As the U.S. has grown increasingly polarized, it seems more and more like the two presidential candidates inhabit different planets. If you listen to Joe Biden on climate change, you might feel the urge to junk your car and invest in wind power. Meanwhile, the incumbent’s message seems to be that fossil fuels are A-OK. You might find yourself wondering, does Trump believe in climate change? What’s actually in Joe Biden’s climate change plan? Here’s a quick rundown on where the presidential candidates stand on environmental issues and climate change.
Imminent need for climate action
The most striking difference between the two candidates environmentally is the novella-length treatises the Biden campaign is generating with ideas about how to solve climate problems versus Trump’s more meager approach.
Biden has a long record of working on behalf of the climate, dating back, at least, to introducing the Global Climate Protection Act, the first climate change bill to reach the Senate. During his stint as vice president, Biden oversaw the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which allocated $90 billion toward clean energy. At that time, he called fighting climate change “the single most important thing” the executive team could do while in the White House. He also supported President Obama’s signing of the Paris Agreement.
Trump, on the other hand, immediately withdrew from the 2015 Paris climate accord as soon as he took office. Now, the U.S. is the only member country to refuse to participate in the agreement to reduce global emissions. Trump avoids discussing global emission reduction and has refused to sign certain international documents unless climate change references are removed.
The Environmental Protection Agency under Trump has taken a distinctly anti-science bent, with half the members of the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors dismissed in 2017 and a 2018 disbanding of a panel of scientists tasked with advising the agency on safe air pollution levels. Trumps agenda has been distinctly anti-environment, including loosening restrictions on methane emissions, waiving environmental laws during the pandemic, rolling back fuel efficiency requirements, repealing water protections and weakening the Endangered Species Act. Making America “great again” seems to mean reverting to the good old days before anybody gave a hoot about the planet.
The fossil fuel issue is a tricky dance for Democratic politicians. While most agree that the future lies in renewable energy, most cars and airplanes still run on fossil fuels. Biden pledged not to take any fossil fuel money for his campaign. But he still has a weakness for natural gas, which he has supported in the past as a “bridge fuel” between dirtier gasoline and coal and cleaner renewable energy. He has not called for a ban on fracking. Biden has promised to end all subsidies to fossil fuel companies.
Trump doesn’t have a problem with fossil fuel. As it says on WhiteHouse.gov, “Americans have long been told that our country is running out of energy, but we now know that is wrong.” The president has promoted using more fossil fuel, especially coal. He’s chosen lobbyists and leaders in the fossil fuel industry for important federal posts, including as EPA administrator and as secretary of the Interior Department. Trump has worked to expand gas and oil drilling, including in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. He’s claimed victory over what he calls “the war on coal.”
Biden talks about the U.S. achieving a target of 100% clean energy. His strategies include grid-scale storage that will be 10 times more economical than lithium-ion batteries, small modular nuclear reactors, net-zero energy buildings, development of carbon-neutral construction materials, doubling offshore wind production by 2030 and the development and deployment carbon capture sequestration technology. His track record in the Senate and as vice president bears out his commitment to clean energy.
Trump has dismembered the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which privileged clean energy construction over oil and gas. His administration repeatedly sliced funding that incentivized developing clean energy, proposing to cut up to 87% of the Department of Energy’s Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget. He’s also proposed eliminating electric vehicle tax credits. While initially the Trump administration embraced new federal leases for offshore wind farms, it cut federal incentives for harvesting offshore wind. A 2018 tariff on solar panels manufactured outside the U.S. that was meant to boost jobs backfired, costing American jobs and upping panel prices.
Biden has officially recognized that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change and addresses how to change this in the Joe Biden climate change plan. Trump has not addressed the subject.
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