The 2020 United States Presidential Election is here and there is a lot to unpack on both sides of the race when it comes to the environment.
In the past four years, President Donald Trump has made his stance on environmental issues very clear. His administration has overseen environmental rollbacks, expanded oil and gas drilling and relaxed emissions standards.
Former Vice President Joe Biden released a full environment and climate plan as part of his platform, one that in some regards is more aggressive than his party’s official platform. However, he still makes concessions to maintain his moderate stance.
Will America continue to have the “cleanest air” and “cleanest water” as Donald Trump claims? Is Joe Biden really the radical environmentalist Trump paints him out to be?
Trump’s re-election campaign does not include any plan to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.
When pressed at the first presidential debate, Trump offered the barest acknowledgement that humans play some role in climate change. He has previously referred to climate change as a “hoax.”
The only policy statements he offered when asked if he had a plan to mitigate climate change was planting trees and forest management to prevent wildfires.
In comparison, Biden’s campaign outlined a $2 trillion plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050 that includes establishing enforcement mechanisms and milestone targets within 2025, investments in clean energy research and rapid deployment of clean technology.
Biden has also touted his plan as a way to boost the US economy and create new jobs in the clean energy sector.
The Paris Climate Agreement
The most immediate topic up for grabs in the Presidential election is the role of the US in the Paris Climate Agreement.
On 4 November, 24 hours after election day, the US will officially leave the Paris Agreement. Trump announced his intention to withdraw back in June 2017, calling the deal “unfair” to the US but did not begin the year-long process until November 2019.
As part of the original push to form the accords in 2015 alongside then President Barack Obama, Biden is committed to rejoining the agreement on day one of his administration, calling it “only the first step of an important and sustained effort to dramatically increase global climate ambition.”
If elected, Biden’s proposed first 100 days in office include organising a climate world summit to gather leading, carbon-emitting countries to commit to more ambitious goals including emissions agreements for global shipping and aviation.
Biden also proposed carbon adjustment fees and quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that fail to reach their “climate and environmental obligations.”
Fracking and drilling
The Trump administration continues to be a frequent supporter of fossil fuels, claiming the top spot as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas.
Since entering office, Trump has approved controversial projects including the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Contrary to Trump, Biden’s platform includes a ban on new fracking and drilling, both on public land and offshore. In the final presidential debate, Biden admitted that he would “transition” away from fossil fuels when asked by Trump if Biden would “close down the oil industry.”
Biden also announced he would ban subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and encourage a worldwide ban from G20 countries.
Despite numerous claims from the Trump campaign that Biden will ban all hydraulic fracking, Biden stated numerous times that he will not institute a total ban.
Biden’s at times unclear stance on fracking comes as a disappointment to the Democratic party’s more progressive members including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, co-chair of the campaign’s climate task force and advocate for the Green New Deal.
This also marks a significant policy change for Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris, who previously voiced support to ban fracking during her presidential campaign, a point the Trump campaign has used against her in recent advertisements.
EPA and efficiency
When it comes to efficiency standards, the Trump and Biden agendas could not differ more.
According to a report from the New York Times, the Trump administration has enacted nearly 100 environmental rollbacks on emissions standards, water pollution, wildlife and more, claiming them to be detrimental to the energy sector.
Many of Trump’s rollbacks included Obama-era policies such as the Clean Power Plan, a 2015 plan to transition the US towards renewable energy.
Contrary to Trump, Biden’s climate plan includes investing heavily into clean energy projects, imposing new efficiency standards on household appliances and equipment and reinstating a full tax credit for electric vehicles.
On the enforcement side, Biden’s plan includes establishing an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Department of Justice and directing the EPA and DOJ to hold corporation executives accountable for pollution.
Relations with China
One thing Trump and Biden’s platforms have in common is a tough approach on China.
Trump has been very vocal about China, especially during the coronavirus pandemic — he has repeatedly called it the “China virus” — so it is no surprise that “end our reliance on China,” features prominently in his re-election campaign.
Trump’s promises include ending federal contracts for companies that outsource to China and providing tax credits to those that bring back jobs.
Biden expressed frustration that China is outpacing the US in clean energy research and claimed China is “cheating” on its environmental standards with carbon heavy projects such as the Belt and Roads Initiative.
To hold China accountable for its emissions, Biden aims to establish bi-lateral agreements for carbon mitigation including eliminating China’s export subsidies for coal.
On an international scale, Biden’s climate platform proposes forming a united front with other nations to hold China accountable for its environmental failings and prevent China from outsourcing its pollution to other countries.