2020 Election

Biden’s Fracking Flip-Flops Could Alienate Environmentalists

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Former vice president Joe Biden’s platform on climate change and environmental issues could alienate climate-change voters, activists say.

Chris Barnard, policy director for the American Conservation Coalition, said the Democratic nominee's flip-flop on his support for a fracking ban could chip away at his support from a key liberal constituency.

"[Biden] likes to say he has a plan, but it really isn't clear," Barnard told the Washington Free Beacon. "There’s a lot of conflicting information out there…. There’s a lot of appetite for an alternative to what the Democrats are proposing."

Biden's inconsistency on climate issues was on display at Thursday night’s presidential debate. Biden told listeners he never opposed fracking, contradicting his own position during the Democratic primary. Vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris has also said she opposes fracking, but has backtracked from that position since joining the Biden ticket. 

Barnard pointed to other areas where Biden’s environmental policies could fall short of even the most modest expectations. Far-left Democrats continue to play a major role in crafting Biden’s environmental platform, making the extent to which Biden's environmental policy would resemble initiatives such as the Green New Deal unclear.

Pacific Research Institute senior fellow Wayne Winegarden said Biden has been unable to balance environmentalist positions against the potential costs to the economy. The burden of the costs associated with the Green New Deal and other environmentalist policies would fall disproportionately on poorer voters, according to Winegarden.

"We can get our emissions down while promoting economic growth," he said. "We can’t do that if we say we have to be net zero by 2035. Those types of policies are going to crush the poor."

Other Democrats running for national office exhibit similar tendencies regarding the Green New Deal: painting themselves as moderate by rejecting the policy at first glance, but hiding a far-left climate agenda. A Democratic House candidate in Colorado ran on a pro-Green New Deal platform in 2018, but now disavows her former stance. An Ohio Democrat has done the same about-face in the closing weeks of the race.

"The idea that you’re going to try to force the energy grid into some preconceived notion, there’s a lot of risks and dangers involved in that," Winegarden said.

 Biden unambiguously supports a return to the Paris Climate Accords, the pact from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2017. Outside of the accords, Washington continues to make progress in limiting emissions. As part of increased fracking and a shift to natural gas, America has limited emissions at a rapid clip, Barnard and Winegarden said. 

"If you build more coal-fired plants in China, it doesn’t matter what you’re promising in the Paris Accords," Winegarden told the Free Beacon. "We’ve done a great job getting emissions down through the fracking revolution, which had nothing to do with the Paris Accords."

Though a signer of the Paris Climate Accords, China stands as the world’s foremost obstacle in tackling climate change. More than 70 percent of all coal plants under construction outside of China are reliant on Chinese funding, according to Quartz. Coal projects made up 44 percent of Chinese state-run banks' foreign energy financing in 2019. In total, China emits by far the most carbon dioxide and is trending toward an increase in emissions while most countries distance themselves from the most environmentally damaging energy sources.

In the face of these statistics, Chinese president Xi Jinping remains steadfast in his commitment to rebranding China as a global power in the environmental movement. His remarks at the United Nations in September focused on a global "green revolution," and more-recent statements from China's foreign ministry point to Washington as a "consensus-breaker and a troublemaker" on climate issues. The foreign ministry also accused President Donald Trump of "retrogression on climate change," which "seriously undermine[s] the fairness, efficiency, and effectiveness of global environmental governance."

Barnard warned that Biden’s generally cautious approach to China could spill over into kowtowing to China’s deflection on climate issues.

"There’s all these massive issues that China should be held accountable on, but they’re trying to green-wash these problems," Barnard said. "I’m afraid that a Biden administration would be too soft on China in that sense."

Barnard also observed that while trouble abounds for the Democratic coalition on climate change, the GOP appears open to a market-friendly, pro-environment approach. In 2019, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) established the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus to launch a rethink of GOP climate policy. Some key legislative measures focused on protecting national parks and promoting nuclear-energy alternatives have already come out of the caucus.

With such progress, environmentalists see an opportunity for Trump and conservatives to seize on pro-environment and pro-market policies. 

"Republicans in Congress are realizing they do have a seat at the table in these conversations. It’s been really positive to see their progress there," Barnard said. "If the GOP and Trump decide to embrace that, it wouldn’t just be good right now, but in the long term too."