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What Are The Presidential Candidates' Views On Climate Change?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're spending a few days this week digging into where the presidential candidates stand on some of the key issues in this election. Today, it's climate change. President Trump and Joe Biden have dramatically different views. Biden has an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; President Trump is focused on boosting fossil fuels. To learn more, we're joined by Jeff Brady of NPR's climate team. Hi, Jeff.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Start by summing up for us what President Trump has done on climate in his first term.

BRADY: Climate change is not a priority for him. In the past, he's even called it a hoax. But Trump has softened his language a bit on this. At the first presidential debate last month, the president was asked what he believes about climate change.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want crystal clean water and air. I want beautiful clean air. We have now the lowest carbon. If you look at our numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally. But I haven't destroyed our businesses.

BRADY: Trump still doesn't display much understanding about how humans are changing the climate. But as you heard there, he does brag about carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector going down. That's not because of anything Trump has done. It's because cleaner and cheaper renewable energy and natural gas are replacing coal for generating electricity.

Trump has this energy dominance agenda. It's a combination of promoting domestic energy, mostly fossil fuels, and getting rid of regulations that might hinder the drilling and mining that produces those fuels. So he pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. He's rolled back dozens of environmental regulations, including President Obama's Clean Power Plan and also strict fuel efficiency standards for cars.

SHAPIRO: On the campaign trail, President Trump often ties Joe Biden to proposals like the Green New Deal and banning fracking. Those issues might hurt Biden in key energy-producing swing states like Pennsylvania. But clear this up for us - what are Biden's positions on those topics, and what are his actual climate proposals?

BRADY: Well, Biden says the Green New Deal is a good framework, but he has his own climate plan. And he only supports banning new fracking on public land, and there's very little of that in Pennsylvania. On climate change, Biden echoes scientists that humans are changing the climate and emissions must be reduced quickly. His detailed climate plan has a big job-creation focus. He calls for spending $2 trillion over four years for a wide range of environmental projects - things like plugging abandoned mines and building electric vehicle charging stations across the country.

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JOE BIDEN: There's so many things that we can do now to create thousands and thousands of jobs. We can get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035 - not only not costing people jobs, creating jobs.

BRADY: On top of that 2035 goal for the electricity sector that he mentioned at the first debate, Biden's plan aims for net-zero carbon emissions across the entire U.S. economy, including transportation by 2050.

SHAPIRO: That seems like an enormous pivot when you think of all the power plants, vehicles, airplanes in the U.S. It's a big reach. Is it possible?

BRADY: It would cost trillions of dollars and require big changes really fast. Under this plan, fossil fuels, though, would still be used, but there would be offsets and carbon capture projects to reach that net-zero goal. Biden has a long list of what he calls Day 1 executive actions. Some are about reversing Trump's rollbacks on things like methane emissions and those car fuel efficiency standards. There's also directives for the federal government to buy zero-emission vehicles and make buildings more efficient.

He has an ambitious legislative agenda that includes an enforcement mechanism to meet that net-zero-by-2050 goal. And to do all this, given the political polarization around climate change, his party probably will have to control both houses of Congress. It looks like Democrats will hold onto the House, but the Senate is still in question there.

SHAPIRO: And if President Trump is reelected, what does his second-term climate agenda look like?

BRADY: A lot of the environmental rollbacks from his first four years are being challenged in court now. So resolving those battles and cementing Trump's deregulation agenda would be a big focus. He'd continue pushing for more exploration and drilling on public land and offshore, but very little focus on addressing climate change, which, you know, scientists say the world needs to do that to minimize its worst effects in coming decades.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jeff Brady. Thanks, Jeff.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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