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Sustainability and the Presidential ELECTION 2020

Laws and policies that promote sustainability would help grow our economy, create jobs, improve quality of life in our communities, make us healthier, reduce risks to our national security, and improve the lives of the poorest among us.  Widener Law Commonwealth's Environmental Law and Sustainability Center provides this information on the candidates’ sustainability positions in the spirit of public service, to help voters make informed decisions.


Green Jobs and Green Business The Trump administration imposed a 30 percent tariff on imported solar photovoltaic cells and panels, which are integral to solar panel construction. The tariff led to increased solar panel prices in the U.S., while the rest of the world saw prices fall. Source. The Solar Energy Industry Association estimates that over 62,000 U.S. jobs and $19 billion in investment were lost due to the tariffs. Source.

The administration replaced the Clean Power Plan -- which would have created a net increase of about 360,000 jobs in 2020, Source -- with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which Trump’s own EPA says is “unlikely to have a noticeable impact on aggregate net employment.” Source.
Green jobs are a core tenet of Biden’s environmental strategy, as he believes that “[i]f executed strategically, our response to climate change can create more than 10 million well-paying jobs in the United States” Source

Biden pledges to “pursue new partnerships with community colleges, unions, and the private sector to develop programs to train all of America’s workforce to tap into the growing clean energy economy[.]” Source
Investment in Environmental Infrastructure Trump’s infrastructure program supports “water and waste projects to help ensure rural families have access to clean water” and “water resources projects to better manage flood risk and improve rural water supplies and waterways.” Source.

Trump “has approved the infrastructure and provided the resources needed to unleash oil and gas production in the U.S,” including approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Source.
Biden’s plan includes “ensuring clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities – rural to urban, rich and poor – investing in the repair of water pipelines and sewer systems, replacement of lead service pipes, upgrade of treatment plants, and integration of efficiency and water quality monitoring technologies.” Biden’s plan also includes “protecting our watersheds and clean water infrastructure from man-made and natural disasters by conserving and restoring wetlands and developing green infrastructure and natural solutions.” Source
Clean Energy Trump says he “acted aggressively to increase exports of energy resources to the global market,” which “allowed financing for coal and fossil energy projects.” Source.

Trump’s Department of Energy “announced the approval of the Lake Charles Liquefied Natural Gas terminal.” Source

Under Trump’s Executive Order expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, the Department of the Interior proposed its largest oil and gas lease of over 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. Source.

The Trump administration approved a 30 percent tariff on imported solar photovoltaic cells and panels. The tariff led to increased solar panel prices in the U.S. while the rest of the world saw prices fall. Source.

Trump on wind energy: “I never understood wind. You know, I know windmills very much. ... They’re noisy. They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a windmill someday. You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen ever in your life.” Source. The president has also claimed that wind turbines decrease property values and that the noise they produce causes cancer. Source.
Biden plans to “[m]ove ambitiously to generate clean, American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035[,] . . . enabl[ing] us to meet the existential threat of climate change while creating millions of jobs with a choice to join a union.” Source

“Biden will establish a new government-wide effort to promote American clean energy exports and investments around the world to advance climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. The initiative will offer incentives for U.S. firms that supply low-carbon solutions to the international market in order to spur U.S. industry, jobs, and competitiveness, and make America the world leader in clean energy technologies. It will prioritize partnerships with countries that make high climate ambition commitments under Paris and provide low-cost financing to these countries for American clean energy exports. An initial focus will be small island states in the Pacific and Caribbean that are demonstrating climate leadership in the face of existential threats to their territorial homelands.” Source

“Biden will support a research agenda through to look at issues, ranging from cost to safety to waste disposal systems, that remain an ongoing challenge with nuclear power today.” Source
Sustainable Communities Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule, compared to the Clean Power Plan that it would replace, will cause  about 1,400 Americans per year to die prematurely from increased air pollution. Source.

In the wake of COVID-19, the president has vacillated between providing state and local governments with fiscal relief from lost tax revenues on the one hand and allowing blue states and cities to go bankrupt on the other. Source.

