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Biden administration

Biden is respoding to climate activists

by Katie Cashman

In brief

Climate impacts are getting worse: blizzard-hit highway near the Gulf of Mexico.

Climate impacts are getting worse: blizzard-hit highway near the Gulf of Mexico.

Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Biden was criticised for his lack of climate ambition, especially compared with his primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders backed environmental activists’ demands for a Green New Deal, a $ 16 trillion plan to create 20 million jobs within 10 years. The guiding idea was to generate employment and broad-based prosperity by reconstructing the economy in environmentally sustainable ways.

Biden’s approach to climate issues seemed timid in comparison. However, once he became the democratic nominee, he sought counsel from climate activists, including Sanders and his supporters. As president, he still does not endorse all of the environmentalists’ spending demands, but he has moved in that direction.

His American Jobs Plan (worth about $ 2.2 trillion in eight years) includes many climate-relevant items, including the phasing out of fossil fuels in power generation in 15 years, investments in public transport, support for electric cars et cetera. It also foresees spending on broadband connectivity as well as research and development in general, all of which can have useful climate impacts. At the same time, the anticipated expansion of care services makes sense in view of daunting social challenges, but may not do much to stem the climate crisis.

As the name “American Jobs Plan” shows, White House rhetoric is emphasising employment rather than the environment. The idea, however, is to stimulate the economy by mitigating global heating and adapting to the phenomenon. Green investments will generate employment, disadvantaged groups will get special attention, and society as a whole will become more climate resilient.

The American Jobs Plan is now in the hands of legislators. Many details must yet be worked out. The good news is that the slim Democratic majority in the Senate should be strong enough to pass it. In principle, Republicans can block laws that do not get 60 of 100 votes in the Senate. However, there are exceptions when laws have impacts on spending and revenue . In cases of “budget reconciliation”, a simple majority in the Senate can do.

It is promising, moreover, that market forces are increasingly backing away from fossil fuels. Even the United Mine Workers have now officially accepted that the use of coal must be phased out. This trade union wants to see new jobs – especially in renewables technology – to be created in mining regions as well as skills training and other kinds of support for miners who lose their jobs. Biden’s policy is designed to deliver that.

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