On climate policy, Biden and Trump couldn’t be more different

Whoever wins in November will have the opportunity to shape the global response to climate change, as officials warn of impending “climate hell”
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Posted at 2:45 PM, Jun 19, 2024

The White House may be the most recognized home in America and just like every other home, it takes energy to fuel it — over 850,000 kilowatt-hours per year, according to some estimates.

But in the race for its next occupant, how the U.S. should generate that energy is polarizing the candidates more than almost any other issue, with both sides arguing the future of Americans’ pocketbooks — and the planet — is on the line.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2023 marked the hottest year in human history — with intense drought, extreme weather events and excessive heat leading to tens of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in economic damage. Over 99% of scientists agree that human-caused climate change is at least partly responsible. Yet the two leading candidates for commander-in-chief couldn’t see the issue more differently.

When he took office in 2017, former President Donald Trump undid over 100 rules and regulations put in place by Barack Obama that were intended to curb pollution. Among them were fuel standards for cars, methane-leak restrictions and wetland protections. Even today, Trump continues to joke about the potential impacts of climate change.

“The seas will rise over the next 400 years one-eighth of an inch, which means basically you have a little more beachfront property, OK?” Trump quipped to Fox News hosts in an interview earlier this month.

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During his administration, Trump took a hard-line approach to energy development, promoting oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands and promising to reinvigorate the coal industry. He’s promised to do even more if he wins reelection.

“We’re going to drill, baby, drill,” Trump said at a rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, last month. “We’re going to get our energy [costs] way down.”

President Joe Biden, conversely, has described climate change as an “existential threat to humanity,” reinstating and expanding upon the Obama-era protections impacting everything from power plants and offshore windmills to drinking water and electric cars. He’s also worked across his administration to promote renewable energy development, employing a whole-of-government approach to the issue.

“It's really hard to find an agency within the federal government today that is not focused in some way on climate change,” David Konisky, professor at the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, told Scripps News.

Working with Congress, President Biden also pushed through a series of legislative packages impacting climate policy — none bigger than the Inflation Reduction Act, which appropriated nearly $400 billion in new climate spending, primarily through renewable energy tax credits and pollution reduction grants.

“We’re making the most significant climate investments ever,” President Biden said in remarks to labor leaders earlier this year.

Trump has sought to frame President Biden’s support of renewable energy methods as evidence of his so-called “war” on American energy, suggesting President Biden is letting other polluting countries like China off the hook.

“[Biden]’s been very soft and weak on China in this space, and has hindered our domestic energy supply and our national security in the process as well,” Trump 2024 campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt told Scripps News. Yet President Biden’s renewable energy credits have proved overwhelmingly popular among both individual Americans and domestic energy companies benefiting from them. That popularity could complicate Trump’s promises to repeal the law should he win again.

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Despite his many actions promoting renewable energy sources, President Biden too has overseen a significant increase in traditional fossil fuel production, with the U.S. producing more crude oil than any other nation over the past six years, according to the Energy Information Administration.

That fact — and the president’s refusal to declare a formal climate emergency — has led to occasional clashes with climate activists who argue President Bidin has not grasped the true stakes of the climate crisis.

However, President Biden continues to lay out ambitious goals to address climate change, pushing to protect at least 30% of American lands and waters for conservation by the end of the decade.

On the world stage, whereas Trump sought to pull the U.S. out of international climate treaties such as the Paris Agreement, President Biden has re-engaged and doubled down upon them.

“It's only by working together that we'll prevent the worst consequences of climate change from ravaging our future and that of our children and grandchildren,” President Biden said last year in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Global leaders say the coming years will be crucial to humanity’s efforts to stem the worst effects of climate change.

“We are playing Russian roulette with our planet,” Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said earlier this month. “We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell, and the truth is we have control of the wheel.”

Climate advocates see President Biden’s approach as the minimum required to avert catastrophe.

“Science tells us that we need to be sprinting as fast as possible towards a climate solution,” said Nathaniel Stinnett, whose nonpartisan Environmental Voter Project works to turn out climate-focused voters at the polls. “Right now, during the Biden administration, we've started walking pretty quickly towards that solution. What we can't have is to stop moving at all or start moving backwards."