MSU faculty, students weigh in on Biden’s environmental plan

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Carbon neutral by 2050

President-elect Joe Biden’s main goal in The Biden Plan is to stem climate change by reaching by 2050 carbon neutrality, which means emissions released are offset by being absorbed by an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. 

To help achieve this goal, the President-elect aims to have U.S. electricity production carbon-free by 2035.

“It’s attainable, yes, I think it is, but there are many prohibiting factors that could prevent it from happening,” said Bruno Takahashi, a research director at MSU’s Knight Center of Environmental Journalism and associate professor in the School of Journalism.

A prohibiting factor could be Congress should it become Republican-controlled. Next month, the country will find out the Georgia Senate runoff results, determining party control.

Despite the prospect of future administrations reversing the advancements Biden will potentially make, Takahashi is optimistic that the carbon-free goal is still attainable by 2050.

“With politics that aren’t aligned with that goal, the goals could still be met in innovation and technology,” Takahashi said.

Biden will enter the White House in January with one of the most ambitious agendas toward climate change compared to his predecessors, according to CNN. During his grueling campaign against President Donald Trump, Biden outlined a $2 trillion plan to build “a modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future.” 

Key elements: infrastructure and innovation

The Biden Plan also focuses on countrywide infrastructure improvements and innovation while providing meaningful jobs along the way.

The solar carport lot located at the corner of Service and Hagadorn roads. Credit: Asya Lawrence.

Infrastructure to create more jobs

Biden plans to tackle climate change issues while also creating millions of jobs in construction, skilled trades and engineering; these jobs will create better air quality, more clean energy, improved water systems and more. 

In the auto industry, Biden plans to create at least one million jobs by increasing the development of electric vehicles and charging systems with the goal of providing every city with at least 100,000 residents with clean and high-quality public transportation options. 

His plan is to upgrade four million buildings and two million homes with more efficient appliances and windows. Biden explained that on top of upgrading existing buildings and homes, he also wants to begin the construction of about two million sustainable housing units and homes. 

In addition, Biden plans to create about 250,000 agriculture jobs focusing on abandoned oil and natural gases as well as reducing the leakage of toxins in underprivileged communities. 

Environmental science student, Khalil Smith, stated he is supportive of Biden’s infrastructure plans and believes these changes will help both the economy as well as the environment.

“It seems that we tend to focus on how to reverse current climate change issues, rather than taking those measures to prevent the issues from happening in the first place; that’s why I am so supportive of Biden’s infrastructure changes because it’s a way of ensuring these issues do not progressively worse,” said Smith. 

Environmental justice

Catherine Deshambo, East Lansing’s environmental services administrator, said environmental justice is something that needs to be tackled before other climate change issues. 

“The issue of equity and environmental justice is woven into everything and it needs to be,” she said.

“Clean energy is an area that can impact those vulnerable communities again and in an inequitable way,” said Deshambo. “You may find that those populations have less opportunity to reduce their energy use or to transition to cleaner energy because more of their yearly income is put toward housing, food and utilities compared to other populations.”

Environmental justice is the fair treatment of all people regardless of race or class in regard to development and enforcement of environmental laws and policies. This is an issue that has progressively become worse and has affected lower class communities around the country.

A part of Biden’s plan is to ensure that environmental justice is a “key consideration” and when it comes time to create these new environmental changes and policies; no community will be left behind or excluded. 

What Trump has done

Trump’s presidency represents a stark shift in environmental policy compared to his predecessor Barack Obama. During Trump’s four years, his administration successfully rolled back 84 environmental policies with an additional 20 that are in the process of being reversed.

The breakdown of environmental policies reversed by the Trump administration during his presidency. Credit: Matt Dwyer

In March 2017, two months after Trump’s inauguration, the president signed an executive order nullifying Obama’s Clean Power Plan to revive the coal industry. 

In November, President Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, becoming the first nation to leave since its inception in 2016. He withdrew just days after the election.

Biden has pledged he will rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day in the White House.

Past environmental policies

A timeline of presidential environmental policies implemented since 1960. Credit: Matt Dwyer

MSU students voice environmental concerns

Pollution from carbon emissions was the most popular choice among the students interviewed. Credit: Matt Dwyer and Aysa Lawrence

Local initiatives

Meridian Township has its own goals for building a sustainable future. The township is making progress on providing 50% of its energy for Municipal operations from renewable energy sources by 2025 and 100% by 2030.

“We are on track with solar,” said Meridian Township Environmental Programs Coordinator LeRoy Harvey. “We’re doing pretty well with solar, but we have a bit (of) ways to go with energy efficiency because part of our goal includes cutting our energy consumption by about a third.”

This month, Meridian Township installed two new solar arrays, one at the South Fire station and the other at the Marketplace on the Green located at the mall. In 2018, Haslett Community Church installed a 20 kW solar array that generates two-thirds of its annual energy.

Meridian Township South Fire Station 93 with solar panels on the roof. Credit: Asya Lawrence

The commission is looking into installing additional solar arrays at the service center at Nancy Moore Park in 2021. “We have a volunteer energy team that has been providing some guidance for some of these ideas, and then we work with professionals in the field to evaluate what makes the most sense,” Harvey said.

Moving forward

Whether or not the President-elect executes his plan or not, Harvey said it’s a step in the right direction.

“I think anything is possible first of all, and it starts with a vision,” said Harvey. “And if you have a vision, I think whether or not we hit or surpass the goal; I think it’s good to have a vision.”

Wayne State University Alumnus, CJ Lyons, graduated from the college of engineering, majoring in environmental engineering, and is excited to begin the work to ensure a better future for our environment. 

“We have a long way to go, but I am hopeful that with these new plans and policies in place we will make a great amount of progress,” said Lyons. “Myself along with my peers are ready to make a change and take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and stability of our environment.”

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