Biden unveils a more aggressive and progressive climate plan

The $2 trillion plan aims to create jobs with clean energy investments across a range of sectors.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks about the economy during a campaign event at McGregor Industries, a metal works plant, in Dunmore, Pa., on July 9.Tom Brenner / Reuters

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By Mike Memoli and Marianna Sotomayor

WILMINGTON, Del. — Linking the urgent need to address a changing climate with the nation’s growing economic crisis, Joe Biden on Tuesday outlined a $2 trillion plan to rebuild American cities and towns through investments in clean energy technologies that would finally deliver on what he said was President Donald Trump’s failed promise to deliver an infrastructure plan.

Speaking in his home town of Wilmington, Biden noted that Trump promised a big infrastructure plan in his 2016 campaign, and then in each year since he's been in the White House.

"Seems like every few weeks, when he needs a distraction from the charges of corruption of his staff or the conviction of high-ranking members of his administration and political apparatus, the White House announces, quote, ‘It's infrastructure week,'” Biden said. "How many times have you heard him say that? But he's never delivered. He's never even really tried. I know how to get it done.”

The plan he unveiled Tuesday would represent, his campaign said, "the largest mobilization of public investment since World War II” — the latest indication of how Biden is dramatically scaling up more modest proposals he had put forth in the Democratic primaries as the nation stares down a prolonged health and economic crisis because of COVID-19.

Biden began his remarks with fresh jabs at Trump over his handling of the pandemic and a defense of Dr. Anthony Fauci. As many states see rising cases, Biden said that the situation has “gotten bad enough that even Donald Trump decided to wear a mask in public.”

"Quit pushing the false choice between protecting our health and protecting our economy. All it does is endanger our recovery on both fronts,” Biden said. "Mr. President, please listen to your public health experts instead of denigrating them."

Biden then pivoted to the second plank of his “Build Back Better” economic plan, a mix of environmental and infrastructure proposals that the campaign claims would create millions of new union jobs across the auto industry, transit, power sector, buildings, housing and innovation.

The plan notably keeps Biden’s 2050 timeline to establish a 100 percent clean energy economy with net-zero emissions, but puts in place a more achievable goal to cut the nation’s carbon footprint in half by 2035. The proposal also comes a week after a joint task force on climate, made up of advisers to Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a former rival for the 2020 nomination, proposed eliminating carbon pollution specifically from power plants by 2035. The task force was chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and John Kerry, the former senator, secretary of state and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.

The Biden campaign ribbed the president’s multiple “failed” attempts in the past to propose reforms, with one senior campaign official telling reporters Tuesday that “this is an actual ‘infrastructure week’ and something that, as we know, Trump has tried to make as a core of his economic plan, has consistently failed to put forward meaningful plans and certainly failed to make them happen.”

Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic revitalization plan includes aggressive reforms aimed at keeping jobs in the U.S. and creating an equal playing field for all Americans to contribute to the economy. It’s the latest example of the Biden campaign’s effort to gain ground against the president in one rare area where voters say they favor Trump, according to recent polling — the economy.

“We continue to take the economic argument and the jobs argument directly to Trump and to draw a really strong contrast on who can actually get these things done,” the official added.

As with last week’s announcement of a $700 billion plan to ramp up spending on American-made goods and research and development, which the Biden team worked on with advisers to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Tuesday’s updated climate policy reflects collaboration with major unions as well as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, another former Democratic presidential hopeful.

Biden’s latest plan represents a slight shift in his clean energy vision toward positions favored by progressive-leaning groups. Senior campaign advisors explained the shift as the culmination of a yearlong term listening session with activist groups, governors, mayors, unions and business leaders.

Biden often found himself facing climate activists at campaign events throughout the Democratic primary season, where he most recently voiced his position to a New Hampshire protester in February that he hears their concerns and that his campaign was “working” on defining more achievable goals.

In a statement to NBC News, Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund CEO and president Gina McCarthy said that Biden’s plan “by a long shot is the most ambitious we have ever seen from any president in our nation’s history,” a result of him listening to numerous concerns from groups across the country that pushed him make clean energy reforms sooner.

The $2 trillion investment over four years also speeds up his initial time frame of devoting $1.7 billion over 10 years to green spending, which senior campaign officials said is still a tenant of his vision given that not all the proposals of his initial plan will be included in the four-year time line.

The campaign has yet to put a full price tag on his economic plans, saying it would do so once they unveil all four parts of the “Build Back Better” package. However, a second senior campaign adviser said that the campaign would include a majority of these proposals in an economic stimulus Biden hopes Congress will pass once he’s elected president to address the pandemic. Parts of the plan could be passed through executive order or legislation, and paid for by reversing Trump’s tax bill.