Biden hasn’t released a climate plan yet — but he’s already facing grief over it
Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressives slammed Joe Biden on Friday over his still-unreleased climate plan — in yet another sign of how central the issue has become in the crowded Democratic race for president.
The jousting followed a report by Reuters that said the presumed front-runner would seek a “middle ground,” largely similar to the Obama administration’s approach to climate change, in hopes of appealing to both environmentalists and the blue-collar voters who elected Donald Trump.
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Biden’s camp quickly disputed the story, including one of the two Biden advisers whom Reuters cited as sources for the article. But the episode offered a preview of the friction that Biden may face with much of the party’s activist base if he tries to continue the policies Barack Obama once championed, which left a role for fuels like natural gas in the nation’s energy mix.
Sanders, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other environmentalists quickly torched Biden, saying the reported details of his plan fell far short of the urgent steps needed to save the planet.
“There is no ‘middle ground’ when it comes to climate policy,” Sanders tweeted Friday. “If we don’t commit to fully transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, we will doom future generations.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced the ambitious Green New Deal in Congress, also slammed Biden.
“This is a deal-breaker. There is no ‘middle ground’ w/ climate denial & delay,” she tweeted. “Blaming ‘blue collar’ Americans as the main opponents to bold climate policy is gas lobbyist 101.”
According to the report, Biden’s plan involves rejoining the Paris climate accord and preserving Obama-era regulations on fuel economy standards and other emissions regulations that Trump has been rolling back. It would also have preserved a role for nuclear and certain types of fossil fuel energy, like natural gas, with the use carbon capture and sequestration technology.
Heather Zichal, a former Obama administration energy aide quoted as an informal adviser by Reuters, and TJ Ducklo, Biden’s national press secretary, said in tweets later that the story’s description of Biden’s plans was “wrong.”
Biden also weighed in, pointing to his long support of climate action and saying he would roll out his policy soon.
“What I fought for in 1986 is more important than ever — climate change is an existential threat. Now. Today,” Biden tweeted, referring to legislation he authored that was eventually tagged onto a funding bill and called on the president to create a task force to try to mitigate climate change.
“We need policies that reflect this urgency. I’ll have more specifics on how America can lead on climate in the coming weeks,” he tweeted.
Recent CNN polling found climate change is the top issue for registered Democratic primary voters around the country, and a Monmouth poll last month rated the issue as the second-most important to Iowa Democrats, after health care.
Biden has not yet taken a public position on the Green New Deal resolution to decarbonize the U.S. economy within a decade, unlike many of his Democratic rivals, including Sanders, who have backed it.
Despite the denials from Biden’s team that the story mischaracterized his stance, environmental advocates were quick to slam any potential “middle ground” climate approach as unacceptable.
“Biden’s betting that a retreat to mediocrity and tepid policy making will garner him the Democratic nomination, but climate change is a top issue in this election and voters expect candidates to put forward solutions in line with the crisis,” said Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement. “All this approach will do is lose young voters and throw communities of color and working people into chaos and violence, leaving my generation to deal with a broken economy and global society.”
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, who is running a campaign for the Democratic nomination based on his plans to aggressively combat climate change, agreed.
“If our house were on fire, we wouldn’t seek a middle-ground approach to putting it out. When our planet is on fire, we shouldn’t seek one either,” he said in a statement. “We can pursue realistic and aggressive climate policy, based on successes in states and cities across America.”
Inslee has pushed for a primary debate entirely dedicated to climate change issues, which Sanders has subsequently backed.