The future of federal energy policy is looking bright — Barack Obama chose Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden as his vice president this weekend. Biden has a three-decade senate record that includes a solid history of establishing climate change and energy policies. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has a perspective on how those policies will jive with the international community (not very well so far), and throughout his career he has sponsored a variety of legislation that tackles renewable energy, cleantech funds, electric car battery investment and biofuel mandates.
As a representative of Delaware, it’s also not too surprising that his policies align with the major industries in his state. Delaware produces corn and soybeans — the feedstock that currently makes up most of the first generation of biofuels; Biden makes sure to give corn-based ethanol props as a first good step. But Delaware also has a substantial poultry industry, and chicken farmers across the U.S. have generally been upset at the rising price of the corn used to feed chickens; Biden maintains (like most of us do) that corn needs to be switched over to cellulosic ethanol soon. He is also a friend of his state’s auto-manufacturing industry; in legislation he’s proposed aimed at remaking transportation he has tried to make sure the automakers aren’t hurt too much (more on this at CalCars.org).
Overall, who can’t like a guy who in 2006, in response to oil companies’ record profits and rising gas prices, point blank asks the chairman of Exxon and execs of other energy companies if they “needed” billions in tax breaks. “We guess not,” was the overall response from the group, according to Biden. Here are 10 things we think you should know about Biden’s energy and climate change record:
Energy Is Top Priority: Biden has called energy security his “top priority.” Back in 2007 when he was running for president he said: “If I could wave a wand, and the Lord said I could solve one problem, I would solve the energy crisis.” (see video below)
International Climate-Policy Advocate: As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he says has been trying to return the U.S. to a more respected leadership role in climate negotiations. He has introduced legislation for an international cleantech fund (S. 3273) that calls for $2 billion from the U.S. government, with support from multilateral institutions.
Aligns with Obama on Energy: Like Obama he calls for a national cap-and-trade system, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and says we should invest in an “Apollo Project for Energy.” (See the Apollo Alliance)
Biofuel Fan: He’s a big biofuels advocate. While he acknowledges that corn ethanol “is not the silver bullet,” he calls it an “important first step towards the commercial availability of cellulosic ethanol.” He also calls for major gas stations to offer biofuel options at 50 percent of stations by 2016 and all new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be able to use E85 by 2017. He also calls for an increase and extension of the current renewable fuel standards.
$500M for Lithium-Ion Batteries: Biden has introduced legislation (S. 1055) that calls for the U.S. to spend $100 million a year for five years on lithium-ion battery R&D for hybrids and electric vehicles.
Boost for Cleantech R&D: Biden has said he supports spending $50 billion over five years for incentives on R&D for biofuels, renewable energy and carbon capture and sequestration. Obama’s cleantech plan has called for doling out $150 billion over 10 years to fund projects in a broad swath of cleantech sectors. Biden will probably make those figures coincide pretty soon. Biden said in a recent hearing that the U.S. has so far failed to “capture a leadership position in the global competition for the next generation of clean technologies.”
Offshore Drilling Is for the Birds: In a Senate hearing on oil drilling on July 15, 2008, he recognized the fact that offshore drilling wouldn’t do much to relieve U.S. gas prices right away and said “we cannot drill our way out of this.” In the same hearing he also called OPEC a “cartel,” and said by the time any offshore drilled reserves eventually came online, OPEC would “reduce the amount of oil they pump just like they always did to 3, 4, 5, 7 percent less, guaranteeing that whatever the price was will be sustained.”
U.S. Needs a National RPS: Biden calls for a national renewable portfolio standard that requires 20 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from clean power. That matches many of the states plans. Obama has called for 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
CFLs For All: Biden introduced the “FLIP-to-SAVE bill” (S. 1562) that calls for the Secretary of Energy to provide $50 million in grants to states to distribute CFLs. The bill was based on a Delaware program that distributed 140,000 CFLs through public libraries. (To us, $50 million for the program that sounds like a ridiculously low amount.)
Early Climate-Change Thinker: Biden says he introduced some of the first legislation on climate change back in 1986, which he says called “for a national strategy to understand and respond to the emerging threat of global warming.” We’re still looking into more on this, and will update it when we find more.