The closest President Trump came to laying a glove on former Vice President Joe Biden in their first debate was on the environment.
Biden’s published clean energy plan — which is more a gushing hydrant of wishes — is somewhat incoherent, certainly expensive at $2 trillion, and looks counterproductive.
It is built on the left-wing assumption that all commerce, and the electric power industry particularly, is managed by people who would trade away the future for a few pieces of silver; that humanity stops at the corporate door.
This was true once. I’ve been in meetings where circumventing restrictions on coal were discussed and where global warming was regarded as a communist conspiracy.
But now environmentalism is as active in corporate boardrooms as it is in the inner sanctums of Democratic thinking. Younger workers in corporations and shareholders have been demanding this activity. Biden needs to smell the roses, be less woke more awake.
Particularly disturbing are the list of executive orders Biden says he’ll sign on his first day in office. One would hope after the flood of executive orders signed by Trump, many of them sowing more confusion than direction, that Biden would abide by more acceptable norms of governance. Substantial environmental law needs Congress.
If, as his published policy says, Biden signs these orders on day one of his presidency, on day two the courts will be flooded with lawsuits seeking to uphold the laws already in place, not to have them modified by extra-legal action.
The fact is that business today is not the business of yesterday. It is leading an environmental revolution and is, arguably, in the forefront of a new business dawn. This is especially true in the three places where the difference in greenhouse gas releases count: electricity production, transportation and manufacturing processes that use a lot of heat.
A wind of change is sweeping through the United States on environmental issues, and it should be allowed to blow free and strong. It is more complete, more encompassing and, in the end, will be more effective than if a possible Biden administration tries to control or direct it.
Consider these indicators of the low-carbon wave that is sweeping across the country:
1. Five of the nation’s largest utilities are aiming to be carbon-free by 2050: Southern Company, Xcel Energy, Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and Public Service Enterprise Group. Others are also on board with the same objective.
2. Amazon is buying 100,000 electric delivery vehicles. Uber and others with delivery fleets are doing the same. Companies with large roof areas, like Walmart, are installing solar to become self-generators of clean electricity.
3. The oil and gas industry, which has most to lose after the rapidly declining coal industry, is pouring resources into carbon capture, utilization and storage.
4. More than 70 of the world’s largest financial institutions — including Bank of America, Citibank, Morgan Stanley and BlackRock — have banded together to account for the carbon emissions content in their lending and investing. The group is known as the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials and is administered by the global consultancy Guidehouse. It is huge in its implication.
5. A plethora of electric vehicles is about to hit the market, some from new startup companies, others from famous marques from Europe and Detroit. This bounty’s effect will be that there will be more people, who can’t afford a Tesla, going electric. Commercial charging stations will follow. No need for Biden’s plans to build stations. Government is best kept clear when the market is working.
6. New inventions are coming to solar, wind and storage. CPS Energy, the city-owned electric and gas utility serving San Antonio, recently announced it wanted ideas for 500 megawatts of innovative generation and storage and has had over 200 creative suggestions. It also is seeking 900 megawatts of solar from existing technology and 50 megawatts of storage. That is green creativity at work.
What the Biden administration, if it is to be, must do is, as often as not, get out of the way. It should take action where action is clearly needed. Don’t try to speed up a rushing stream with dams.
One such place where it might strike a blow for clean air is to find a mechanism to save the 12 or so operating nuclear power plants that are to close in the next five years. Their zero-carbon output equals hundreds of thousands of new windmills.
Their loss will be a carbon-reduction catastrophe. Biden should be told.
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS.