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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Biden Injects Energy Into 2020 Race

Biden advocates clean renewable energy (wind and solar); Trump supports dirty old sources (oil and gas) (Photo by International Renewable Energy Agency)


The human impact on nature, including the air we breathe and the water we drink, played a major role – finally -- in a debate of the United States presidential hopefuls.

“(Last Thursday’s) debate saw one of the most substantive exchanges on climate policy in the history of general election matchups, largely because it’s an issue that rarely gets such valuable airtime,” said Scientific American. “For the last 20 years, climate was absent from presidential debates in the general election. This year, amid a highly active hurricane season and record wildfires, climate change has become a major topic on par with health care, the economy and the coronavirus response.”

Two septuagenarians took the stage. President Donald Trump set his foot in the past. His opponent, the former Vice President Joe Biden championed walking into a different and healthier future.

“Climate change, climate warming, global warming is an existential threat to humanity,” said Biden. “We have a moral obligation to deal with it. And we’re told by all the leading scientists of the world that we don’t have much time. We’re going to pass the point of no return within the next eight to 10 years. . . . Here is where we have a real opportunity (to create jobs for cleaner renewable energy).”

Earlier in the week, the Trump campaign complained that climate change already had been covered at previous debates and unsuccessfully pushed for it to be removed from the agenda, said Scientific American.

The Trump camp complaint reflected the candidate’s attitude toward the environment: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. On the other hand, former Vice President Joe Biden supported a transition, “over time”, from oil to renewable energy.

Twelve days before the national election on November 3, Trump and Biden sparred on the issues of environmental racism, oil, and wind and solar energy.

Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News asked: “President Trump, people of color are more likely to live near oil refineries and chemical plants. In Texas, there are families that worry that the plants near them are making them sick. Your administration has rolled back regulations on these kinds of facilities. Why should these families give you another four years in office?”

Trump’s response: “The families we are talking about are employed heavily and are making more money than they have ever made. If you look at the kind of numbers we’ve produced for Hispanic, Black or Asian, it’s nine times greater the percentage gained in three years than it was under eight years of the two of them (President Obama and Vice President Biden), to put it nicely.

“I have not seen the numbers or statistics (of people becoming ill).”

There were no statistics forthcoming in the debate.

However, Scientific American reported that studies have shown that people who live near industrial facilities do not necessarily benefit from them. It said that, more frequently, people are hurt by the air and water polluted by industrial plants.

How much money is your health worth?

Your health is priceless.

Biden responded to moderator Welker’s scenario:

“Those people live on what they call fencelines. He (Trump) doesn’t understand that. They live near chemical plants that pollute, oil refineries that pollute. I used to live near there when I was growing up in Claymont, Delaware. (The borough of) Marcus Hook and Delaware River had more oil refineries anyplace, including Houston, at the time. When my mom would get in the car to drive me to school during the first frost and turn on the windshield, there would be an oil slick on the window. That’s why so many in my state were dying and getting cancer.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re paying those fenceline communities. It matters how you keep them safe, what do you do. You impose restrictions on the pollutants coming out of those fenceline communities.”

Trump crowed over the moderator, who was moving on to the next question: “Would he close down the oil industry? Would you close down the oil industry?”

“I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”

“Oh, that’s a big statement,” Trump said, gloating.

“It is a big statement,” said Biden, evenly. “The oil industry pollutes, significantly. It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”

“Basically, what he is saying is he is going to destroy the oil industry. Will you remember that, Texas? Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”

In 2016, Trump promised to reopen coal mines. Do you remember that, Pennsylvania? West Virginia? Kentucky? He did not do it, unsurprisingly. The longer a coal mine is closed, the less cost-effective it is to prepare it for operation again.

“Nothing he’s done is rescuing the coal industry,” according to Bloomberg News (October 25, 2020). Since Trump’s inauguration, U.S. coal production – after a slight uptick in 2017 – is expected to be down 31 percent this year from 2016 levels. By some estimates, more than five dozen coal-burning power plants have closed and, although mining jobs remained steady before dropping this year, they didn’t increase.”

Retired Kentucky miner Larry Miller said it is not surprising that the industry has not bounced back, even with the rollback of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting (February 4, 2019).

Miller worked for more than two decades underground. Nonetheless, he is seeing that coal is no longer an economic source of electricity. Near his home, a group of utilities is installing an 800-acre solar farm.

“(Coal) is not going to be gone, but it’s not going to be the economic engine that it once was,” said Miller. “And I made a good living in coal for a long time and I liked it, so I don’t take pleasure in saying that.”

Michael McKenna, a GOP energy strategist and former White House official, characterized Trump’s stance as a “proxy for a world view,” according to Bloomberg News.

“Coal miners are an American archetype and, in defending them, he was defending an American archetype.”

So, Trump, who called himself an environmentalist, continues to defend archetypes. In his 2020 campaign, it is refinery workers. Again, his support is becoming meaningless in a world that cannot sustain oil's pollution.

In the debate, Biden called for the United States to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. He said that environmental and labor groups support his plan as the transition to solar and wind energy would create jobs paying “45 to 50 bucks” an hour.

Biden called for an end to subsidies for oil and the beginning of subsidies for solar and wind energy. Trump said that there are subsidies for solar and wind. He is correct.

Generally, energy subsidy priorities over the past 10 years have shifted from fossil fuels to renewable energy, according to Earth Institute/Columbia University (September 23, 2019).

Trump said that wind energy is intermittent and extremely expensive, and it kills birds. He said that solar energy “doesn’t have it yet to run our big beautiful factories.”

The president seemed like an old codger who is resisting change. And that change is not the shift from old to new technologies: it is leaving the White House in January 2021. He believes that oil and gas workers and companies will get him re-elected for another term.

Trump asserted that he saved the oil industry again this year when he pulled together Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Russia:

“Everybody has very inexpensive gasoline. Remember that.”

Biden said: “I want 50,000 charging stations on highways (for electric cars).”

If elected, Biden said that he would rejoin the Paris Agreement, which requires them to determine, plan and report on its contribution to mitigate global warming. The only significant emitters are Iran and Turkey.

All of the 189 states of the United Nations climate control convention have become parties to the agreement.

Trump reiterated his intention to withdraw the United States. The earliest effective date of withdrawal is November 4, the day after Election Day and two months before the end of President Trump’s 2016 term.

In the final debate between the candidates, Trump declared: “We are energy independent for the first time.”

Biden countered: “The future lies in us being able to breathe.”

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