Biden and VP Hopefuls Go Big on Climate

As the Democratic National Convention and the formal nomination of Joe Biden approach, both he and some of his top running mate contenders are rolling out major proposals on climate change and environmental justice.

Biden Climate Action Plan

First, Biden released a climate action plan that marks a substantial step up from his modest initial proposal. Analysts say this more ambitious platform represents Biden’s outreach to climate advocates who preferred some of his primary rivals.  

The Biden plan includes specifics such as eliminating carbon pollution from the electric sector by 2035 and investing $2 trillion over four years to boost renewable energy and energy-efficient homes, vehicles, and commercial buildings. It retains earlier elements, including rejoining the Paris climate accord.  

Environmental Justice for All Act

At the same time, two of the senators on Biden’s running mate short list filed a major bill of their own. Senators Kamala Harris and Tammy Duckworth rolled out their “Environmental Justice for All Act” alongside Sen. Cory Booker, hoping to address the disparate impacts of pollution on communities of color.  

Most notably, this bill would:

  • Restore the rights of residents disproportionately impacted by pollution-producing government decisions to sue for relief under the Civil Rights Act
  • Require the Environmental Protection Agency to consider the cumulative impacts of multiple facilities (such as highways and factories) in the same area when issuing permits
  • Fund new programs for research grants on public health issues, assistance to displaced workers in fossil fuel industries, and improved access to parks for communities of color.

National Wildlife Federation vice president for environmental justice Mustafa Santiago Ali called the legislation “one of the most comprehensive bills” on environmental racism ever introduced in Congress.  

Climate Equity Act

Additionally, Sen. Harris and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released a new version of their Climate Equity Act. The bill has been in development for over a year, and an earlier draft served as the basis for Harris’ climate justice plan during her presidential run last year.  The act would establish an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability, requiring other federal agencies to consider the impact of any environmental legislation or regulation on low-income communities.  

Scholar and author Robert Bullard (sometimes called “the father of environmental justice”) spoke of the importance of linking emissions reductions and environmental justice action as a campaign theme. “You don’t get to the White House by just talking about climate,” he said. “It has to be climate and…” Harris concurred, noting “All of these things intersect, and we must center the fight for environmental and climate justice in the broader conversation.”  

At this point, many environmental advocates are pleased to see plans for substantive, detailed action on these linked issues take center stage in national policy debates.

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