But despite the increasing interest in him as an alternative to Hillary Clinton, environmentalists don’t seem to have much interest in having Biden build on another term of the Obama climate agenda.
“I know very little about his record other than as an Obama spokesperson,” said R.L. Miller of the Climate Hawks Vote super PAC. “And there’s not much interest in it. There’s just no chatter at all.”
In a June speech at the White House, Biden even said that getting “a handle on climate change” was “the single most important thing” he and Obama could do while in office. The White House has tightened fuel-economy standards, advanced clean energy, struck climate deals with foreign governments, and enacted carbon-emission rules on power plants that could completely overhaul how the nation produces electricity.
On Wednesday, Biden announced more than $120 million to advance clean energy at the Solar Power International Conference, then joined a U.S.-China conference on climate change.
In a statement, Sierra Club political director Khalid Pitts said that Biden “has helped lead the fight to protect our communities and families from toxic pollution, so we can be sure that any public debate he is a part of is guaranteed to include a robust and thorough discussion of climate action and clean-energy issues."
But groups further to the left say that Biden is going to have to prove he would be more than just a third Obama term to get any support. Greens have been left wanting by the White House when it comes to fossil-fuel production, saying that Obama has been too eager to embrace natural gas and has done too much to open up offshore areas to oil-drilling, especially after Shell was granted a permit to drill in the Arctic this summer.
And the White House still has not announced a verdict on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Without an effort to prove he has some sunlight from the status quo, Biden’s run could thus be hurt before it even begins.
“The next president is going to have to do a lot more than Barack Obama on climate change,” said Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org. “So the question becomes, will Joe Biden be an extension of the Clean Power Plan and an ambassador of the Obama administration, or is he ready to outline an aggressive agenda?”
Front-runner Hillary Clinton has been dogged with questions from greens about where she stands on fossil fuels—even though she says that she opposes Arctic drilling, she has been silent on her stance on Keystone and has hinted that she would continue natural-gas-drilling on public lands.
That’s why some environmentalists have flocked to her left and stood behind Bernie Sanders, who has talked up climate change as a centerpiece of his campaign. He has led opposition against the Keystone pipeline, has spoken out against offshore drilling, and has called for a carbon tax in the Senate. Even Martin O’Malley has promoted a plan calling for 100 percent clean energy by 2050.