• US energy and environment under a Biden Administration

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    • Post Author

      Philip Sharman

      IFRF Director

With the media now ‘calling’ the US presidential election for Joe Biden, what might the direction of travel for energy and environmental matters look like in a Biden Administration?

One thing is for certain, Biden’s position on virtually every aspect of energy and the environment is almost a polar opposite to Donald Trump’s…  But what do we know of the specifics at this point?

Well, here is a quick summary of Biden’s thinking on energy and the environment: 

Fossil fuel infrastructure/regulation

  • Biden promises to stop the Keystone XL oil pipeline project; he hasn’t taken a position on the Dakota Access oil pipeline project
  • He favours ending fossil fuel subsidies
  • He says he wouldn’t ban fracking but would ban new offshore drilling and new permits on public lands
  • He also says that cheap renewable energy has eliminated US demand for new coal-fired projects

Joe Biden has said he, like the Obama Administration of which he was a part, promises to end the Keystone XL pipeline project.  He has not taken a public position on the future of the Dakota Access pipeline, but Vice President (elect), Sen. Kamala Harris, signed a brief urging a federal judge to shut it down.

Biden declined to accept campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry, and would seek to end subsidies for the industry domestically and abroad.  He has said he would reinstate Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) protections; he’d remove Arctic waters from consideration for oil and gas development.  He opposes new permits for oil development on public lands and would ban offshore drilling.  But he recently said he “would not ban fracking.”

Biden would seek to work with other countries to get China to stop exporting fossil fuel projects, and to offer alternative financing for cleaner ones.  He also would try to convince the G20 countries to eliminate coal financing for all but the poorest countries.

He has said he would set “aggressive” new methane limits on all oil operations; he would aim to plug abandoned oil and gas wells and reclaim abandoned mines.  He has said that he would undo Trump’s many rollbacks of Obama-era environmental rules, and that he aims to end fossil fuel use for electricity within 15 years.

Renewables/clean energy

  • Biden supports rapid new innovations and using the renewable energy market as a major job creator
  • He wants strict fuel-efficiency standards in an attempt to make purchase of all new cars and light trucks electric
  • He supports developing small-scale nuclear reactors

Joe Biden’s  Climate Plan says he would seek to invest $400 billion over 10 years in clean energy and climate research, and use tax policy and other mechanisms to incentivise rapid deployment of innovations.  The federal government’s procurement system would be used to drive the spread of electric vehicles, as would strict fuel-efficiency standards and a re-instatement of the electric vehicle tax credit.  Biden would help mayors and governors deploy 500,000 new electric-vehicle charging stations by 2030.  He proposes to double offshore wind production by 2030.

If elected, he said he would set aggressive new appliance-efficiency requirements.  New energy efficiency standards would be part of the upgrade of four million buildings; two million more would be ‘weatherised’ in four years.  The goal would be to cut building emissions in half by 2035 through retrofits.  He would introduce incentives for local regulations to allow for denser, more affordable development near public transit.

A new research agency would aim to: develop grid-scale electricity storage at a tenth of the cost of lithium-ion batteries; create small-scale, inexpensive nuclear power reactors; develop refrigerants and air-conditioning units that cool without increasing global warming; and reduce carbon emissions from agriculture and the steel and concrete industries.  Biden also proposes to shrink rail travel time from New York City to Washington, DC by half, expand rail service to the south, and start construction of a coast-to-coast high-speed rail system.

Climate policy

  • Biden plans to rejoin the UNFCCC Paris Agreement “on first day in office”, reinstate emissions rules and invest $2 trillion to confront the “grave threat”
  • His ‘Climate Plan’ outlines strategies to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035 and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

Joe Biden has proposed spending $2 trillion to reach zero emissions by 2050. He plans to host a global climate summit during his first 100 days in office.  A National Intelligence Estimate would be created that assessed threats to national and economic security from climate change and create a government plan to promote clean energy exports.  Biden said that in addition to rejoining the Paris Agreement, he’d push countries to increase the ambitions of their climate targets.

He plans to publish rankings to “name and shame” countries falling behind on their climate commitments.  He would use tariffs and trade to make sure goods imported from overseas bore the full cost of climate pollution, and would require all federal permitting decisions to consider impacts on climate change.

Biden says that in his first year he would “demand” that Congress enact legislation to set enforcement mechanisms for reaching zero emissions by 2050, including milestones that start by the end of his first term.  Public companies would be pushed to disclose climate risks and greenhouse gas emissions in their operations.  Biden wants the insurance industry to lower premiums in communities that invest in climate resilience.


  • Biden wants to strengthen pollution laws to reduce the disproportionate impact on low-income communities of colour
  • He mentions plastic waste as a threat to safe water in his Climate Plan; he supports phasing-out of single-use plastics

Joe Biden plans to establish an environmental justice division within the Department of Justice, which would support litigation and increased enforcement against polluters.  To limit the concentration of polluting industries in communities of colour, he would require agencies to take into account cumulative pollutant levels before issuing or renewing permits under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.  40% of clean energy funds would be committed to disadvantaged communities.  He would speed up testing for lead in drinking water, as well as declare more toxic chemicals hazardous so they could be removed from water pipes.  In his first 100 days, Biden says he would produce a report identifying which strategies would result in the fastest improvements to air and water quality.

On the campaign trail, Biden has said he supports phasing out single-use plastics.

Land, water, wildlife conservation

  • Biden supports goal of conserving 30% of US land and water by 2030 as a way of slowing extinctions
  • He promised to restore protections to several areas opened-up by the Trump Administration

Joe Biden would seek to increase reforestation projects on federal lands and establish national parks and national monuments “that reflect America’s natural heritage.”  He would aim to slow extinction rates by conserving 30% of US land and water by 2030.  His Climate Plan proposes to permanently protect ANWR and says he would ban new oil and gas permits on public land and water.  In a policy document outlining his commitment to Native American tribes, Biden says he will undo Trump’s roll-back on the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.  The Democratic Party platform promises to reinstate protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

Biden’s Climate Plan promises to “protect biodiversity, slow extinction rates, and leverage natural climate solutions,” noting that the Obama Administration protected 550 million acres in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.  The Plan talks about repurposing AmeriCorps for sustainability; in a Democratic presidential debate earlier this year, Biden touted a “civilian climate corps” that could be used to reduce vulnerability to wildfires and floods.  Before joining the presidential ticket, his Senate voting record shows he supported expanding and protecting public lands and was willing to appropriate funds to do so.