Last year, the Democratic Party’s elective brain transplant edged toward the first incision. On the operating table lay the party’s establishment, its skull encircled neatly with cut-here lines.
The donor brain was that of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), connecting the nervous tissues of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) would then rehabilitate the Democratic body to accept its new brain.
The surgery neared. In February, Bernie and Warren led the fight to reanimate a moribund party whose establishment slumbered toward defeat against the most beatable of opponents. A party too corporate, too billionaire, too Hillary Clinton. The mantra: “Bernie would have won.”
And he almost did. Then the establishment ripped the IV from its vein, roused itself from its anaesthesia, and reanimated Joe Biden—politically dead after lifeless showings in New Hampshire and Iowa—into the Democratic presidential nominee. The rest is recent history.
Yet, Biden’s resurrection is surging with the blood of the party’s ascendant progressive wing, reliant on the regular transfusions from Bernie, Warren, and Ocasio-Cortez.
Biden’s 47 years in Democratic politics might present itself as “moderate” yet his candidacy survives on the medicating influence of the progressive wing. This wing demands a harder line on what it calls “climate justice.”
During their respective debates, nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris came under heavy fire for their shapeshifting views on the Green New Deal and fracking.
In the first presidential debate, Biden disavowed the Green New Deal authored by Ocasio-Cortez.
When pressed, Biden rejected the Green New Deal in lieu of the “Biden Plan” which, he claimed, would “pay for itself.” These blotchy details smirch Biden’s fracking stance.
Fracking, a drilling technique to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations, is a pivotal issue. Pennsylvania’s south-westerly and north-easterly fracking industry provides high-paying jobs to 32,000 people. The state has 20 electoral votes.
In 2016, fracking-rich counties defected in droves from the energy-hostile Democrats to fracking-champion Donald Trump.
What Joe Biden thinks about fracking depends on what his audience thinks about fracking.
Back in July 2019, Biden said his administration would “eliminate” both fracking and subsidies for both fracking and coal.
During a primary debate in March, Bernie Sanders said he was “talking about stopping fracking as soon as we possibly can.”
“So am I,” replied Biden. “No more—no new fracking.”
At a CNN town hall in Pennsylvania last month, however, Biden’s position transmuted: “Fracking has to continue, because we need a transition,” insisting: “There’s no rationale to eliminate, right now, fracking.”
In Pittsburgh, Biden adopts the indignation of the falsely accused: “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking. No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”
During the vice-presidential debate, Kamala Harris channelled that no-nonsense stance: “Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact. That is a fact.”
The Biden-Harris campaign now states that he does not support a nationwide ban, but will stop all oil and gas drilling on federal lands, and will oppose new fracking permits.
A report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute estimates a 2021 fracking ban would kill almost 6 million jobs in seven states by 2025. A full 600,000 of those in Pennsylvania.
Harris’ forceful statement pushed Ocasio-Cortez, light-bearer of the progressive wing, to tweet her discontent in Millennialese: “Fracking is bad, actually.”
Which is, actually, what Harris told a town hall in September last year: “There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking,” she said. Like Biden, Harris said she would first ban fracking on public land, and then she would go further: “This is something I’ve taken on in California.”
A majority of voters doubt Joe Biden would serve a full term in office, making Harris the de facto presidential nominee.
Harris is also a “proud” co-sponsor of Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.
The skirmish unshrouds the friction and fiction of this forced marriage. Despite Biden’s air of moderation, his administration would enact the furthest-reaching climate plans in American history.
The Biden Plan offers a pared-down version of Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, drafted and endorsed by the party’s “climate justice” progressive wing, and the umbilical cord of that movement.
Aping the language of the Green New Deal, Biden’s plan accepts the “two basic truths” of that “crucial framework”—that the United States must be more climate-ambitious, and that the economy and environment are connected.
The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force swelled Biden’s original plan from $1.7 trillion over ten years, to $2 trillion over four.
The 14-page manifesto commits to creating one million new auto jobs “retooled” toward electric vehicles, millions more union jobs to build green infrastructure, one million more jobs upgrading four million buildings over four years, and building 1.5 million sustainable housing units. Another 250,000 jobs involve “plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells, and reclaiming abandoned coal, hard-rock, and uranium mines.”
Biden also committed to a pollution-free power sector by 2035, and a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
The Green New Deal, authored by Ocasio-Cortez and co-authored by Kamala Harris, offered a broad resolution including free healthcare, affordable housing, and guaranteed jobs paid at family-living wages, for all Americans.
Biden’s plan calls for a $2 trillion infrastructure splurge, with “smart investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.”
Buried in the manifesto is an “obligation to all workers impacted by the energy transition, like coal miners, and power plant workers, and their communities.”
Biden’s plan nods to the Green New Deal’s animating spirit of climate justice and its claim that climate change disproportionately affects minorities and the poor, by funnelling 40 percent of all spending toward them. An Environmental and Climate Justice Division would spawn at the Justice Department, tooled to prosecute anti-pollution cases.
Despite its relative dilution from the Green New Deal, Biden’s plan enjoys endorsement from the climate justice wing.
Varshini Prakash, founder of the youth-blooded eco-activist Sunrise Movement, said the Biden Plan would be a “seismic shift in climate policy at the federal level.”
The Sunrise Movement was “instrumental” in that plan’s distillation. Prakash added: “Joe Biden’s plan isn’t everything, but it isn’t nothing at all.”
Professor Leah Stokes, an energy and environmental politics expert at UC Santa Barbara, endorses the plan: “I think that Biden has done a good job of responding to pressure from the climate movement. The Unity Task Force was set up explicitly to accomplish this goal—and it was extremely successful. Biden has the most aggressive climate change plan of any presidential candidate in U.S. history.”
Stef Feldman, Biden’s policy director, hard-boiled Biden’s climate bonafides following “platform confusion” over the DNC’s quiet erasure of its opposition to fossil-fuel subsidies. This changed following outcries of the climate justice wing, including the Sunrise Movement’s founder.
In a statement to The Verge, Feldman said: “He [Biden] will demand a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies and lead the world by example, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in the United States during the first year of his presidency.”
Kamala Harris’ California offers a revelatory glance at America’s energy future under a Biden-Harris Administration. That state serves as a laboratory of ideas closest to those of the Green New Deal, and the Biden Plan’s diluted tribute.
Californians pay 61 percent above the national average for electricity, with the state’s Independent System Operator warning for years that reliance on renewable energy threatens the state’s source of reliable power. Governor Gavin Newsom acknowledges these “gaps.” The reality is millions of Californians enduring rolling blackouts, and energy rationing akin to that of failed states.
A Biden-Harris Administration would follow in California’s footsteps, offering as supporters attest, the “most aggressive climate change plan of any presidential candidate in U.S. history.”