In looking at previous presidential administrations’ environmental policy standards, it is without a doubt that the Democratic Party is the choice to create a seismic shift to address the impact of human-made causes of global warming. Let’s look at what is in store from the Biden Presidential Campaign.
Young Professionals in Energy hosted a webinar with David Kieve, Climate Ambassador of the Biden for President campaign. Kieve discussed Biden’s Green Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution describing a thoughtful framework for the country’s inevitable but currently stalled launch into a truly green economy. The first time an election greatly set back our course for strong environmental initiatives was the 2000 Bush v Gore presidential run. We’ve been catching up ever since and now have had an even greater fall backwards due to the Trump Administration’s exit of the Paris Accords and rollback of environmental measures partially installed by the Obama Administration and those long-standing initiatives from past administrations. Republicans have performed sparingly in supporting market-based environmental solutions, such as the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, signed by Reagan and strengthened by Trump. However, the rollbacks are fatal in a year that vividly exhibited humanity’s comfortable existence on this planet is simply out of time.
Although the Biden Campaign’s Green Plan presents very little in terms of concrete solutions to execute the skeleton framework, the plan is certainly thoughtful and exciting as young voters are gearing up to join the green economy as soon as possible. Kieve stated frankly that Biden understands that climate is an entry point issue for younger voters, “they won’t listen to him on anything if he doesn’t address this.” Do we love the brazenness of our young people? Yes, we do.
The plan may have little in detail, but it is certainly not a new plan. The Green Plan is described by Kieve as an amalgamation of a few different plans, including US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal Plan legislation introduced in February 2019. Biden’s Green Plan is built on years of political, academic and clean tech businesses thinking very creatively on how we make the shift out of a fossil fuel economy and overhaul the nation’s antiquated infrastructure. Biden’s plan states: “If we can harness all of our energy and talents, and unmatchable American innovation, we can turn this threat into an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. energy sector and boost growth economy-wide.” In other words, if we can get ourselves into this mess, we can certainly get ourselves – and we can do it well.
The Green Plan is a $2 trillion proposal laid out over 4 years that is narrower and less aggressive than the far-reaching Green New Deal (with goals of healthcare for all and sustainable housing for all in 10 years). When the Green Plan was released back in June, Kieve admitted the campaign made a couple of mistakes on the release of the policy, where the Associated Press quoted it as a “middle of the road climate policy”. Kieve lamented this was not how the Biden Campaign would characterize it and is more ambitious than credited for.
Here’s a look at the Green Plan by economic sector.
The largest expressed ambition is to make American agricultural achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Large scale agricultural operations, well established and much larger than any other nation by far, contributes to 10% of total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by economic sector in 2018 according to the US EPA. Although the devil is in the details, there are already several viable, low and no cost, easily implementable solutions the agricultural industry can easily implement to improve much needed soil health and methane emissions. Outstanding documentaries such as Kiss the Ground (Netflix) and Farmer’s Footprint (farmersfootprint.us), speak to advent of the explosive shift to regenerative agricultural and forestry techniques that will change our course on climate change. The bones are there, what is needed is government policy and support to scale these measures.
Make the power sector 100% clean energy by 2050 with milestone targets no later than the end of Biden’s first term in 2025 – hard to do but California is an example of aggressive goals becoming achievable ahead of schedule if political will is in play. Political will is needed to finally modernize our grid – once this happens, we are on our way with great expediency. Kieve described the Trump Administration never had a sincere desire to reach across the aisle to get anything done for the American people. And the one time he could have done so was in infrastructure, but he failed to take the opportunity to modernize the country. Kieve assured YPE the Green Plan calls for infrastructure updates, including power grids. “If we don’t, we cannot reach the ambitious goals we have.”
The power sector accounts for 27% of total US greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector in 2018, according the EPA. To achieve 100% clean energy by 2035, the US will have to build 80-90 MW per year in renewable energy projects. This translates to jobs and a stellar shift into the green economy. A couple of months ago, Reuters surveyed the top 10 utilities and found that more than half of those contacted have pledged to eliminate all of their carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner. Responding in part to investor pressure and/or American state-mandated targets, the power producers said “rapid advances in nascent technologies – such as batteries to store power for lean times, carbon capture to trap waste from fossil fuels and advanced nuclear power – will be critical to reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. But these technologies are currently either too costly for mass deployment or not yet commercially viable. Historically, utilities have invested little in emerging technologies because they are required by regulators to keep costs low.” Kieve asserts this is where the US power of procurement of the raw materials needed to develop and scale these technologies will help modernize our grid and bring us to carbon neutral energy.
Biden’s plan calls for renewable energy incentives for home and building owners such as 30% renewables tax credit extended for 5 years. It is a boon for manufactures in solar, wind, storage, charging stations, and the like. Although Kieve admits the renewable energy sector has not faltered under the Trump Administration, it has certainly dealt with the hurdles of tariffs on goods from India and China, not to mention absolutely no viable plan for the sector to thrive. Incentives, subsidies, mandates, permitting transmission lines and other needs have encountered political push back. Where the Trump Administration offers no guidance, state governments are continuing renewable energy efforts in silo. But if this year has exposed anything, it is that state government silos do not work to achieve what is best for the nation and the globe when curbing climate change. For example, interstate transmissions issues have hampered any genuine impact on alternative energy. The Trump Admin could have helped with interstate problems. Kieve explains, “if you are going to solve a problem, you have to want to solve it first. Since US left Paris, many states stepped forward stating they will bridge the gap. These states haven’t had the support from Feds and with Biden they will.”