Trump wanted to withhold emergency relief from California because he lost the state’s electoral votes in 2016. Source.
Biden pledges to “[s]pur the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units,” adding that 40% of this benefit will go to “disadvantaged communities.” Source

Biden wants to “[u]pgrade 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over 4 years, creating at least 1 million good-paying jobs with a choice to join a union; and also spur the building retrofit and efficient-appliance manufacturing supply chain by funding direct cash rebates and low-cost financing to upgrade and electrify home appliances and install more efficient windows, which will cut residential energy bills.” Source
Sustainable Agriculture The Trump administration’s 2020 budget would have cut more than $2 billion from federal food and farming programs, including about half the budget for the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. Source.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump signed the $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which directs funds to “agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus,” including “producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools.” Source. But the CFAP is most beneficial for large corporate farms and organic or speciality operations growing just a few crops whose prices didn’t drop as harshly as conventional crop prices. Source.
Biden plans to partner with farmers “to make American agriculture the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions.” His plan includes “[h]Helping farmers leverage new technologies, techniques, and equipment to increase productivity and profit – including by providing low-cost finance for the transition to new equipment and methods, funding research and development in precision agriculture and new crops, and a establishing a new voluntary carbon farming market that rewards farmers for the carbon they sequester on their land and the greenhouse gas emission reductions, including from methane, that they secure.” Source

Biden plans to create “a new, cross-agency ARPA-C to target affordable, game-changing technologies to help America achieve our 100% clean energy target, including: . . . decarbonizing the food and agriculture sector, and leveraging research in soil management, plant biologies, and agricultural techniques to remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the ground[.]” Source

Biden pledges to “re-invest in land grant universities’ agricultural research so the public, not private companies, owns patents to agricultural advances.” Among the ideas to be researched further are “establishing a new voluntary carbon farming market that rewards farmers for the carbon they sequester on their land and the greenhouse gas emission reductions, including from methane, that they secure. These efforts to partner with farmers will help them tap into develop new income streams as they tackle the challenge of sequestering carbon, reducing emissions, and continue their track record as global leaders in agricultural innovation.” Source
Climate Change In 2019, Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the  international agreement that committed nearly every nation in the world to greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The U.S. is the only country to withdraw from the pact. Source.

The Trump Administration has systematically weakened greenhouse gas regulations in a variety of ways.  Source

The president has repeatedly expressed skepticism about the existence of anthropogenic climate change. When asked about a major 2018 report issued by over a dozen federal agencies warning of the devastating consequences of climate change, Source, he said he didn’t believe it. Source.
Biden has pledged to not only recommit the US to the Paris climate accords, but also pledges to rally other nations to “ramp up the ambitions of their domestic climate targets.” Source

Biden plans to “stand up” against polluters and “take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment and poison our communities’ air, land, and water, or conceal information regarding potential environmental and health risks.” Source
Sustainable Transportation In 2019, Trump quashed an electric vehicle (EV) tax credit meant to offset consumers’ upfront EV costs. Source.

In April, Trump’s EPA and NHTSA released their final SAFE Vehicles Rule, which rescinded California’s Clean Air Act waiver. The waiver had long allowed states to adopt auto emission standards higher than the federal standard. The rule also reduced annual carbon dioxide efficiency increase targets in automobiles from 5 percent per year to 1.5 percent per year. Source.
Biden pledges to, “[p]rovide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities – ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.” Source

Biden’s plan includes improving the United States Railroad system and part of that plan is making sure it can “reduce pollution” by “work[ing] with Amtrak and private freight rail companies to further electrify the rail system, reducing diesel fuel emissions.” Source
Environmental Protection The Trump administration has modified the National Environmental Policy Act regulations “to reduce regulation and allow for infrastructure and transportation projects to move forward.” Source.

In a recent open letter, six former EPA chiefs nominated under both Republican and Democratic administrations expressed concern about the direction in which the EPA has been heading. Source.

Overall, Trump has rolled back over 100 environmental rules. Source.
Biden was among the first legislators to introduce to congress a climate change bill, when he introduced the Global Climate Protection Act of 1986. Though the bill was ignored by the Reagan administration, it did call for a national EPA climate policy and an annual report to congress. Source

While  Biden does not endorse the Green New Deal, he claims that his own environmental plan (“The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice”) uses the Green New Deal as a “crucial framework.” Source

Biden plans to hold polluters accountable, by “direct[ing] his EPA and Justice Department to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation as needed to hold corporate executives personally accountable – including jail time where merited.” Source
Parks and Forests In 2018, nine of the 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board resigned in protest of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's refusal to meet with them. Source.

