Plagiarism charge hits Biden climate change plan
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign came under fire on Tuesday for putting out a $1.7 trillion climate change plan that appeared to copy a handful of passages from previously published documents.
The incident recalled the plagiarism incident that helped drive Biden from the 1988 presidential race, though Biden’s campaign team called the latest episode an error that was corrected.
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“Several citations, some from sources cited in other parts of the plan, were inadvertently left out of the final version of the 22 page document,” a Biden spokesperson said in an email. “As soon as we were made aware of it, we updated to include the proper citations.”
Josh Nelson, vice president at the progressive group CREDO, first flagged the similarities on Twitter. The text contained the same language about technology designed to capture and store power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions as documents previously released by the nongovernmental organization Center for Climate and Energy Solutions as well as the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of environmental and labor groups.
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions spokesperson Alec Gerlach said his group doesn’t coordinate with campaigns but that “carbon capture should be an essential element in any comprehensive strategy to eliminate carbon emissions.” BlueGreen Alliance interim co-executive director Mike Williams said in a statement that the portion Biden’s campaign used was “publicly available.”
“We’re fine with any of the candidates utilizing our policies and publicly available documents in their climate, infrastructure, or jobs plans,” Williams said. “The important thing is that candidates live up to their words and implement these important policies and investments.”
In that instance, Biden’s plan appeared to lift a sentence that said “Carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) is a rapidly growing technology that has the potential to create economic benefits for multiple industries while significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” which matched language the BlueGreen Alliance had used in a letter to Congress.
News organization the Daily Caller also flagged other passages in the Biden climate plan: one on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from air travel that looked similar to language from a Vox story; another on aging sewer infrastructure that resembled wording from environmental group American Rivers; and another on the risks warming temperatures pose to native Alaskan tribes that mirrored government website Climate.gov.
Charges of plagiarism plagued Biden’s presidential campaign in 1987, eventually leading to his dropping out of the race. At least part of that scandal erupted when Biden appeared to lift lines of a speech from British Labor leader Neil Kinnock. Des Moines-Register political reporter David Yepsen, who was among the reporters to receive an opposition research video tape at the time showing Biden’s remarks laid out beside Kinnock, recalled the scandal then, which he described as explosive.
“Someone on the campaign really screwed this up and it’s the kind of sideshow story he doesn’t need. It raises all these bad things out of the past,” Yepsen said Tuesday. “Everybody who is working for Joe Biden should understand this bit of our history and be particularly mindful of not making that same mistake again.”
Biden rolled out his climate policy on Tuesday after facing weeks of criticism from the Democratic Party’s left flank for reportedly considering a plan to strike a “middle ground” on the issue. It won praise from environmental groups who welcomed its call to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and ban oil and gas drilling on public lands. Biden also said he would reject campaign contributions from fossil fuel executives and corporations.
While scientists, including the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, envision a massive build out of carbon capture technology to meet ambitious climate targets, many in the progressive wing are skeptical of the technology. They see carbon capture as a way to extend the lifeline of coal, oil and natural gas and delay a transition to less-polluting forms of energy that don’t rely on extracting fuel.
Nelson told POLITICO the carbon capture section of Biden’s plan looked familiar. He said he’s spent the past several years advocating against coal-fired power.
“As soon as I read it, it did not sound like language that would come from a presidential campaign and it sounded more like something that could come from a coal industry trade group or a coal company directly,” Nelson said in a phone interview.
But even champions of a Green New Deal, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), have left room for carbon capture technology, seeing it as a way to provide stability for fossil fuel-dependent economies and communities while still addressing greenhouse gas emissions.