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Biden vs Sanders: How The Leading Democratic Presidential Candidates Differ On Climate Policy

Biden vs Sanders: How The Leading Democratic Presidential Candidates Differ On Climate Policy

Emily Dao

After one of the biggest candidacy pools to date, alas, the Democratic primary boils down to Biden vs Sanders. As Americans cast their vote, one of their most pressing concerns deals with climate change. In fact, a new survey revealed climate was a major issue for U.S. voters, third only to healthcare and our economy.

Between former Vice-President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the presidential hopefuls share a handful of views when it comes to climate. Both recognize climate change as an “existential threat,” strongly disagree with Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, and have the most ambitious climate plans a president has ever had to date.

But that’s where their plans to tackle this crisis start to diverge. Here’s a breakdown of what each candidate stands for and a quick recap of the crucial points where they differ.

What is Joe Biden’s “Clean Energy Revolution”?

One of the most obvious things differentiating Biden from Sanders is their position on the political spectrum. While Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, is notably more left-wing, Biden has continuously strived to remain in the “middle ground.” This is also evident in their climate plans.

So, here’s a quick breakdown of Biden’s $1.7 trillion, to be spent over the next decade. The plan, entitled the Clean Energy Revolution, adopts some ideas from the more liberal Green New Deal. Biden called the Green New Deal a “crucial framework.”

Immediate Goals for the Biden Administration

  • Net-zero emissions by 2050
  • $400 billion investment in clean technology research and development
  • 10 million new jobs

Biden’s campaign plans on paying for this proposal by rolling back Trump’s tax cuts.

When it comes to Biden’s approach to climate, Reuters noted this more middle-ground approach has most likely been carefully strategized. With his current proposal, Biden isn’t just hoping to appeal to environmentalists, but also blue-collar workers who voted for Trump in 2016.

It’s notable that Biden’s climate agenda is a lot more laidback than his main competitor’s. However, the former Deputy Assistant to the President of Energy and Climate Change for the Obama administration, Heather Zichal, believes this decision will still create significant change. Zichal is also helping advise Biden on climate for his campaign.

When asked about backlash Biden has received about not being more aggressive, she was understanding of their opinions.

“I respect where they [activist groups] are coming from,” Zichal told Reuters. “What we learned from the Obama administration is unless we find middle ground on these issues, we risk not having any policies.”

What is Bernie Sanders’s “Green New Deal”?

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Sanders’s sweeping plan is notably more aggressive. Whereas Biden has received some criticism for not doing enough, Sanders has received questions about feasibility.

So, what exactly does Sanders’s climate plan look like?

First of all, Sanders plans to enact the Green New Deal, which was introduced by New York Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey. Sanders calls for almost 10 times as much public funding compared to Biden’s. The proposal would cost a whopping $16.3 trillion. However, Sanders says the plan will “pay for itself.”

“Climate change is an existential threat to the entire country and the entire world and we must be extraordinarily aggressive,” Sanders said in an interview while explaining the high costs of his plan.

“I have seven grandchildren,” he added. “And I’m going to be damned if I’m going to leave them a planet that is unhealthy and uninhabitable.”

Immediate Goals for the Sanders Administration

So, let’s dive in. What does Sanders’s vision look like?

  • 100% renewable energy for all electricity and transportation in the U.S. by 2030
  • $2.5 trillion investment in wind, solar, geothermal, and energy storage projects
  • $526 billion towards an electric “smart grid”
  • $200 billion in spending towards the Green Climate Fund
  • 20 million new jobs

Sanders plans on paying for this proposal through the $6.4 trillion worth of estimated revenue from clean energy sales between 2023 and 2025. He also plans on raising money by launching legal investigations into major oil and gas companies and cutting military spending. Lastly, his campaign rides on an estimated $2.3 trillion from taxes for the 20 million new jobs created.

Senator Sanders plans on paying for his proposal in large part by using increased clean energy sales.
Senator Sanders plans on paying for his proposal in large part by using increased clean energy sales.

Sanders’s plan has received tremendous support from younger progressives and climate activists. Most recently, the environmental advocacy group, the Sunrise Movement, announced they were backing Sanders.

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In a statement, the founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement said the organization believed Sanders would “provide the best political terrain to engage in and ultimately win that struggle for the world we deserve.”

Biden vs Sanders on Climate Policy: The Key Differences You Should Know

Here are the main avenues where the two candidates differ: cleantech, nuclear power, and fracking.

In Sanders’s plan, he is entirely dismissive of cleantech solutions like carbon capture and geoengineering. Sanders has deemed these methods as “false solutions.” Biden, on the other hand, doesn’t plan on cutting out non-renewable energy sources immediately. Rather, he plans to invest more in these high-tech solutions. These methods would quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also lengthen the longevity for coal and gas-fired power plants.

Additionally, the two candidates diverge on the topic of nuclear power. This was a fairly split topic among the Democratic candidates when the pool had been significantly larger. Biden is a supporter of nuclear energy, which leading scientists say is crucial when addressing climate change. Sanders, on the other hand, hopes to shut down nuclear plants and prevent any new ones from opening. This desire stems from the fear of nuclear waste and its impact on the planet and human health.

Senator Sanders believes banning fracking and oil exports is a good idea. Former Vice-President Biden disagrees — a key point of contention in the Biden vs Sanders race.
Senator Sanders believes banning fracking and oil exports is a good idea. Former Vice-President Biden disagrees — a key point of contention in the Biden vs Sanders race.

Then, when it comes to fracking, Sanders would instate a ban on fracking and oil exports across the nation. As aforementioned, Sanders also planned on launching civil and criminal investigations against the fossil fuel industry through the Department of Justice. This is where Biden also diverges from Sanders, as he doesn’t plan on banning fracking. This decision has spurred a lot of backlash from young Democrats and activists, especially.

Biden vs Sanders Race Shows the Difficulty of Forging the Right Balance for Climate Policy

For many, the Biden vs Sanders choice is a tough one to make. While Sanders’s approach would be much more aggressive, there are concerns about its feasibility. Then, when it comes to Biden, many argue his environmental policies are much too modest.

So, that begs the question — what is enough, and what is too much? Yes, climate change and environmental sustainability are urgent matters, but how much can actually be done in a divided government?

The Biden vs Sanders race is about who should lead the EPA in a direction different from Trump's. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
The Biden vs Sanders race is about who should lead the EPA in a direction different from Trump’s. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

With primaries fast approaching for the rest of the nation, it’s important these questions are top-of-mind for a substantial portion of voters. The next four years are crucial for the vitality of our planet. And every vote will play a role in shaping what plays out.

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