Sprawling targets include ending mass incarceration and closing the racial wealth gap
  • Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s and House Democrats’ climate crisis plans aim high —  and very wide
  • The plans call for $6.7 trillion in investments to build a clean energy economy
  • While technology exists to achieve the Democrats’ goals, many policies would need to be changed to promote the new industries, energy policy analyst says.

Joe Biden and the Democrats have ambitious plans for fighting climate change if he wins the U.S. presidency in November — perhaps too ambitious.

Biden, who rolled out his $2 trillion program in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, Tuesday, says it will “ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

“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,” said Biden, stressing how fighting climate change would also create new jobs.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives last month released their own plan that has the same main targets while fleshing out more intermediate goals, including the elimination of pollution from cars by 2035 and from power plants by 2040. The House plan also adds in “environmental justice,” saying marginalized communities need to receive “tangible benefits.”

“The authors’ hearts are in the right place,” said Michael Quirke, the former executive director of Climate Change National Forum, which is no longer active. “I think they would have done well identifying some focus areas. They maybe are lacking focus.”

Indeed, the recommendations from Biden’s climate-crisis task force, co-chaired by former U.S. Senator John Kerry and current U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, go way beyond ensuring the country has the infrastructure to reduce dangers posed by greenhouse emissions. The report includes such goals as reducing mass incarceration, eliminating the wage gap and guaranteeing early childhood education, for example.

Quirke told Karma that he supported the Democrats’ efforts, “but when you break it down… How do you plan to achieve it?”

The issue is more political than technological, supporters of the Democrats’ plans say.

“We already know the technologies needed to meet our climate goals,” said Megan Mahajan, a senior policy analyst at nonpartisan climate policy think tank Energy Innovation, which helped model the House Democrats plan. The “big takeaway,” she wrote in an email to Karma, “is that we need a portfolio of policies across all sectors of the economy to meet climate targets.”

Policy changes are needed to promote clean energy, Mahajan said. “For example, even though wind and solar are the cheapest available resources, our electricity sector is still set up with rules and structures that favor fossil fuel–burning plants,” she wrote.

“If enacted, these recommendations have a serious shot at meeting the report’s targets,” according to Mahajan.

Quirke said he has a simpler plan that is based on provisions of the Clean Air Act. If Biden wins, his head of the Environmental Protection Agency should list carbon dioxide as a “criteria air pollutant that is reasonably anticipated to endanger public welfare under Section 108” of the act.

Doing that would trigger a regulatory review that would lead to a national debate on the dangers the country is facing, he said. Under the act, the government would have one year to establish a national standard. That would force the federal government, states and companies to address climate change.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that Americans can unite to protect the country’s most vulnerable, Quirke said. That same attitude may help resolve the environmental crisis.

“Our country and the world have shown they are willing to sacrifice,” he said. “And that is promising.”