Energy & Environment

Biden under pressure from environmentalists on climate plan

Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to unveil his climate change plan any day now, and he’s under increasing pressure from environmentalists who want him to take a strong position against fossil fuels.

The former Delaware senator has touted his decades-long environmental record in Congress and the Obama White House, but progressives argue that his approach to climate change is outdated and his record is anything but spotless.

Biden’s position on climate could open him up to further attacks from the left wing of the party and create an obstacle to winning the party’s nomination, especially since the environment is the main concern for liberal voters.

{mosads}“Joe Biden or any presidential candidate who wants to win over voters living though climate disasters today has to give us more than something he did 30 years ago,” said Charlie Jiang, climate campaigner for Greenpeace.

“Voters are going to be looking for candidates to make bold commitments and a fossil fuel phaseout,” he added. “If all Joe Biden has is to point to his record, that’s not good enough.”

According to media reports, his plan’s main goals will consist of keeping the U.S. in the 2015 Paris climate agreement and reversing the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era environmental rules.

Progressives and climate activists have criticized any approach that involves moderate or steady steps.

“This is a dealbreaker. There is no ‘middle ground’ w/ climate denial & delay,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY.) tweeted following reports that Biden’s plan would take a middle-of-the-road approach.

Biden has denied the characterization.

“You never heard me say middle of the road. I’ve never been middle of the road on the environment,” Biden told reporters in response to the criticism. “Tell her to check the statement that I made and look at my record.”

The record Biden has frequently pointed to since announcing his third White House bid includes a bill he authored in 1986 that’s considered by some to be the Senate’s first climate bill. The measure successfully pushed the Reagan administration to establish a climate task force.

“I’m proud to have been one of the first to introduce climate change legislation,’’ Biden tweeted in early May. “What I fought for in 1986 is more important than ever — climate change is an existential threat. Now. Today.”

But for environmentalists and the increasing number of liberal voters who see climate change as one of the biggest threats to public health, Biden’s record doesn’t prove he’s willing to do what it takes to stop global warming.

“It shows we knew back in 1986 that action needed to be taken, but for the rest of his time in the Senate and as vice president, the action was never really followed with the immediacy needed to combat climate change,” said Mitch Jones, climate and energy program director at Food and Water Watch. “It really shows his approach hasn’t changed over that time, but the problem has continued to get worse, and what needs to be done has only become more ambitious.”

Findings from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last year warned that the world has about 10 years to stop the current rate of carbon emissions; otherwise, irreversible damage may follow. That study, combined with a handful of others released in the past year that back up the dire need for swift action, has most environmentalists looking for ambitious climate fixes instead of pragmatic, politically sound approaches.

“Biden is a person who in 2008 was backing things like clean coal. … And what he’s saying about what is forthcoming is largely pretty tepid,” said Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group that backs the progressive Green New Deal proposal on climate change.

“Biden’s middle-of-the-road approach is completely out of touch with the reality young people are seeing — we’re seeing massive super storms and hurricanes,” she said. “Our generation is clearly wondering whether we are going to have a future to graduate and grow up in.”

Some of Biden’s supporters in the Senate say he has evolved on climate from his decades on Capitol Hill.

“I think it’s important to note he left the Senate in January of 2009, a decade ago. And a lot has happened since … a lot more legislative vehicles to consider the challenge of climate change,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “So I think he’ll be able to speak to what’s happened in the intervening 10 years.”

Casey also pointed to Biden’s work under former President Obama, including the Clean Power Plan, a capstone regulation to limit carbon emissions from coal fire plants.

“He was supporting all those policies. So I don’t think it ended with his Senate record,” Casey said.

But critics take issue with Biden’s role in shaping Obama’s climate policies. Many argue that Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, which pushed the use of “clean” natural gas over coal, was in some cases more harmful than helpful.

“The fact of the matter is it was the Obama administration that really pushed for fracked natural gas to become as big as it is in the U.S,” Jones said. “The Obama administration was what signed the lifting of the crude oil export ban, pushed for exporting natural gas.”

“This is not a legacy of the Obama administration that Biden should be embracing. It’s a legacy he should be distancing himself from,” Jones added.

Others raised concerns with who Biden has chosen as his campaign climate advisers. The list includes former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and former top White House adviser on energy and climate change Heather Zichal — both from the Obama administration.

“His falling back with Obama advisers suggests that’s part of the problem. But it’s also a bit of who Joe Biden is when it comes to the policy and how he wants to position himself,” said Jones. “If you’re out there talking about middle ground, then you just really don’t understand the issue. Because with climate change, there isn’t a middle ground. It’s a ‘Which side are you on?’ moment.”

If anything, critics argue, Biden’s experience should make it clear to him that he can’t win progressive voters unless he offers a bold plan on climate.

“For someone running for president in 2019 — we really need to step up ambitions. In 2008 we didn’t think that plan was sufficient either, but the clock is ticking more so than ever before,” said Thanu Yakupitiyage, associate director of communications for the global climate campaign, founded by Bill McKibben. “For a candidate who has been engaged with this issue since the ’80s, Joe Biden should know better.”

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bob Casey Ernest Moniz Joe Biden
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