Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about modernizing infrastructure and his plans for tackling climate change during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., July 14, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
Former Vice President Joe Biden released a sprawling plan Tuesday to revamp American infrastructure and energy to both curb climate change and spur economic growth.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s proposal aims to achieve carbon-free power generation by 2035. As the coronavirus pandemic leaves the U.S. mired in an economic crisis, Biden will set out to create “millions” of union jobs that pay at least $15 per hour as the U.S. overhauls its roads, bridges, trains, auto industry and broadband system.
The plan, which comes days after a joint task force formed by the Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns outlined a climate change agenda, sets out a more ambitious approach to developing clean energy than the Biden campaign did during the Democratic primary. It calls for $2 trillion in spending over four years, more than the $1.7 trillion the campaign previously proposed to spend over a decade.
“Even if we weren’t facing a pandemic and an economic crisis, we should be making these investments anyway,” Biden said of the plan during remarks in Delaware. He called the investments “critical” for the economy and public health.
The Democratic presidential hopeful also aims to use the federal government to reverse years of Trump administration efforts to ease environmental rules, including by setting up an environmental and climate justice division within the Justice Department. The campaign said it would create tools to better monitor and root out pollution that disproportionately leaves communities of color with chronic health issues.
“We need to be mindful of the historical wrongs and damage” that companies have done to vulnerable communities, which are often comprised of people of color, Biden said. He added that he aims to hold chief executive officers more accountable for practices that leave neighborhoods polluted.
The Biden campaign did not say how it would pay for the infrastructure investments. The former vice president supports increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
The plan will face opposition from Republicans who generally back a slower transition away from fossil fuels than Democrats. Biden’s ability to pass any climate plan will depend on Democrats’ ability to flip a net four Senate seats in November to win a majority in the chamber.
Biden’s proposal, which earned the support of some environmental groups along with billionaire climate change activist and former primary rival Tom Steyer, notably did not mention whether the campaign wants to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Biden during the primary called for limited restrictions on the practice for extracting natural gas.
The industry thrives in the swing state of Pennsylvania. Sanders, among others, supported a blanket ban on fracking.
The senator and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the climate change panel on the Biden-Sanders task force, have supported a sweeping Green New Deal energy and jobs plan. Biden has not embraced the proposal.
The Trump campaign criticized Biden’s plan on Tuesday, contending “union jobs related to oil, natural gas, fracking, and energy infrastructure will be on the chopping block in Joe Biden’s America.” The president has generally aimed to remove impediments to production of coal, oil and natural gas in the U.S.
Biden also criticized Trump for failing to pass an infrastructure overhaul after promising to during his 2016 campaign and at various points during his presidency. The Democrat said the president “has never delivered. He’s never even tried.”
Among the infrastructure pieces of Biden’s plan, it would push to make commuter trains, buses and passenger vehicles run on electricity or clean fuel. It would encourage the development of electric trains for Amtrak and private freight companies.
Under the proposal, the federal government would invest in local development of clean light rail and bus systems. The plan would also encourage American production of electric cars and batteries and boost fuel economy standards.
In addition, it would create incentives to upgrade housing and commercial buildings to make them more resistant to extreme weather. Biden aims to build 1.5 million energy efficient homes and public housing units to address a shortage of affordable housing.
Biden targeted potential critics who would consider the infrastructure and jobs program unrealistic.
“These aren’t pie in the sky dreams. These are actionable policies that we can get to work on right away,” he said.