Again, we have the track record well in place, now we need a laser-like focus on achieving these first-time definitive goals.
Automotive Manufacturing Sector
The Green Plan aims to make America the global leader in production and sales of electric vehicles by providing manufacturing and consumer incentives, such as giving Americans rebates to trade in gas-guzzling vehicles for more efficient American cars, incentivizing auto companies to offer more zero-emission vehicles, and investing in 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations (as part of an Infrastructure Bill), among other ideas. Again, California has demonstrated leadership in scaling EV charging stations and the utility, manufacturing and building sectors are in play.
The Green Plan aims to build sustainable housing and commercial buildings by retrofitting 4 million buildings and re-weathering apartments and homes. This will create jobs that support a “just transition” for workers whose jobs are affected by the Green Plan economy. Biden’s Plan calls for making “smart infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.” It is areas like this and in the manufacturing sector, as David Kieve explains, “where harnessing the unique purchasing power of federal gov’t can lead to scaling in a profound way.” From Plumbers to Pipefitters, IBEW, and UAW, Biden is talking to union halls to bring people along on the plan. Kieve notes that Biden will not compromise on any deal and can talk about executing the plan from union halls to factories to board rooms.
Environmental Justice – Protect and Strengthen our Vulnerable Communities
The best element of Biden’s Green Plan is the clean energy economic pillar, known as the Build Back Better Agenda, released in July. It is both an environmental justice and a jobs plan. Kieve describes the Biden campaign understands that the same communities who struggle with myriad toxins from polluted air to drugs and alcohol are communities who have been historically discriminated against in housing and are also the hardest and first hit during economic decline. Biden’s plan directs 40% of its spending to historically disadvantaged communities, modeled after law in New York State. Kieve acknowledges it is a huge commitment, hard to live up to, but important to express and work towards.
Kieve describes a scale of recovery is needed to dig our country out of the severe economic crisis, “our climate change plan is our recovery plan – they are inseparable. A massive stimulus is needed to get us out and Biden thinks the only way to do that is to invest in job creation.”
Biden’s Green Plan aims to put 50,000 people to work capping old wells and taking efforts to clean up old areas abandoned by oil companies who have come and gone. Biden is calling for a natural market-driven transition out of coal. Eric Lipton’s piece in the New York Times explains that promises made to coal workers were not sustained by Trump and simply cannot be due to market forces well underway. A just transition is needed for this workforce.
The Green Plan has already prepared a Climate Engagement Advisory Council, with Tom Steyer as Chair. It is a unity Task Force on Climate that includes a Deb Holland who offers a Native American perspective that is silent in climate change discussions. Environmental Justice advocates Dr. Cecilia Martinez and Representative Harold Mitchell from South Carolina are also serving alongside Loni Stevenson from IBEW.
Biden’s Green Plan also calls for the establishment of an Environmental and Climate Justice Division at the Justice Department to prosecute anti-pollution cases. Kieve explained that strengthening the EPA is not enough, every sector of the government will need its own environmental justice and climate change division. The idea a borrowed from Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s plan to create an environmental justice division within Justice Department rather than just sitting in a corner of the EPA. Unfortunately, Gov Inslee was not able to take the ball and carry it down the field in the EPA, but Kieve ensures Biden will run with it if elected.
Where Biden differs from environmental activists and his left-leaning base is on fracking. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling method for extracting natural gas from shale formations underground by injecting liquid at high pressure. CBS News reports that since 2005, the use of fracking in the U.S. has grown exponentially. Some energy experts forecast the U.S. will be the world’s top exporter of natural gas within the next few years. However, fracking is a substantial source of jobs and revenue in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, where some 32,000 workers are employed in the fracking and natural gas industry. However, Biden’s campaign says he supports no new fracking on federal land.
Campaign spokesperson Matt Hill notes, “Joe Biden believes in the potential of American workers’ ingenuity and will mobilize our nation’s talent and grit to build a modern, clean electric infrastructure.” Biden has the most aggressive climate change plan of any presidential candidate in U.S. history.
On this eve of the “election of our lives” (on this planet), let’s hope for the best for our country. I look forward to advancing the Green Plan with all of you in one way or another.
To sign up and spread Climate Voters in your personal network and help Biden’s campaign on climate, go here: https://joebiden.com/climate-voters/#
Young Professionals in Energy (YPE) is a non-profit organization with more than 40,000 members worldwide. By providing a forum for networking and career development through social, educational and civic service opportunities, YPE aims to facilitate the advancement of young professionals in the global energy industry. YPE runs a year-round calendar of events in 40 chapters around the world. Please click here to see a calendar of upcoming events.