In August, Trump signed legislation that will devote $3 billion per year to conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands following its overwhelming approval by both parties in Congress. Source.
Biden has pledged to “[p]rotec[t] America’s natural treasures by permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas impacted by President Trump’s attack on federal lands and waters, establishing national parks and monuments.” Source

The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force included among their recommendations “protect[ing], restore and preserve land, forests,” as well as providing technical and financial federal assistance to foresters and those who own forests. Source

Biden plans to create a new Civilian Climate Corps, who will “use sound, science-based techniques to thin and sustainably manage our forests, making them more resilient to wildfire and enhancing their carbon intake and habitat integrity.” Source
Land Use “In May 2017, the Trump administration created a Superfund task force designed to streamline the Superfund cleanup program. The Superfund task force has designated 10 sites for ‘immediate, intense action.’” Source.

In 2019, Trump’s EPA reported a 15-year high in the number of unfunded construction projects at Superfund sites. Source.
Biden’s environmental plan includes “A framework to limit greenhouse gas emissions related to land use, forests, and agriculture.” Source

Cleaning up and redeveloping abandoned and underused Brownfield properties, old power plants and industrial facilities, landfills, abandoned mines, and other idle community assets that will be transformed into new economic hubs for communities all across America.” Source
COVID-19 “The Trump Administration announced the framework and leadership for ‘Operation Warp Speed’ in [an] effort to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine.” Source.

Trump’s “Department of Health and Human Services announced $225 million in funding for Rural Health Clinics to support coronavirus testing efforts.” Source.

“The Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program approved funding for 185 health care providers in 38 states and Washington, D.C.” Source.

In May, Trump told reporters, "you know when you say that we lead in cases, that's because we have more testing than anybody else. So when we have a lot of cases, I don't look at that as a bad thing, I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better." Source.

The president has said that mask-wearing is “patriotic” but has also criticized others for wearing masks. Source.

The president has waffled between providing state and local governments with fiscal relief from lost tax revenues on the one hand and allowing blue states and cities to go bankrupt on the other. Source.

Biden believes that to mount an “effective crisis response [is to] elevate the voices of scientists, public health experts, and first responders.” Source “We all agree on the need to reopen the economy and allow some semblance of normalcy as soon as possible. But it is wrong to talk about ‘choosing’ between our public health and our economy. That’s a false choice. If we don’t beat the virus, we will never get back to full economic strength.” Source Biden’s plan to “safely reopen America” includes three steps. “First, we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly. That means social distancing has to continue and the people on the front lines have to get the supplies and equipment they need . . . . Second, there needs to be widespread, easily available and prompt testing — and a contact tracing strategy that protects privacy . . . . We should be running multiple times the number of diagnostic tests we’re performing right now. And we should be ready to scale up a second form of testing: rapid serology tests to tell who has already been infected with the coronavirus and has antibodies . . . . Third, we have to make sure that our hospitals and health care system are ready for flare-ups of the disease that may occur when economic activity expands again. Reopening the right way will still not be completely safe. Public health officials will need to conduct effective disease surveillance. Hospitals need to have the staff and equipment necessary to handle any local outbreaks, and we need an improved federal system to get help to these places as needed.” Source
Racial Justice The president has said that people protesting racism and police brutality are “just looking for trouble” and are “not protesters.” Rather, they’re “anarchists, they’re agitators, they’re rioters, they’re looters.” Source.

Trump has appointed 53 federal appellate court judges. None are Black. One is Hispanic. Source.

Trump has denied the existence of systemic racism in U.S. law enforcement, blaming instead a few “bad apples” and good cops who “choke” at key moments. Source.

Part of Joes Biden’s plan involves addressing the racial inequities in the prison population. To do this, Biden pledges to “create a $20 billion competitive grant program to spur states to focus on prevention and reduce incarcerated populations.” Source

Biden has pledged to help create wealth in the Black community and combat racial inequalities in the housing market, partly by “ensur[ing] first time homebuyers are able to get $15,000 in federal down payment assistance.” Source

Biden plans to make it so that families with a household income below $125,000 can send their children to public universities or historically black private colleges for free. “The campaign estimates would apply to about 90% of Black, Latino and Native American households.” Source

Biden was the author of a crime bill in 1994 that many of his critics have blamed for some of the mass incarceration that is being fought now. He has, however, since “come out for sentencing reform and other overhauls to [the] criminal justice system” Source

Biden has pledged to put the first African-American woman on the supreme court. Source

The Center does not endorse any particular candidates, and no endorsement should be implied. In addition, the Center does not endorse or affirm the accuracy of any statements made by any candidate about matters of fact. Research and writing for the candidates’ positions was done by Trevor Dennehy, Richard Marcil, and Olivia Inderrieden, students at Widener Law Commonwealth.