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May 13, 2019

Analysis | The Energy 202: Democratic rivals pounce on Joe Biden over climate change

By Dino Grandoni


Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden shakes hands in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Joe Biden's rivals to win the White House in 2020 are trying to cast the former vice president as too soft on climate change after a recent report indicated Biden was seeking a “middle ground" on an issue that is animating the Democratic base.
The hair-trigger criticism of Biden's climate plan, which has yet to be released, underscores the tension emerging between the left and centrist wings of the Democratic Party over the climate issue.
The report, from Reuters, said Biden will seek to rejoin the Paris climate accord and reinstall emissions-reducing regulations that President Trump is trying to throw out. But Biden would also, according to the report, be “supportive of nuclear energy and fossil fuel options like natural gas and carbon capture technology" in an effort to buffer negative impact on working-class folks.
Despite the Biden campaign disputing the report, the suggestion of support for a fossil-fuel energy sources gave candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination the chance to knock Biden, who had emerged as the front-runner in polls even before entering the race last month.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who for years has proposed bills ending tax breaks for fossil-fuel companies, said "[t]here is no 'middle ground' when it comes to climate policy." Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who has made climate change his chief cause in the 2020 race, added: “Facing a crisis does not permit half-measures. Half-measures mean full extinction of millions of species and full economic damage to communities across America."
There is no “middle ground” when it comes to climate policy. If we don't commit to fully transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, we will doom future generations. Fighting climate change must be our priority, whether fossil fuel billionaires like it or not.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 10, 2019
The standard-bearers of the Green New Deal, a call to drastically reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade that has been endorsed by more than a half-dozen Democratic candidates, also dinged Biden for his yet-to-be-released position.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the chief sponsor of the resolution in the House, called Biden's position a “dealbreaker.” Varshini Prakash, a co-founder of the activist group Sunrise Movement, which helped bring the Green New Deal into the limelight, said that “Biden’s 'middle ground' will drown entire communities forever.”
This is a dealbreaker.
There is no “middle ground” w/ climate denial & delay.
Blaming “blue collar” Americans as the main opponents to bold climate policy is gas lobbyist 101.
We’re not going to solve the climate crisis w/ this lack of leadership. Our kids’ lives are at stake.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 10, 2019
Biden sought to tamp down the criticism by reminding voters on Twitter that he introduced climate legislation back in the 1980s as a member of the Senate.
“What I fought for in 1986 is more important than ever — climate change is an existential threat,” Biden said. “Now. Today.” He added that he will release specifics on his climate plan “in the coming weeks.”
Indeed, Biden's legislation called on the United States to set up a task force to plan for the mitigatation of global warming. A version of the bill, first introdcued in 1986, eventually did become law with Ronald Reagan's signature, according to PolitiFact.
When reached for comment, the Biden campaign described the candidate's forthcoming plan as "bold," without getting into any details of it.
"He knows how high the stakes are," said Biden spokesman T.J. Ducklo. "As president, Biden would enact a bold policy to tackle climate change in a meaningful and lasting way, and will be discussing the specifics of that plan in the near future. Any assertions otherwise are not accurate."
Nearly every Democratic official has cast President Trump's policies of trying to revive coal and roll back climate regulations as a threat to the well-being of the planet. But disagreements arise over deciding on the best way to unseat him.
Biden's path to victory probably involves winning back a portion of blue-collar whites who voted for Trump in 2016. Technologies such as carbon capture, a nascent way of seizing climate-warming emissions and storing them underground, offers a promise that heavy-industry energy workers will play a role in reducing emissions while keeping their jobs.
But a handful of more progressive candidates, such as Sanders, want a full transition away from fossil fuels while finding new jobs for workers in those industries. They are heeding the demands of another Democratic cohort, millennial activists, motivated by a dire United Nations report saying the world has little more than a decade to hold warming to moderate levels.
Even in Democratic primaries, votes more often hinge on personal pocketbook issues, such as health care, rather than global subjects such as climate change.
Yet recent polling suggests a shift is underway among Democratic voters. An April survey from CNN found that more than 8 in 10 Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents said it was very important for the next president to take aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change.
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Crayfish expert Roger Thoma looks for crayfish in March in Ash Camp Branch, a creek on Donna Branham’s property in Lenore, W.Va. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
— How this state’s coal industry changed federal endangered species policy: State officials and Trump administration appointees intervened to allow drilling to restart at numerous mines in West Virginia, including Twin Branch, bypassing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal “how state and industry officials have tapped the president’s political appointees to advance their economic interests over the objections of the agency charged with protecting endangered wildlife — in this case, two crayfish species that help keep the state’s creeks and rivers healthy,” The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reports. A June 2017 policy backed by an Interior Department official Landon "Tucker" Davis, who previously represented the state’s coal industry, helped make it possible for mine permits, she adds.
Notable: Davis worked as a liaison between department officials and West Virginia and coal industry representatives. According to the agency's Office of Inspector General, he once explained the sudden halt of a study into mining's effects on the health of nearby residents by saying: "Science was a Democrat thing."
Legal action looms: “Now the Center for Biological Diversity and other advocacy groups are preparing to sue the Interior Department for failing to protect the crustaceans from activities such as those at Twin Branch mine,” Eilperin adds.
—  The latest on the impasse over disaster funding: The House on Friday passed a multibillion-dollar disaster-aid package aiming to provide $19 billion in funding to help communities across the country impacted by wildfires, tornadoes and storms. “In the legislative scheme of things, the passage vote is a negligible step given that there is no bipartisan accord yet,” Politico reports. “But the president raised the political stakes in the hours leading up to the roll call, warning House Republicans to fall in line with his opposition to the Democratic plan to send more than $19 billion in rebuilding assistance to communities hit by hurricanes, extreme flooding, tornadoes and wildfires.” Democrats passed the bill with the help of 34 Republican lawmakers who broke ranks to vote for the measure. For his part, Trump praised Republicans following the passage:
Great Republican vote today on Disaster Relief Bill. We will now work out a bipartisan solution that gets relief for our great States and Farmers. Thank you to all. Get me a Bill that I can quickly sign!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2019
— Invitation to climate hearing pulled: The House Ways and Means Committee leadership rescinded an invitation for former Republican congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) to testify at the panel’s hearing on climate change. “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) approached Neal on the floor on Thursday and told him to cancel the hearing entirely, according to multiple Democratic sources,” Politico reports. A Hoyer spokeswoman told Politico he “felt it would be inappropriate for Mr. Curbelo to testify given he has been unclear about his 2020 electoral plans and has a long track record of being unable to persuade his Republican colleagues that climate change is real and needs to be addressed.”
Curbelo criticized the decision, as did some Democrats:
This is true. Chairman @RepRichardNeal kindly invited me to testify at @WaysMeansCmte next week on #climatepolicy only to be overruled by petty partisans who prefer to exploit this issue for personal political gain rather than establishing a sincere dialogue about solutions
— Carlos Curbelo (@carloslcurbelo) May 10, 2019
From Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.):
This is a mistake & very disappointing. Addressing climate change requires bipartisan cooperation & solutions. @carloslcurbelo is a bold leader on this critical issue and deserves to be heard for his unique insight. I hope @WaysMeansCmte reconsiders its decision to disinvite him.
— Rep. Stephanie Murphy (@RepStephMurphy) May 10, 2019
— Debate over endangered species protections for gray wolf continues: More than 60,000 public comments were submitted as of the end of last week for the proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf , E&E News reports, with the potential for tens of thousands more comments before the commend period ends Tuesday.
While the Interior Department and the state of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife insist the wolf’s population has successfully rebounded and is moving toward recovery, more than 100 scientists joined in writing a letter publicized by the Center for Biological Diversity opposing the end of protections. “While we have made substantial progress toward recovery, the job is not done,” the letter reads. “Important work remains. In particular, the ESA requires that a species be recovered throughout a larger portion of its historic range than has currently been achieved.”
—“Political will seems to be fading”: The United Nations' Secretary-General António Guterres lamented what he described as a slowdown in political motivation to tackle climate change. He suggested the world is not doing enough to keep global temperature increases under 2 degrees Celsius, the Associated Press reports. “We are not on track to achieve the objectives defined in the Paris agreement,” Guterres said in remarks after arriving for a visit in New Zealand. “And the paradox is that as things are getting worse on the ground, political will seems to be fading.”
— 187 countries have signed on to a pact to limit the global trade of plastic waste: But the United States wasn’t one of them. “Nations agreed to add plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that regulates movement of hazardous materials from one country to another, in order to combat the dangerous effects of plastic pollution around the world,” CNN reports. “But the US was not involved in the decision-making process, as it is one of just two countries that have not ratified the agreement.”
— Storms hit the South: Heavy rains inundated New Orleans, leaving 11,500 residents without power at the storm’s peak over the weekend. “By Sunday afternoon, the worst of the system was moving into the Florida Panhandle, the weather service said, and New Orleans shifted to recovery mode,” USA Today reports, noting Louisiana and Mississippi’s governors had declared states of emergency. Torrential rain also poured over Houston, leaving schools closed Friday and utilities working at some point to deal with 37,000 power outages, as The Post’s Timothy Bella and Kayla Epstein reported.

