Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has laid out an ambitious energy plan. His campaign has released nine key elements of Biden’s plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice.
Here are the nine key elements, with some commentary by me below each one.
1). Take executive action on Day 1 to not just reverse all of the damage Trump has done, but go further and faster.
This involves reinstating some Obama-era policies that President Trump rolled back, like methane limits on oil and gas operations. In some areas it would exceed Obama’s policies by eventually requiring all new light- and medium-duty vehicles to be zero emission vehicles. There would also be new restrictions on oil and gas leases on public lands and waters.
Of these policies, the methane limits are even supported by many in the oil and gas industry. The emission requirement on vehicles is a goal that has been adopted by many countries, but it remains to be seen whether any country can achieve this in the foreseeable future.
2). Work with Congress to enact in 2021, President Biden’s first year in office, legislation that, by the end of his first term, puts us on an irreversible path to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
This one would require “polluters to bear the full cost of the carbon pollution they are emitting.” In reality, consumers emit a significant amount of carbon pollution. Anyone that drives a combustion automobile emits carbon pollution. So, this is one of those goals that is meant to convey that the fossil fuel companies will be punished for producing fossil fuels, while ignoring consumer behavior that drives those emissions.
3). Rally the world to urgent and additional action. On Day 1, Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.
President Trump exited the Paris Climate Agreement, and that was not a wildly popular move. Again, even many oil and gas companies thought the U.S. should remain in the agreement, for a number of reasons. So, rejoining it won’t prove to be extremely controversial. However, part of this element would involved convening a world climate summit to reposition the U.S. as a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The problem with that is that we have lost the trust of many of our allies on this issue, who know that in four years we could get a new president that will once again decide the U.S. shouldn’t be bound by global climate agreements.
4). Make a historic investment in clean energy and innovation.
This element says that Biden’s Administration would invest $400 billion over ten years in clean energy and innovation. Such funding, properly directed, can have a real impact on the speed at which we transition to a clean energy economy. The key in such policies is always in determining which areas are worth funding, and which have no real chance of achieving commercial viability. It is inevitable that policies like these will end up wasting some portion of the allocation, and that waste always draws critics. Related: The Start Of A New Oil Market Supercycle
5). Accelerate the deployment of clean technology throughout our economy.
This sounds like the previous element, except it is focused on household and industrial emissions. The target here is in reducing the carbon footprint of the U.S. building stock 50% by 2035. This element also targets getting the agricultural sector to net-zero emissions.
6). Make environmental justice a priority across all federal agencies.
This policy seeks to address what it says is a disproportionate impact of climate change and air pollution on “communities of color, tribal lands, and low-income communities.”
7). Hold polluters accountable.
This element sounds like the 2nd element in that it says Biden would work to enact legislation “requiring polluters to bear the full cost of their climate pollution.” But it would also require publicly-traded companies to disclose climate-related financial risks to shareholders. It contains some of that “feel good” populist language about putting corporate executives in jail for climate pollution.
8). Create 10 million good-paying, middle-class, union jobs.
These would be jobs that are associated with efforts to “prevent, reduce, and withstand the impacts of this climate crisis.” Certainly, a move to cleaner energy would result in the creation of new jobs, because it has been demonstrated that production of a unit of clean energy requires more employees than comparable production of a unit of fossil energy. Another way to think about this is that each person employed by the fossil fuel industry produces more energy than a person employed by the clean energy industry, and that has historically been one of the reasons the costs of clean energy have been higher. Clean energy is more labor intensive (another way of saying clean energy creates more jobs).
9). Fulfill our obligation to the communities and workers that have risked their lives to produce fossil fuels that made it possible for America to win world wars and become an industrial power.
This is a nod to the blue collar fossil fuel workers whose jobs would disappear as the U.S. moves to 100% clean energy. So the executives get jail time, and the blue collar workers are going to get training for new jobs. The reality is that everyone who works for a fossil fuel company profits from producing and supplying fossil fuels to consumers, and consumers have long benefited from lower energy costs. It is true that these are risky jobs in many cases, and there are in fact negative environmental consequences associated with production and use of fossil fuels. But we don’t like to take collective responsibility for our choices, so we would rather just threaten punishment to the executives who profited the most from these choices.
This plan is overall a pretty stark change from the direction we have taken the past four years. It gives credit for some of the framework to the Green New Deal, and pushes policies that will be widely popular. Even in cases in which restrictions are being placed on fossil fuel companies, some of those policies were supported by those companies because they gave them a consistent regulatory framework in which to work.
In the next article, I will delve deeper into the details of Biden’s plan to reduce U.S. power sector emissions to zero by 2035.