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Breaking Down Joe Biden's Plan To Make The U.S. Carbon Neutral

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

At Thursday's debate, there was this telling exchange about climate change.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Would you close down the oil industry?

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

TRUMP: Oh, that's a big statement.

BIDEN: That is a big statement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump again boosted the fossil fuel industries, contributing to global warming. Joe Biden is campaigning on a plan for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. NPR's Jeff Brady has more on his $2 trillion proposal.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Joe Biden's climate plan is ambitious for an economy as big and complex as the United States. But even those connected to fossil fuel industry say it may be doable. Scott Segal with the energy-focused law firm Bracewell says the plan is pragmatic and includes both regulations and incentives for the growing list of companies focused on using cleaner energy in the future.

SCOTT SEGAL: One thing that makes Biden's approach somewhat comfortable is that you can sketch out that linear commitment to additional resources to achieve these objectives, which I think most people in business believe are going to be the future anyway.

BRADY: The country has one example of meeting an ambitious climate goal. The Obama administration's clean power plan aimed to cut emissions from power plants about a third by 2030. Even though court challenges stopped the plan from going into effect, the country is ahead of schedule. David Doniger is with NRDC Action Fund, the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

DAVID DONIGER: The power sector is already undergoing changes that have reduced their emissions by more than 30%, 10 years ahead of the target that the Obama administration thought was aggressive in 2015.

BRADY: A big part of that was the collapse of the coal industry. Coal-fired power plants continue to go out of business, replaced with cheaper natural gas and renewable energy. Still, the Biden climate plan faces significant hurdles. It relies on technologies that haven't been developed or may not be commercially viable. That's why the plan includes $400 billion over a decade for research. With the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic, Biden's campaign updated the plan this summer. It includes billions of dollars to hire people for things like plugging abandoned mines and building electric vehicle charging stations. Stef Feldman with the Biden campaign says the plan also focuses on environmental justice.

STEF FELDMAN: Forty percent of the benefits of those investments go to communities of color and low-income communities that have been disproportionately harmed by pollution and the impacts of climate change.

BRADY: This is especially important to the most vocal climate change activists. While Biden has distanced himself from the Green New Deal, it is popular, especially with the left wing of his party. Jenny Marienau Zimmer with 350 Action says this is the strongest plan yet from a Democratic presidential nominee.

JENNY MARIENAU ZIMMER: The Biden campaign has committed to doing some really great things, like ending leasing of fossil fuels on public lands. We'd like to see them go further and create a true phase-out for the entire fossil fuel industry over the course of the next decade.

BRADY: Biden's plan has a longer timeline for a transition and includes a role for fossil fuels with offsets and carbon capture. Amy Myers Jaffe manages the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University and says, overall, this is a credible plan for addressing climate change.

AMY MYERS JAFFE: The Biden campaign has listed the right things, but the difference between listing things and implementing those things is a big difference.

BRADY: If Biden is elected, he'll likely need a Democratic Congress willing to pass laws and allocate money to make his plan a reality. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.