Agency on Climate, whose main goals would include creating more energy-efficient lithium-ion batteries, safer nuclear reactors, eco-friendly refrigeration options, and affordable zero net energy buildings. More research on carbon dioxide capture systems, carbon-neutral construction materials, and carbon-free hydrogen will help to achieve Biden’s overall goal of decarbonization. This research will also promote more development and jobs within the environmental engineering industries.
One unique element of Biden’s planned investment on innovation is expanding wireless broadband via 5G. Although 5G technology is still being developed, Biden believes that high-speed universal internet will promote equality and economic growth.
4. Ensure the environmental policy is inclusive and empowering for all races and income levels
In an effort to boost job creation and American manufacture, Biden continues to stress the importance of creating stable, union jobs in America-centered industries. With the development of advanced materials like clean steel and cement, Biden will ensure these new jobs will be more sustainable and healthier for communities. Ideally, all the jobs created will meet labor protections in Senator Merkley’s Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act and follow Davis-Bacon prevailing wage guidelines. In addition, unionization will strengthen worker organizing and bargaining.
In terms of inclusivity, his planned new agencies, like the Advanced Research Projects Agency on Climate or the Civilian Climate Corps, which will focus on conservation projects, will all actively hire women and people of color to become a new generation of scientists and engineers. Biden’s plan also includes a “data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify disadvantaged communities” and common environmental threats. Using this tool and other resources, Biden guarantees that disadvantaged communities receive around 40 percent of “overall benefits of spending” in clean energy, transit, housing, and infrastructure.
1. Establish an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
An Environmental and Climate Justice Division, which was initially proposed by Governor Inslee, would hold polluting corporations accountable for flouting environmental law. Furthermore, the agency would aim to implement Senator Booker’s Environmental Justice Act of 2019 and address legacy pollution.
Biden will also “elevate and reestablish the groups as the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, both reporting directly to the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), who reports directly to the President.” This will give environmental justice groups more executive power to address current and historic environmental injustice. Along with these two groups, the EPA External Civil Rights Compliance Office will be overhauled to deal with former and new cases that harm communities of color.
2. Create a National Crisis Strategy to address climate disasters that prioritizes equitable disaster risk reduction and response.
Given that climate change will increase the frequency of extreme climate disasters, the National Crisis Strategy will support states, tribes and territories to develop emergency strategies for all types of weather events (e.g., heat waves, sea-level rise, wildfire, air pollution, infectious disease, hurricane, and floods). Generally, the number of billion-dollar disasters (disasters which cost at least $1 billion in damages) has increased substantially from six to around 13 annually between 2014–2018. And, as seen by the graphic, there is a distinct upward trend in federal disaster-relief appropriations. Ideally, the National Crisis Strategy will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to more efficiently and effectively utilize funds and provide disaster relief.
3. Establish an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity at the Human and Health Services Department and Launch an Infectious Disease Defense Initiative.
Climate change has a direct link to the spread of infectious diseases, so Biden aptly plans to establish a climate change health force within the Human and Health Services (HHS) department. Hypothetically, this office would work directly with the CDC and Department of Defense to identify threatening diseases, which are exacerbated by climate change, and expedite vaccine development.
1. No concrete way to pay for the plan
When asked about how to pay for it, campaign officials said, Biden proposes an increase in the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, “asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share,” and using some still-undetermined amount of stimulus money. However, there are still no definite figures on what proportion of the planned $2 trillion is going to come from the corporate income tax. Others are concerned that such a plan is unrealistic and will not pass Congress even if Democrats regain control.
2. No mention of a carbon tax despite Biden’s earlier support
The carbon tax, which is a major element of the Green New Deal, is not mentioned in Biden’s plan despite the fact that he has previously endorsed the idea of a price on carbon. Many environmental activists and scientists believe a carbon tax is one of the foolproof ways of generating revenue for environmental projects while also reducing carbon emissions. A carbon tax would encourage fossil fuel companies as well as regular consumers to reduce their carbon footprint.
3. No inclusion of a ban on fracking
Fracking is known to have significant detrimental effects on the environment, and yet Biden did not include a ban of fracking, citing that a ban would be too “politically untenable in key states such as Pennsylvania.” The Marcellus Shale has been underneath Pennsylvania for centuries, but only recently have corporations begun fracking for natural gas. According to NPR, there are 4,006 violations in drilling or fracking, centered around environmental violations. Fracking often produces extreme amounts of toxic waste— including filter socks which separate liquid and solid waste, soils contaminated by spills, spent lubricants, liners, and unused frack fluid waste. Waste facilities have significant issues such as inducing earthquakes, toxic leachate, and radioactive sediments in streambeds.
4. Continuing reliance on nuclear power fails to address activists’ concerns
Despite some activists’ concerns about radioactive waste and indirect pollution produced from nuclear power plants, Biden intends to continue using nuclear power. Nuclear waste will become increasingly difficult to manage and the possibility of another nuclear power plant accident is especially concerning. Furthermore, nuclear power plants often need to be built near a water source for the cooling systems to function; fish and plant life are often negatively affected when the water is returned back to the ecosystem. While he did claim that “those facilities meet robust and rigorous standards for worker, public, environmental safety and environmental justice,” he made no plans to shift away from nuclear power production.
5. “Net zero emissions” by 2050 may be too late
Researchers at the public policy research and advocacy organization Center for American Progress state Americans need to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. However, some scientists are worried that the world has already passed the so-called “tipping point” of climate change where the effects of global warming are irreversible. On a global scale, researchers at the 2019 U.N. Emissions Gap Report claim countries need to be even more aggressive to ensure global climate change does not lead to catastrophic events.
At the moment, there’s no way in seeing how Biden will follow through on his promises without a solid plan on how to pay for each component. However, supporters and skeptics alike can at least acknowledge that he is certainly paying more attention to the intricacies of combatting climate change and protecting the environment while maintaining environmental justice and racial equality. Read his full plan on clean energy here and his plan on environmental justice here.