Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Biden's $2 trillion climate plan aims to reframe debate

July 14, 2020 - 8:51 pm

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden released a $2 trillion plan on Tuesday to boost investment in clean energy and stop all climate-damaging emissions from U.S. power plants by 2035, arguing that dramatic action is needed to tackle climate change and revive the economy.

In remarks near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee sought to reframe the politics of climate change. He rebuffed arguments from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies that Democratic plans to invest in clean energy would cost jobs.

“When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax,'" Biden told reporters. "When I think about climate change, what I think of is jobs.”

The climate package added to a series of detailed policy proposals Biden has released, including a $700 billion plan unveiled last week that would increase government purchasing of U.S.-based goods and invest in new research and development to frame a contrast with Trump, who has struggled to articulate a vision for a second term in the White House.

Biden's proposal on Tuesday didn't go as far as some measures in the Green New Deal, the sweeping proposal from progressives in Congress that calls for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the economy by 2030.

But it does align with a climate bill spearheaded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in reducing emissions to zero by 2050. And it goes farther than that bill on ridding the nation’s power sector from damaging fossil fuel pollution. House Democrats’ proposal sets a 2040 deadline for that goal, while Biden’s aims to achieve it five years faster.

The proposal would also include progressive priorities such as investment in retrofitting national infrastructure and housing to use and emit less carbon and addressing the disproportionate impact of climate change. Forty percent of the money he wants to spend on clean energy deployment, reduction of legacy pollution and other investments would go to historically disadvantaged communities.

Biden placed a heavy emphasis on updating America’s infrastructure, improving energy efficiency in buildings and housing, and promoting production of electric vehicles and conservation efforts in the agriculture industry.

As he spoke about infrastructure on Tuesday, Biden needled the president for what has become a trope that the White House frequently turns to infrastructure when Trump “needs a distraction” from negative news.

“He’s never delivered," Biden said. "Never even really tried.”

Some of the ideas in the proposal began with Biden's more progressive rivals during the primary, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose campaign centered on the issue of climate change.

“Joe Biden’s modern infrastructure and clean energy plan shows that he’s serious about defeating climate change and has a roadmap to become the Climate President that America needs,” Inslee said in an email to members of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy group.

The proposals could open Biden to attacks from Trump that he will hurt coal and gas industries in critical states such as Pennsylvania and Texas, where Democrats are growing more bullish about their prospects.

Trump used a White House event on Hong Kong on Tuesday to attack Biden on an array of issues, including trade and the environment.

“As vice president, Biden was a leading advocate of the Paris Climate accord, which was unbelievably expensive to our country," Trump said. "It would have crushed American manufacturers while allowing China to pollute the atmosphere with impunity, yet one more gift from Biden to the Chinese Communist Party.”

Biden's proposal seemed designed to avoid antagonizing independents or moderate Republicans considering backing him.

The plan makes no mention of banning dirtier-burning coal or prohibiting fracking, a method of extracting oil and gas that triggered a natural gas boom in the United States over the last decade. The issue is especially sensitive in some key battleground states such as Pennsylvania.

Some progressives have called for outright bans on the practice. Biden’s plan instead describes cutting back on burning oil, gas and coal, and doing better at capturing emissions, through more efficient vehicles, public transport, buildings and power plants.

And instead of a ban on climate-damaging fossil fuels, he embraced carbon capture technologies to catch coal and petroleum pollution from power plant smokestacks.

Biden also backed nuclear power, unlike some of his Democratic primary opponents. He called for pumping up research on still-developing power technologies like hydrogen power and grid-size storage to stash power from solar and wind, overcoming a key drawback of those carbon-free energy sources now.

Biden would spend $2 trillion over four years to promote his energy proposals, a significant acceleration of the $1.7 trillion over 10 years he proposed spending in his climate plan during the primary.

The proposal doesn't include specifics on how it would be paid for. Senior campaign officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss strategy said it would require a mix of tax increases on corporations and the wealthy and deficit spending aimed at stimulating the economy.

The officials said that many of the energy measures would be included in the first stimulus package Biden plans to bring to Congress but that some could be achieved through executive action.

“These are the most critical investments we can make for the long-term health and vitality of both the American economy and the physical health and safety of the American people,” Biden said Tuesday as he tried to build a sense of urgency around the issue.

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Jaffe reported from Washington and Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City. Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

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