— The oil route that could become central to the mounting tensions between Iran and the U.S.: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry reported Monday that two of its oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman were targeted in an “act of sabotage,” The Post’s Rick Noack reports, adding no perpetrator was specified. But the alleged incidents follow a week of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, though there is no evidence of Iranian links to the attacks.
The need for additional U.S. resources in the region is in part a result of the Strait of Hormuz, a stretch of water at the mouth of the Persian Gulf that is one of the most critical transport routes for oil. “Theoretically, Iran could attempt to cut off the Strait of Hormuz by deploying its naval vessels or laying mines,” Noack writes, adding that blocking off the route could jeopardize the world’s supply of daily global oil exports.
Coming Up
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee holds a hearing on mineral security and related legislation on Tuesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee is set to hold a hearing on the Interior Budget and fiscal 2020 policy priorities on Wednesday.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee is set to hold a hearing on the economic and health consequences of climate change on Wednesday.
— “You don’t say no to that offer”: When NASA offered to send Anna Fisher to space, she was eight and a half months pregnant. Still, she didn’t flinch, as The Post’s Jessica Contrera writes in this Mother’s Day piece for Retropolis. “I wasn’t about to say no,” Fisher told The Post. “You don’t say no to that offer.” Fourteen months later, Fisher became the first mother to go to space.

Astronaut Anna Fisher kisses her daughter Kristin after training in Houston for a spacewalk in 1985. (NASA)

Source: The Washington Post

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