Trump, Biden get heated in climate fight

By Brian Dabbs, Robin Bravender | 06/28/2024 06:11 AM EDT

The candidates fought about nearly everything. Climate was no exception.

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden are seen in a photo spray during a commercial break in a debate hosted by CNN.

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden are seen Thursday during a commercial break in a debate hosted by CNN in their studios in Atlanta. Francis Chung/POLITICO

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump traded blows on climate policy Thursday night as they sparred during a presidential debate in Atlanta.

Biden hammered his predecessor on his green record and played up his own work on climate change. Trump defended his environmental policies and his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.

Climate and energy played a small part in the 90-minute debate that featured extensive personal attacks between the two men and offered little new information about either candidates’ views on policies. Climate was no exception.


Asked about his plans to tackle climate change, Trump first pivoted to brag about his support from police and hammer Biden on his policies toward Black Americans. Pressed on the climate topic, Trump — who has promised to reverse Biden’s policies to slash emissions — instead touted his support for clean air and water.

“I want absolutely immaculate clean water and I want absolutely clean air,” Trump said, repeating his longtime environmental talking points. “And we had it. We had H20. We had the best numbers ever.

“We were using all forms of energy,” he added. “During my four years, I had the best environmental numbers ever, and my top environmental people gave me that statistic just before I walked on the stage.”

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions rose initially during the Trump administration. They dropped dramatically in the last year of Trump’s presidency amid an economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier on Thursday, Trump released climate talking points for the debate, which he said were from his former EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler.

“Under my Administration we will continue to reduce CO2 and focus on American made energy,” Wheeler wrote in one of the talking points.

But Trump declined to focus on emissions during the debate. He said he withdrew from the Paris accord because it was a “rip-off” and he “didn’t want to waste that money.”

Biden shot back at his rival: “I don’t know where the hell he’s been.”

Trump hasn’t “done a damn thing on the environment,” Biden said. Climate change is “the only existential threat to humanity.” And Trump “didn’t do a damn thing about it. He wants to undo all that I’ve done.”

Biden touted the passage during his administration of the Inflation Reduction Act — the “most extensive climate change legislation in history” — and heralded the new American Climate Corps that puts young people into climate and renewable energy jobs.

Trump slammed Biden’s environmental approach as a “green new scam,” deriding “money that’s being thrown out the window.”

Biden also played up his support for a law to help fast-track veterans’ claims of exposure to toxic chemicals— a law known as the PACT Act — as the two candidates leveled claims that they were better than the other on supporting veterans.

Energy independence and Jan. 6

Trump said the U.S. was “energy independent” on Jan. 6, the day Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to obstruct the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

While Trump has often claimed to achieve energy independence, fossil fuels are global commodities, and U.S. companies import millions of barrels of oil per day to process in American refineries.

Still, the U.S. currently produces more oil and natural gas than any country in history. The U.S. is also the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, despite an ongoing Biden administration pause on approvals of new LNG exports.

U.S. energy production also outpaced consumption by a record historical amount last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said this week. Fossil fuels currently provide about 60 percent of the U.S. electricity grid, though renewables produce more electricity than coal.

The country’s record fossil fuel production is a tricky topic for Biden, who has made climate change a major pillar of his agenda. Neither candidate was asked about their energy policies during Thursday’s debate.

Trump, however, said the coronavirus pandemic thwarted his plans to use the “liquid gold right under our feet,” a reference to oil and gas, to pay down U.S. debt.

‘Largest regulation cut in history’

In the debate, Trump championed his administration’s efforts to deregulate the economy, arguing he delivered “the largest regulation cut in history.”

The former president rolled back a host of regulations from EPA and other agencies during his time in office, while also boosting fossil fuel production on public lands. At the outset of his term, Trump called for each new regulation to come alongside the repeal of “at least two” active regulations.

“That’s why we had all the jobs,” he said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Biden has sought to aggressively regulate greenhouse gas emissions. States, rural electric co-ops and investor-owned electric utilities are currently challenging EPA’s new rule to curb climate pollution from existing coal- and new gas-fired power plants.

But the ultraconservative Supreme Court — composed of six justices appointed by Republican presidents and three by Democrats — looms large over all future major regulations in the U.S., regardless of who wins the White House in November.

Earlier on Thursday, the high court froze EPA’s implementation of the “good neighbor” rule, which regulates smog-forming pollution that crosses state lines. Many experts expect the power plant regulation to end up at the Supreme Court.

This story also appears in E&E Daily and Energywire.