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Biden and Bernie's Unity Task Force Recommendations

Biden and Bernie's Unity Task Force released their recommendations yesterday. They generally avoid more controversial areas, but there's still some pretty good stuff in here. Let's look at the section on climate change:

"We agree with scientists and public health experts that the United States—and the world—must achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and no later than 2050."

This is the correct way to approach net zero. There's not a specific year where everything will be fine if we reach net zero before then but everything will collapse if we don't. The sooner we get to net zero, the less environmental repair work we'll have to do during the second half of the century.

"To reach net-zero emissions as rapidly as possible, Democrats commit to eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 through technology-neutral standards for clean energy and energy efficiency."

There are three key things here:

• The 2035 date is generally reasonable. I doubt that we'll actually manage it, but it's not so unattainable that it makes it pointless to try.
• The goal for the energy sector is zero emissions, not net zero emissions. This implies that all carbon pollution would need to be either avoided or captured at the source, as opposed to offset by planting trees or something.
• The standard is technology-neutral, which allows for flexibility with future technological developments, and avoids any counter-productive incentives to shut down existing zero-emission energy sources before we reach zero emissions from energy overall.

"We will build a modern electric grid by investing in interstate transmission projects"

This is super important for increasing renewables penetration. The more long-distance transmission capabilities we have, the more we're able to handle renewables' variable output.

"We will reduce methane pollution through robust federal standards and targeted support for repairing and replacing aging distribution systems, which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, including for the same pipefitters, insulators, and other workers who built the systems in the first place and who know best how to protect our communities from methane pollution."

The methane pollution this refers to is from our natural gas infrastructure. Methane leakage is a huge problem because a) it releases potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and b) it makes it so that even a natural gas plant that captures 100% of its emissions will still emit greenhouse gases upstream through leaks in its distribution infrastructure.

This section is also important from a just transition perspective because it creates jobs for people in the fossil fuel industry who would otherwise be unemployed due to dramatic reductions in the use of natural gas. Those jobs would still ultimately go away as natural gas usage falls to zero (unless we end up with economical carbon capture), but it would help smooth the transition while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"We will set a bold, national goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030, on the pathway to creating a 100 percent clean building sector."

This is good. Buildings emit a LOT of greenhouse gases, and tend to get overlooked or ignored. There's also discussion about how to do this without driving up housing prices, which basically boils down to federal subsidies.

"We will immediately convene California and other states with labor, auto industry, and environmental leaders to inform ambitious executive actions that will enable the United States to lead the way in building a clean, 21st-century transportation system and stronger domestic manufacturing base powered by accessible, high-wage, union jobs. Democrats will move quickly to reestablish strong standards for clean cars and trucks that consider the most recent advances in technology, and accelerate the adoption of zero-emission vehicles in the United States while reclaiming market share for domestically-produced vehicles."

This makes it sound like transportation is an area where the Biden and Bernie teams were unable to reach a consensus. I would prefer a national mandate where an increasing percentage of new vehicles sold each year need to be zero emission. Bernie's plan included a (titanically expensive) buyback program that would also replace existing vehicles with zero emission vehicles. This may be an area of substantial future debate.

"We will... incentivize production of low-carbon building and construction materials, like steel and cement, here in the United States."

This is important and often gets overlooked. There's no detail on how to accomplish it, but it least it got a shout out.

"Democrats will partner with farmers to make the American agriculture sector the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions"

Now THAT would be a point of pride.

"Democrats will create an environmental justice fund... work with affected frontline communities... support locally-driven economic development... [etc.]"

There's a lot of stuff in here on environmental justice. I'm not especially knowledgeable on that subject, so I'll leave the analysis to those who are.

"Democrats will work to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and move expeditiously to phase out super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons in the United States."

This is the single most effective AND least controversial thing we can do in the fight against climate change. The only reason we haven't done it yet is that the Trump administration hates science.

"Democrats will also ensure that America’s service missions abroad, including those through the Peace Corps, Fulbright fellowships, and USAID, expand their calls to action to include reducing carbon pollution, safeguarding vulnerable populations from climate impacts, and ensuring a sustainable planet for all."

I appreciate that this ended with a reference to the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps already does a lot of environmental work, but it's easy to think of ways for that to be scaled up. I can imagine a more robust training program that includes things like how to install EV charging stations and maintain electric vehicles, and volunteers going out and training community partners in those skills.

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In my post yesterday on Biden and Bernie's joint task force recommendations on climate change, I mentioned that methane leakage was a major problem. This is a good example of what I was talking about. As fossil fuel companies go bankrupt, they're failing to properly seal old wells, which are now leaking methane into the atmosphere at an even higher rate than they were before.