Biden candidacy seen riding on Obama’s green coattails

By Jennifer Yachnin | 08/26/2015 01:06 PM EDT

If the past is prologue, then environmentalists may want to keep watch on Vice President Joe Biden’s potential presidential candidacy: Biden recently declared climate change policy would be the "single most important thing" the Obama administration would address in its two terms, suggesting it could also be at the center of a hypothetical campaign platform.

Biden, who is expected to announce next month whether he will enter the Democratic presidential primary, said in June that addressing climate change policy would be a key vestige of his eight years as the nation’s second-highest ranking official.

"This is the single most important thing that a Barack Obama and Joe Biden can do in eight years of presidency and vice presidency, is get a handle on climate change," Biden said at the Clean Energy Investment Summit held at the White House. "It really matters, guys. It really does matter right now. If we let this languish for another two, three, four years, it is a lot of space to make up. A lot of space" (E&E Daily, June 17).

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Biden, who ran two previous unsuccessful bids for president in 1988 and 2008, would join a Democratic field already rife with proposals on how to shift the nation to more renewable fuels — including former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s vow to end the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2050 and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plan to increase the nation’s solar capacity by 2020.

While current Democratic candidates — including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), who won the first formal endorsement from environmentalists this cycle when Friends of the Earth Action backed him earlier this month — have voiced support for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan rule to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, Biden could potentially seize on the effort to promote his own energy platform (E&E Daily, Aug. 3).

"All of the Democratic candidates except one will continue to build upon President Obama’s leadership to reduce carbon pollution from motor vehicles and power plants," said League of Conservation Voters Vice President of Campaigns Daniel Weiss. "To the extent that the Democratic nominee’s campaign is built around the Obama administration’s achievements, it would increase the likelihood that the platform highlights and expands upon its successful record of investments in clean energy and jobs, and carbon pollution cuts."

Although Biden did not build a notable record on environmental issues during his six terms as a senator from Delaware — he served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee — he did record a lifetime score of 83 percent from the LCV.

LCV records suggest Biden’s final score may have been higher — he earned a perfect 100 percent score in 2006 — but his averages fell between 2007 and 2008 when he missed numerous votes, which are counted against lawmakers on the scorecard.

"Throughout his career, Vice President Biden has helped lead the fight to protect our communities and families from toxic pollution, so we can be sure that any public debate he is a part of is guaranteed to include a robust and thorough discussion of climate action and clean energy issues," Sierra Club Political Director Khalid Pitts told Greenwire in a statement.

But Biden can point to an energy portfolio built during his time at the White House, including his oversight of the $787 billion stimulus, formally the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included about $80 billion for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

More recently, Biden has also been an outspoken advocate for providing assistance to communities that have lost coal-related jobs, while also criticizing Republican attacks about the Obama administration’s energy policies as a "war on coal."

"The way I see it, when disaster hits a community, we don’t hesitate to chip in," Biden said in an April speech when he received the BlueGreen Alliance’s 2015 Green Jobs Champion Award (E&ENews PM, April 13). "The entire community comes together to support that portion of America undergoing changes beyond their control. I think it should be the same for coal communities undergoing this transition."

Biden made similar remarks in a March interview with Vice News in which he also criticized climate change science skeptics, stating, "It’s a problem of special interests" (Greenwire, March 12).

But Biden has not publicly commented on another key energy policy issue: whether or not he would support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Although a leader of the South Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club said in 2013 that Biden told her he opposed the project — putting him "in the minority" within the White House — the vice president’s office subsequently declined to publicly confirm those remarks to media outlets (E&E Daily, May 8, 2013).

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, has drawn criticism from environmentalists for her refusal to take a stand on the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline. She has insisted that the review process created during her tenure as secretary of State must first be completed.

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