AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Former Vice President Joe Biden is promising to overhaul how the U.S. produces electricity and how Americans travel from place to place, and he wants to do that within the next 20 years. The presumptive Democratic nominee rolled out a $2 trillion climate change plan today. Biden spoke in Wilmington, Del., and repeatedly emphasized the plan would lead to new jobs.
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JOE BIDEN: When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is hoax. When I think about climate change, the word I think of is jobs - good-paying, union jobs.
CHANG: Well, NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow was at the speech, a physically distanced event in front of a group of journalists. And he joins us now.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey there.
CHANG: OK. So this is the second big economic plan Biden has rolled out in the last week. Tell us what was in this plan exactly.
DETROW: There's a lot in here. It's $2 trillion total. It has incentives and funding to speed up the transition to electric and zero-emission vehicles. It would make millions of commercial and residential buildings more energy-efficient in order to cut down on power usage, and it would keep pushing the power sector to a zero-emission future that would be largely based on wind and solar and other clean technology, not coal and natural gas. And Joe Biden thinks that this can happen in 15 years under this plan, which is a really aggressive timeline.
DETROW: You know, it would be expensive. Campaign says it would pay for part of it by raising the corporate tax rate. And this would really lead to major changes in the economy and society. And the Biden campaign is also emphasizing, as we heard earlier in that soundbite, that this would create millions of new jobs. The campaign says they want to make sure they're union jobs for the people who, you know, build the solar and wind farms and weatherize...
DETROW: ...These buildings.
CHANG: Well, what I'm curious about is - you know, a lot of Biden's rivals in the Democratic primary had these broader, more aggressive climate change plans, broader than even his plans were at the time. Has Biden changed the way he's campaigning on this issue? Like, is he incorporating some of those other ideas now?
DETROW: He is. He's - you've seen this with a lot of different issues. He's going a bit further to the left, incorporating this work that his campaign and Bernie Sanders' campaign have done on new priorities. And Biden is also increasingly speaking about climate change the way many younger voters see it - as an existential threat that the world is running out of time to solve.
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BIDEN: Science tells us we have nine years before the damage is irreversible. So my time to have results is in my first four years as president.
DETROW: And up until pretty recently, politically, Democrats often felt like they had to couch how they talked about climate change solutions in general elections. They worried that voters would be concerned about the cost of these plans - you know, increased gasoline cost, a lot of things like that. That moment has clearly changed. Democrats feel like this is an issue that the public is on their side, and they want to see big plans.
So Biden got a lot of praise from climate groups today and from Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who had run his entire campaign on climate change and proposed a lot of the things that are in this Biden plan. And just to underline the contrast here, this comes as President Trump plans to alter a 1970 law that would make it easier to build highways and pipelines and other projects that pose environmental risks. And, of course, the Trump administration has undone a lot of what the Obama administration did on the environment.
CHANG: Meanwhile, the Biden campaign started airing ads today in Texas. What do you think that tells us about November?
DETROW: It tells us two things. First of all, the Democrats are feeling pretty confident about the state of this race. The Biden campaign is still spending the bulk of its money and concentrating most of its efforts in those six states we always talk about - Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and then Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. But a lot of polls have shown that Biden is competitive in Texas. And, of course, Texas is really being ravaged by the coronavirus. So the Biden campaign is spelling a - spending a relatively small amount of money in airing this ad that just focuses on the pandemic.
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BIDEN: You know, this virus is tough, but we can stop the spread. But it's up to all of us to do it. We have to step up and do both the simple things and the hard things.
DETROW: And that message there gets to a more important opportunity I think that Biden has. What he's saying in this ad is pretty standard stuff that you would hear from a president in a crisis. But President Trump just isn't focusing on things like that or messages like that, and that really gives Biden an opening to win over voters by just kind of acting presidential.
CHANG: That was NPR's Scott Detrow.
Thank you, Scott.
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