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Biden’s Environmental Plan Needs a Reality Check

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Llewellyn King's picture
Executive Producer and Host, White House Media, LLC

Llewellyn King is the creator, executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle,” a weekly news and public affairs program, airing nationwide on PBS and public, educational and government...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Oct 4, 2020
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By Llewellyn King

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 which 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:

—  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.

—  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.

—  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.

—  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.

—  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.

—  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 thousands of new windmills.

Their loss will be a carbon-reduction catastrophe. Biden should be told.

Discussions
Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Oct 5, 2020

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 thousands of new windmills.

"Roger, that, Houston."

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 5, 2020

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.

As a counterpoint-- couldn't you argue that much of the corporate push for sustainability / clean energy / environmentalism is coming because of government intervention or assumptions of future interventions? Of course many actions have a business case on their own, which is why they're being implemented, but companies aren't typically making these changes because it's the 'right' thing to do. It's because of that business case today or one in the future where they see the dawn of mechanisms like carbon pricing or some sort of regulation so they're trying to get ahead of the curve and beat the competition to get there. And the ability for them to invest in tech like EVs or renewables has become more feasible thanks to the regulations and incentives that have to this point sped up their market penetration. 

Though I guess you could also say 'regulation helped get us to this point, and now let's move forward without it'-- I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Gary Hilberg's picture
Gary Hilberg on Oct 5, 2020

Llewellyn - good article, agree on the corporate focuse being more sustainable that any time in the past.  One big concern is that the regulated utilities are driven to be carbon free, but we wall know that they will be transmitting and distributing a tremendous amount of fossil fueled electricity.  These regulated businesses cannot be allowed to divest needed generation in an image upgrade without replacing that generation.  Moving $$ from one pocket to another does not improve the system - new investment, energy efficiency and new technology does.  

T Conroy's picture
T Conroy on Oct 9, 2020

Very well put Mr. King.

I am directly involved in planning the transition to 100% no carbon resources. The issues that are surfacing have to do with how to finance (the $2 to $5 trillion capital investment needed) and other related state regulatory issues. 

The investment required is approx the same magnitude as FDR was faced with when proposing to electrify America in 1930. We have (for justifiable reasons) largely abandoned the regulatory and financial models established in 1930....unfortunately none of the mish-mash of models now deployed across the country were designed with the magnitude of investment we now need in mind.

Power generation asset decisions are made at the state level. The Feds should encourage the states but lay off the heavy-handed regulatory approach for the reasons you articulate. Jumping in with jackboots will be a good way to slow everything down and turn our electricity generation transition into one more never ending legal and political battle. 

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