US Election 2020 Key Issues: Environment, climate change and where Trump and Biden stand

The topics of environment and climate change are possibly two of the most divisive when it comes to the respective approaches of President Donald Trump and Joe Biden

US Election 2020 Key Issues: Environment, climate change and where Trump and Biden stand

Representational image. AFP

United States presidential nominees for 2020 Donald Trump and Joe Biden couldn’t be further apart on their commitment towards and plans for the environment. The two candidates sharply oppose each other on a number of environmental issues, including climate policy, fossil fuel regulations, renewable energy, emission standards and wildlife conservation, as this piece will show.

However, the subject does not hold the same value for the two: While “climate and energy” appears at the top of Biden’s plans on his official website, there is no explicit mention of the environment or allied issues in Trump’s agenda. This has not stopped the two candidates from bringing up the subject of environment and climate policy in rallies and debates.

Where Trump stands

The president, instead of addressing an environmental crisis or the need for stricter regulations on industries, weds the subject of environment with jobs. He insists that clean water and air are his priorities, but also promises to boost the country’s production of oil and natural gas and promote employment there — objectives that might come in each other’s way.

His words at a recent speech in Florida paints a clearer picture. “My administration is proving every day that we can improve our environment while creating millions of high-paying jobs… Instead of focusing on radical ideology, my administration is focused on delivering real results, and that’s what we have. And we right now have the cleanest air we’ve ever had in this country, let’s say over the last 40 years because I assume 200 years ago is probably better,” Trump said.

In terms of environment policy, the president has significantly weakened regulations on methane, mercury and uranium. This is expected to have a direct, swift and negative impact on the country’s air and water quality. Trump supports an unobstructed growth of the fossil fuel industry and pushes for unrestricted fracking.

In August last year, Trump diluted the Endangered Species Act, one of United States’ most effective environmental laws brought in by former president Richard Nixon in 1973. It is credited with saving several iconic species including the bald eagle, the national bird of the United States. Trump also rolled back regulations on fishing and hunting.

Most significantly, Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, an international deal signed by almost every country. He also rolled back several Obama-era rules on emissions and has refused to factor climate change in his administration’s policy decisions.

Where Biden stands

Unlike Trump, Biden repeatedly stresses how climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the planet today. “Climate change is the existential challenge that will define our future as a country,” he tweeted. Biden promises to recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change, in addition to leading “an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets”.

Biden says his administration will ensure the United States achieves a 100 percent clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions by 2050. This, he says, will be achieved by ensuring that polluting industries “bear the full cost of the carbon pollution they are emitting”.

If elected, Biden proposed to invest $1.7 trillion over the next ten years into clean energy and environmental justice, in addition to leveraging an addition $5 trillion from the private sector and local investments.

Biden also promises to create a million new jobs in the auto industry to accelerate production of electric vehicles, achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035, and construct 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.

The former vice-president has plans to create 2,50,000 jobs in plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock, and uranium mines, in sharp contrast to Trump’s policies on coal and uranium. Biden has also promised to focus on environmental justice, by establishing an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the United States Department of Justice.

In all of this, Biden does not want to be seen as forgetting about the workers involved in the fossil fuel industry. Calling them critical to “decades of economic growth”, Biden says his administration will “secure the benefits coal miners and their families have earned”.

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