Biden Issues Climate Plan That Aims Well Beyond Obama’s Goal

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has faced criticism from Democratic presidential rivals about his commitment to combating climate change, on Tuesday unveiled a plan centered on reinstating the climate policies of the Obama administration — but he included some unexpected proposals that would push significantly beyond what the previous White House achieved.

Mr. Biden, who in tone and substance is one of the most centrist candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, has insisted he is no moderate when it comes to protecting the environment, though progressives have been skeptical. Polls show that fighting climate change is a top priority for Democratic voters, and Mr. Biden selected the issue for his second policy rollout, after an education plan he released last week.

“On day one, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track,” his campaign wrote. “He will not only recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change — he will go much further.”

Mr. Biden’s plan calls for the United States to entirely eliminate its net emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution by 2050, the same goal put forth in the Green New Deal, the sweeping climate change proposal championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

By comparison, Mr. Biden’s former boss, President Barack Obama, had pledged to the world that the United States would lower its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

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Mr. Biden would also call for an investment of $1.7 trillion over 10 years into clean energy and environmental justice programs, designed to help minorities and poor people disproportionately harmed by pollution, paid for by a rollback of President Trump’s tax breaks for corporations.

“This definitely goes further than the Obama administration in terms of aspiration,” said Robert N. Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard.

Mr. Biden’s plan is not as ambitious or detailed as those of some of his more environmentally minded competitors, but some of its goals are similar. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who is basing his campaign on fighting climate change, has called for the nation to eliminate its net carbon emissions by 2045.

“This clearly demonstrates that Biden and his people recognize the polling that Democrats in the primary electorate are skewed to the left, and the polling demonstrates that they care about climate change,” Mr. Stavins said.

Before Mr. Biden released his proposal, prominent liberal politicians and activists expressed doubts about his commitment to a bold environmental policy.

A Reuters report last month said Mr. Biden was seeking a “middle ground” to combat climate change, which his campaign called a mischaracterization of his position. But that reporting appeared to prompt Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is also running for president, and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to make oblique swipes at Mr. Biden.

Over the weekend, speaking to a crowd at the California Democratic Party’s convention, Mr. Sanders seized on the phrase “no middle ground,” applying it to a spate of progressive priorities, remarks that were widely seen as a rebuke of Mr. Biden.

“We have got to make it clear that when the future of the planet is at stake, there is no middle ground,” he said.

Mr. Biden has stressed on the campaign trail that he was an early advocate for combating climate change, frequently referring to work he did on that issue dating to the 1980s, when he was a Delaware senator. He will campaign in New Hampshire on Tuesday and is expected to highlight the proposal on the trail. The last time he was in the state, in mid-May, he advised Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to “look at my record” on the issue.

In the previous administration, Mr. Obama won accolades from environmentalists and enmity from Republicans for bypassing Congress and using his executive authority to instate the nation’s first major federal climate change policies, including regulations to curb planet-warming pollution from tailpipes and smokestacks. He was also a lead broker of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, which committed nearly every country to putting forth plans to reduce emissions.

Mr. Trump, who campaigned on pledges to deregulate industry and regularly mocks the established science of human-caused climate change, has moved to roll back those environmental rules and withdraw from the Paris accord.

Mr. Biden’s plan calls on Congress to mandate cuts in fossil fuel pollution, a move that could stave off the criticism leveled at Mr. Obama that he abused his authority in enacting climate change policy through executive branch regulations. But it is hard to see how a Congress with at least one chamber controlled by Republicans would pass such a plan when Mr. Obama failed to push it through while both chambers were controlled by his own party.

Mr. Biden’s plan contains few specifics about what such legislation would entail, beyond saying it would establish “an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than 2025.”

The plan’s most aggressive initiatives call for flexing the United States’ trade and foreign policy muscles to compel other countries, particularly China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide polluter, to reduce emissions. Combining climate change policy with trade policy, the plan calls for the imposition of “carbon tariffs” on goods imported from heavily polluting economies, a move that would directly affect Chinese imports.

“We can no longer separate trade policy from our climate objectives,” the Biden campaign wrote. “Biden will not allow other nations, including China, to game the system by becoming destination economies for polluters, undermining our climate efforts and exploiting American workers and businesses.”

While the idea of placing tariffs or quotas based on the level of carbon dioxide pollution associated with specific imported goods has long been discussed in Washington, it has never been enacted, in part out of fear of sparking a trade war. But Mr. Trump has already started the process to tax nearly everything China sends to the United States.

The plan calls for the United States to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and to take the lead in pushing members of the pact to regularly strengthen their pledges to reduce planet-warming pollution, although such a mechanism is already built into the original text of the accord.

A Biden administration would convene a world summit of the most heavily polluting economies, the campaign said, and the president would urge those nations to commit to even more ambitious pollution reduction plans.


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