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How Trump And Biden Differ On Energy Policy

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are now just over a week away from Election Day, although, we know millions of people have already voted. But in these final few weeks, we've been focusing on some of the policy differences between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, differences that might not be so easy to discern when they're buried in the middle of campaign rhetoric or debate jibes. Right now, we're going to focus on one revealing moment during last Thursday's presidential debate when the two candidates talked about energy, specifically - how should the U.S. get and use power in the future?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I would transition from the oil industry, yes.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, that's a big statement. That's a big statement.

BIDEN: I would transition. It is a big statement because I would stop...

KRISTEN WELKER: Why would you do that?

BIDEN: Because the oil industry pollutes, significantly.

D TRUMP: Oh, I see.

MARTIN: So let's dig into that a bit more. What are the two candidates competing visions for U.S. energy policy going forward? And what are the implications for workers and the environment? To help us sort this out, we've called Dino Grandoni. He reports on all this for The Washington Post, and he's with us now. Dino Grandoni, thank you so much for talking with us.

DINO GRANDONI: Yeah, thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: So let me just start, if we can, with that clip that we just played. There is a divide in how these two view the future of U.S. energy. So when it comes to oil, where does each one stand?

GRANDONI: Yeah, so the two candidates have laid out starkly different visions for what they would like to do with the oil industry and how they would like to transition away from fossil fuels or whether or not they would want to even do that. You saw Democratic candidate Biden pledged to move away from oil in favor of renewable energy and predicted that that kind of move would generate millions of jobs. President Trump, by contrast, says that doing that would be costly and hurt the economy. And, in particular, it would hurt the oil-producing states where both men are competing for votes.

MARTIN: Well, you've recently written that President Trump has very recently tried to rebrand himself as an environmentalist, which would seem like a difficult sell when his administration has rolled back countless environmental regulations over the past four years. And he continues to push for oil, coal and gas. So what's his pitch?

GRANDONI: Yeah. And this is a man who has spent much of his life trying to rebrand himself during various business ventures. So he over the past year has changed his position on a few different things. He has promised to fund restoration of the Great Lakes when, in the past, his White House had proposed cutting money to do that, similar story with the Everglades in Florida. And he has endorsed this idea of planting a trillion trees around the world in order to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

But President Trump is going to have a hard time convincing the public that he is a more environmentally friendly candidate than Joe Biden or at least a candidate who cares more or is going to do more to solve climate change. His administration has spent the past four years rolling back literally dozens of anti-pollution and other environmental rules. And that kind of reputation's probably baked into the public at this point.

MARTIN: President Trump has attacked former Vice President Joe Biden for what Trump calls a radical climate plan. And we do have to say this has been described as, by far, the most aggressive climate and energy platform that this country has ever seen from a major party candidate. So could you just, as briefly as you can, describe what are some of the key elements?

GRANDONI: So what Joe Biden wants to do is eliminate U.S. contributions to climate change by the middle of the century. And on the way they're doing so, he wants to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, in particular power plants by 2035. Both of those are very aggressive timelines and, like you're saying, more aggressive than anything - any other major party candidate has ever put forward. It's, in fact, more aggressive in some ways than what Bernie Sanders was saying back in 2016.

MARTIN: So let me ask this, though. How does Biden respond to the argument this would cost - this would have a tremendous adverse economic impact, especially in states that are necessary to - for him to win? I mean, how does he respond to that, that this would cost the loss of just thousands upon thousands of jobs?

GRANDONI: Well, he says that his climate plan is also a jobs plan, that transitioning away from fossil fuels will create millions of jobs in itself to have to install solar panels, build wind turbines. But then, also, all of the different sort of retrofits that his plan calls for to homes and businesses to make buildings more energy-efficient - he really thinks of this as an economic plan in addition to being a plan to stop climate change or head it off, at least.

MARTIN: Well, we know, though, that President Trump - in contrast, President Trump has always kind of focused on the economic impact of this country's kind of reliance on fossil fuels. And back in 2016, many people may remember that he promised to reopen coal mines and to bring back coal mining jobs. Has that happened?

GRANDONI: No, that has not happened. And we've seen Trump talk less and less about coal. In the first two State of the Union addresses he gave, he talked a lot about clean coal and saving coal jobs. But he dropped those references in the last two State of the Union addresses. And we've seen coal-fired power plants continue to shutter and coal mines continue to close down during his presidency, not because of any government policy, really, but experts say it's because of economic pressure. Coal has just gotten too expensive relative to natural gas and to renewables.

MARTIN: And what about oil, I mean, the idea that a move away from fossil fuels, from reliance on fossil fuels is increasingly popular with the public? I mean, the polls make that clear. But apart from that, are the economics driving oil to face a similar fate? A colleague of yours reported last month, for example, that British Petroleum, BP, has come out publicly and said it is shrinking its oil and gas business and investing in wind and solar. So are sort of economic imperatives or whatever public policy imperatives - regardless of what President Trump's sort of perspective on this, are they driving in that direction, anyway?

GRANDONI: So during the pandemic, at least in the short term, the oil industry has been hit particularly hard as people drive and fly less. There's a lot less demand for oil. And that has caused a lot of oil companies to have to lay off people and even have to declare bankruptcy in this country. That said, there are some experts who do think that oil is going to go the way of coal. Right now, electric vehicles - there aren't that many being used relative to the entire auto market in the United States. But there's this expectation that adoption of electric vehicles is going to pick up. And that's going to really eat into the petroleum business because most of the petroleum in this country is used towards transportation fuel, towards the gas tank in your car.

MARTIN: That is Dino Grandoni. He is an energy and environmental policy reporter with The Washington Post. Dino Grandoni, thank you so much for talking to us.

GRANDONI: Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.