Joe Biden put clean energy at the centre of a $2tn plan to revive the US economy, pledging the country will take “irreversible steps” to cut emissions if he became president.
Mr Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, said his clean-energy plan would create “millions of good-paying jobs” in sectors from construction to electric-vehicle manufacturing and the decommissioning of abandoned oil and gas wells.
“We can live up to our responsibilities, meet the challenges of a world at risk of climate catastrophe, build more climate-resilient communities, put millions of skilled workers on the job and make life markedly better and safer for the American people all at once,” said the former vice-president.
Under his plan the US would rejoin the Paris climate accord and reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. Mr Biden pledged to decarbonise US power generation by 2035, electrify huge swaths of the country’s transit network, and crack down on pollution.
Analysts said the pandemic had created an opportunity for Mr Biden to link a broad economic recovery plan with clean energy.
“The jobs crisis gives Biden a strong incentive to increase his climate ambition as a matter of creating millions of new clean energy jobs, not just emissions reductions,” said Paul Bledsoe, an energy and climate expert at American University in Washington.
The speech, Mr Biden’s first detailed policy statement on energy, opened up clear water between the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and President Donald Trump, who has proclaimed “American energy dominance” while promoting oil and gas and rolling back environmental oversight rules.
“When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can think of is hoax,” Mr Biden said. “When I think about climate change, the word I think of is jobs.”
Mr Biden’s only references to the US’s oil and gas sector were in the 250,000 jobs he said would be created by cleaning up abandoned wells, and his intent to hold accountable executives who had benefited from “decades of subsidies” but who had walked away from their environmental responsibilities.
“We’re going to go after those golden parachutes the CEOs gave themselves before declaring bankruptcy,” he said.
Analysts noted Mr Biden had not proposed rules to crack down on shale development or fracking, while his focus on jobs, particularly trades now deployed in oil and gas and manufacturing, was deliberate.
The Trump campaign said Mr Biden’s “radical” clean energy proposals made clear that “union jobs related to oil, natural gas, fracking and energy infrastructure will be on the chopping block”.
Mike Kelly, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, where the economy relies heavily on the oil and gas sector, accused Mr Biden of planning to “kill” more than 600,000 jobs that are supported by fracking in the state.
Both candidates are vying to win in Pennsylvania, a key swing state that Mr Trump won by just 44,000 votes in 2016.
“He described green cars and solar panels as demand drivers for union labour,” said Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners in Washington. “He mentioned Paris, but it seemed like he was speaking to Texas and Pennsylvania.”
Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win Texas back in 1976. But the Biden campaign sees the state, with its 38 electoral college votes as competitive this time round.