Not “Biden” His Time on Climate Action

Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign released his Build Back Better climate action plan to launch a “national effort aimed at creating the jobs we need to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure now and deliver an equitable clean energy future.” The program will aim to invest $2 trillion into American infrastructure, the auto industry, transit systems, the power sector, buildings and housing, green innovation technology, agriculture and conservation, and environmental justice initiatives. The plan will tackle climate change issues with the economic recovery from COVID-19 crisis, with specific emphasis on clean energy and environmental justice. 

In order to fight for environmental justice, the Biden campaign is drawing on New York state’s own Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). Biden will create a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, and will set a goal that these identified communities receive 40% of overall benefits of spending in clean energy, transportation, affordable and sustainable housing, workforce development, reduction of legacy pollution, and the development of clean water infrastructure. In New York, this will play out to reinforce actions laid out by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Restore Mother Nature Bond Act and the CLCPA to fight climate change and redress environmental justice concerns. 

The Build Back Better climate plan aims to improve transit sustainability by providing every American city with 100,000 or more residents with zero-emissions public transportation, either improving existing transit lines or installing new infrastructure like light rail networks or pedestrian and cyclist lanes. 15 cities in the state have a population fitting this criteria: New York City, Hempstead, Brookhaven, Islip, Oyster Bay, Buffalo, North Hempstead, Babylon, Rochester, Huntington, Yonkers, Syracuse, Ramapo, Amherst, and Smithtown. Federal investment into New York’s municipal transit systems all across the state will boost the resiliency and sustainability of our cities while improving commuter experience and safety. Biden will also set goals for all new American-built buses to be zero-emissions by 2030, which reinforces plans made by New York State. The plan will also establish fuel economy standards and make major public investments in electric vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing. This will help New York reach its ambitious climate goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85% by 2050 – especially because a third of the state’s emissions come from the transportation sector. Limiting air pollution from fossil-fueled transportation will also improve New York’s air quality and mitigate related public health impacts like asthma and other respiratory illnesses. 

New Yorkers will also benefit from federal investment into sustainable agriculture and conservation. All sectors of agriculture are responsible for 200,000 jobs in the state and generated $5.75 billion in gross income in 2017. Farmland occupies nearly 25% of all the state’s land area, and agricultural services greatly contribute to the state’s employment, incomes, and tax revenues. Protecting and conserving that land is critical to New York’s economy and cultural heritage. The plan aims to expand federal legal protections for farm laborers – 55,000 of whom were hired in 2017 in New York – and minority and underrepresented farmers – including women and people of color, who are increasingly working in New York’s farms. The Biden plan intends to mobilize a new generation of conservationists and land managers through a Civilian Climate Corps, who will manage forests, restore wetlands to protect clean water and leverage flood protection, repair irrigation systems, plant urban forests, restore coastal ecosystems, sequester carbon, support biodiversity and fisheries, and improve recreational amenities like hiking and biking trails. This will help raise the next generation of New York farmers – of whom the average age is 57 – to learn about, conserve, and care for our important farmlands. The Biden plan will also help farmers utilize new technologies, techniques and equipment at low costs to engage with precision agriculture, carbon sequestration, and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Increasing the sustainability and resilience of New York’s agricultural sector from a federal level will support the state’s efforts to prepare for the oncoming difficulties and opportunities of climate change. 

The Build Back Better plan aims to fight climate change while supporting, growing, and greening the economy. New Yorkers will benefit from federal support and investment into climate resilient infrastructure, jobs, and environmental justice.