WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination, released a climate change plan on Tuesday (June 4) that would pour US$1.7 trillion (S$2.3 trillion) of investment into achieving 100 per cent clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2050, in part using revenues from reversing Trump administration corporate tax cuts.
His plan came the same day Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren proposed spending US$2 trillion on a new "green manufacturing" program to address climate change that would invest in research and exporting American clean energy technology.
Biden, a former vice-president, unveiled his plan after weeks of pressure from rivals and green activists who said he was not taking global warming seriously enough and would rely too heavily on Obama-era ideas.
A campaign adviser told Reuters last month that Biden was seeking a "middle-ground" approach he hoped would please environmentalists without turning off the blue-collar voters who swept Republican President Donald Trump to power in 2016.
"I'm calling for a Clean Energy Revolution to confront this crisis and do what America does best - solve big problems with big ideas," Biden said in a social media video, saying his proposals would go "well beyond" the policies set when he served with former President Barack Obama.
The proposal would invest US$1.7 trillion over 10 years in clean energy research and modernising infrastructure to eliminate the emissions of the greenhouse gases that scientists blame for accelerating climate change and its effects - including rising sea levels, droughts, floods and more frequent powerful storms.
"The Biden plan will be paid for by reversing the excesses of the Trump tax cuts for corporations, reducing incentives for tax havens, evasion, and outsourcing, ensuring corporations pay their fair share," according to a statement by his campaign.
Former first lady Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency foundered in 2016 after she upset blue-collar voters by saying her aggressive climate proposals would put "a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business", underscoring the pitfalls of environmental politics.
Trump successfully billed Obama-era environmental protections as job killers to his supporters, and has directed his administration to roll back many of them since taking office.
Biden promoted the plan at several campaign stops in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
He visited a renewable energy project in Plymouth, where he said his goal as president would be to make the United States the "single greatest exporter of renewable energy technology in the world" and the "single most significant resource for climate change in the world". He finished the day by speaking to a local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Concord, trying to sell them on the merits of his plan.
Union members, a backbone of Biden's support, have been sceptical of sweeping climate-change programs such as the Green New Deal, a non-binding congressional resolution that calls for an end to fossil fuel use within a decade.
Biden spoke of building a new "green infrastructure", which he said meant millions of union jobs. "I'm not joking," he said. "These are real jobs."
The Sunrise Movement, one of the main activist groups that had pressured Biden to take a tough stand on climate change in recent weeks, called the plan a "good start" and took some credit for its ambition.
"This plan makes it clear: climate change is going to be a defining issue in the 2020 election, and we've raised the bar for what it means to be a leader on climate," said Sunrise President Varshini Prakash.
HITS FROM THE LEFT
Some of Biden's Democratic rivals, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have taken tougher stances on climate change by fully endorsing the Green New Deal.
Biden said two aspects of the Green New Deal were now at the core of his plan - the urgency for greater ambition to address climate change and the notion that "our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected".
For the first time, Biden said he would not accept donations from fossil fuel companies or executives and joined nearly a dozen other rivals in the Democratic race in calling for a ban on new oil and gas leasing on federal land and waters - instead focusing on deploying renewables.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben said on Twitter that Biden's support of that position "makes clear that a Democratic consensus has emerged. Oil, coal, and gas (development) on America's public lands must stop."
Biden's plan consists of several executive actions he would take on his first day in office, including creating an enforcement mechanism to put the United States on track to achieve 100 per cent clean energy and a net-zero emissions goal by 2050, and recommitting the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, an international accord to fight global warming that Trump pull the United States out of in June 2017.
It lists several other measures that would build on Obama-era policies like regulating methane emissions from oil and gas facilities, developing new fuel economy standards for cars, adopting new energy efficiency standards for appliances, promoting advanced biofuels and accelerating the use of carbon capture, which limits emissions from coal plants and other industrial facilities.
For working-class voters, the plan promises to secure coal miners' benefits and increase coal company payments into a federal program to help miners battling black lung disease. It would create a task force to help communities facing closures of coal mines and power plants gain access to federal funds and private investment "to help create high-paying union jobs".
The plan also addresses environmental justice issues, and promises to protect vulnerable minority and Native American communities with stronger protections for clean water.