By Paolo Padova, Science Intern

Last week the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, released his climate and energy plan. Biden’s plan puts an emphasis on environmental justice and its intersection with racial inequality. The plan commits to creating a new Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Department of Justice to hold contaminating corporations accountable. Building on the EPA’s EJSCREEN tool, Biden will “create a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify communities threatened by the cumulative impacts of the multiple stresses of climate change, economic and racial inequality, and multi-source environmental pollution.” The plan includes several aggressive targets such as achieving an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Biden also set a goal for disadvantaged communities to receive 40 percent of all clean energy and infrastructure benefits he was proposing.

The plan is clearly an attempt to appeal to younger and more progressive voters who have, thus far, been a challenge for Biden. Many progressives have been uneasy about a Biden presidency because of his refusal to adopt a range of progressive priorities such as medicare for all, defunding the police, and the legalization of marijuana. His record on issues like criminal justice has drawn significant criticism from the left. Some view a Biden presidency as “harm reduction” while others are even less optimistic. Nonetheless, the appeal seems to be working, at least with some. Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, a prominent environmentalist called the plan “visionary.” In response to the plan Sunrise Movement executive director, Varshini Prakash said “It’s no secret that we’ve been critical of Vice President Biden’s plans and commitments in the past. Today, he’s responded to many of those criticisms.” This progressive shift in Biden’s environmental policy is a direct result of the progressive voters who have conditioned their vote on policy concessions from the former vice-president.

Biden’s plan also makes several references to Native American communities. Elizabeth Kronk Warner, the dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah and a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said she was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Biden’s plan.

On the other hand, some have been critical of the fact that the plan does not include the use of a carbon tax, which many see as the most effective and socially equitable way to decrease carbon emissions. This may be a result of an effort to altogether avoid the word ‘tax’ out of fear of alienating moderate voters. Trump’s allies have been quick to attack the plan, depicting it as a threat to jobs in the energy sector and some have attempted to link the plan with the significantly more progressive Green New Deal. According to Trump, Biden’s “agenda is the most extreme platform of any major party nominee, by far, in American history.” While Biden’s plan is less progressive than the Green New Deal and Biden has not fully endorsed the Green New Deal, his plan does follow a similar strategy of emphasizing how aggressive climate action could create jobs. Specifically, the plan presents itself as a response to the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19. Biden foresees one million new jobs will be created making electric vehicles and charging stations and perhaps millions more union jobs could come from building greener infrastructure.

Photo Credit: Matt Slocum/AP