Where the Candidates Stand On Energy: Democratic Nominee for President of the United States Joe Biden

In this blog, we examine the policies and positions of Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States, the Democratic nominee for President. Also in this series we profile Donald Trump, the incumbent and Republican nominee for President.

Jennifer Rennicks | September 17, 2020 | Elections, Energy Policy

This post is part of a series of blogs examining where 2020 Southeastern candidates for state and federal offices stand on key energy and climate issues. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.

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In this blog, we examine the policies and positions of Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States, the Democratic nominee for President. Also in this series we profile Donald Trump, the incumbent and Republican nominee for President.

Joe Biden graduated from the University of Delaware and received a law degree from Syracuse University. Biden practiced law for a few years, as both a public defender and in private practice, before his election to the New Castle County Council in 1969 and then the U.S. Senate in 1972. Biden served in the U.S. Senate from 1973 until 2009 when he became the 47th Vice President of the United States.  Given Biden’s long tenure in Congress as well as his years in the Obama Administration, we cannot touch on every single issue or vote he has played a role in, however we will bring up examples demonstrating his positions in the sections below. Biden’s campaign website can be viewed here

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

As Vice President, Biden oversaw the implementation of the Recovery Act of 2009, which included $90 billion dollars in clean energy investments which were instrumental in the rapid growth of the renewable energy market in the last decade, from 1.2 GW of solar capacity and 25 GW of wind power in 2009 to 31 GW of solar and 75 GW wind power, respectively, by the end of his term as VP in 2016.

As a candidate, Biden has embraced aggressive clean energy goals including a $2 trillion spending plan unveiled this summer. His clean energy plan calls for a carbon-free power sector by 2035, which would be achieved through a technology-neutral Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Standard, reformation and extension of tax incentives, and development of finance mechanisms to leverage private sector investment. It also calls for investments in energy storage as well as new and existing transmission infrastructure to help alleviate transmission bottlenecks of renewable energy.

Biden’s clean energy plan calls for retrofitting 2 million homes and 4 million commercial buildings with energy upgrades; retrofitting schools with energy efficiency and safety measures; updating building codes and enacting building performance standards for existing buildings; and setting a net-zero emissions standard for all new commercial buildings by 2030.

Biden also proposes investing in research and development to facilitate the transition to a zero-carbon power sector through the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency on Climate (ARPA-C), an interagency research effort.

Climate Change

Biden unequivocally believes that climate change is happening and is pushing an aggressive plan to address climate change that calls for a net-zero carbon goal by 2050.

In 1986, then-Senator Biden introduced one of the earliest climate change-focused policies in Congress, the Global Climate Protection Act. He later co-sponsored the Boxer–Sanders Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007, the most stringent climate bill that’s been introduced in the U.S. Senate. In 2017 Biden declared through social media that climate change was an “existential threat to our future” and that the Trump Administration’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement “imperils US security and our ability to own the clean energy future.”

Biden has confirmed the U.S. would rejoin the Paris Agreement under his Administration. More recently, in a speech on September 14 specifically focussing on climate change, clean energy, and science, Biden said:

“The past 10 years were the hottest decade ever recorded. The Arctic is literally melting. Parts are actually on fire. What we’re seeing in America and our communities is connected to all of this. With every bout with nature’s fury caused by our own inaction on climate change, more Americans see and feel the devastation. Whether in the big cities, small towns, on coastlines, or in farm lands, it’s happening everywhere and it’s happening now, and it affects us all.”

Biden has clearly cited climate change as a key factor in the wildfires burning in the Western U.S. and offered a direct critique to his opponent in saying:

“This is another crisis, another crisis he won’t take responsibility for. If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would we be surprised that we have more America ablaze?”

Electric Transportation

During his September 14 speech focused on climate change and clean energy, Biden said this specifically about electrifying transportation:

“I see American consumers switching to electric vehicles through rebates and initiatives. Not only that, the United States owns and maintains an enormous fleet of vehicles. And we’re going to harness the purchasing power of our Federal Government to make sure we’re buying electric vehicles that are made and sourced by union workers right here in the United States of America. And together, this will mean more than a million new jobs in the American auto industry.  I’ll set new ambitious (clean fuel standards) that our workers are ready to meet. I’ll also see American workers building and installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations along our newly engaged infrastructure programs and highways, all across the country.”

In his clean energy plan, Biden outlines several other initiatives for accelerating the transition to clean transportation (though not necessarily exclusively electric): establishment of fuel economy standards for light- and medium duty vehicles; direct consumer rebates; conversion of all 500,000 school buses across the country to zero emissions; public investment in transitioning 3 million vehicles in federal, state, tribal, postal, and local fleets; setting a goal that all new American-built buses be zero-emissions by 2030; and investing in research on battery technology.

Energy Equity and Energy Burden

Biden’s campaign acknowledges the disproportionate impacts of energy and environmental policy decisions on communities of color, and that

“any sound energy and environmental policy must advance public health and economic opportunity for all Americans, in rural, urban, and suburban communities, and recognize that communities of color and low-income communities have faced disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental contaminants for decades.” 

High-Risk Energy (Coal, Nuclear, Oil, Gas)

Biden’s energy plan proposes to eliminate carbon emissions by 2035 from the nation’s natural gas and coal power plants, and specifically calls for policies to “fulfill our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth” paid for, in part, by “reversing tax cuts for corporations, ensuring corporations pay their fair share, closing loopholes in our tax code that reward wealth not work, and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.”

Biden does support nuclear energy, referring it a clean energy resource, because he says Americans “must look at all low- and zero-carbon technologies,” and that he will support a research agenda “to look at issues, ranging from cost to safety to waste disposal systems, that remain an ongoing challenge with nuclear power today.”

In a debate in March 2020, Biden laid out his position on oil drilling by saying 

“Number one, no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry. No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore.”

He formalized this position in his climate plan, which states that he will ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters,” which affects new, but not existing, leases held by oil companies. However, only a fraction of total national oil and gas production occurs in federally-controlled areas, with the large majority occurring in nonfederal areas. According to the Congressional Research Service, federal land and ocean produced about one-quarter of total national oil production in 2017 and about one-sixth of total national natural gas production, which means that Biden’s proposal would phase out just a portion of all drilling in the country.

Biden has declared that he would not ban hydraulic fracturing:

“I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again. I am not banning fracking,” Biden said in August 2020.

If you are interested in learning more about where your state’s candidates for federal and state office stand on energy, click here to access the entire 2020 blog series. We encourage readers to register to vote well before registration deadlines, which are in early October but vary by state, and vote in the general election on or before November 3, 2020. For voting information, including updates about the impact of COVID-19 on voting, click here

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Jennifer Rennicks
Since 2006 Jennifer has worked with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund to to advance stronger federal, state, and utility clean…
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