OPINION: The $2 trillion clean energy plan from US Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden puts climate and carbon clearly on the country's election agenda.

The White House hopeful is aiming for 100% “clean” power by 2035 and is targeting net-zero emissions for the US by 2050.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump remains committed to expanding oil and gas as part of a wider commitment to use fossil fuels to make his country “great again”.

Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic will likely be pivotal for the November election, but energy will clearly now be in the foreground, too.

Accelerated spending plan

Biden wants to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and make the US into a clean energy superpower by spending $2 trillion within four years. His previous target was $1.7 trillion over 10 years.

The increased spending is surely more realistic, if the US restores its commitment to containing further global warming in line with the Paris accord.

Biden insists his green power plan will create millions of jobs by kick-starting construction of new low-carbon infrastructure and electric cars.

The presidential challenger wants to encourage research into carbon capture and storage; green hydrogen; and small modular nuclear reactors.

Questions remain

There is no talk from Biden of an outright ban on fracking or a total wind down of the fossil fuel sector, but there is a proposed halt to oil and gas production on federal land.

Critics say the proposals would damage the economy, cause more unemployment than they would create and give competitive commercial advantage to China.

The critics accuse Biden of pandering to more extreme left-wing views in his own party while ignoring the fall in US carbon dioxide emissions over recent years.

At this stage, the most important question might be: Has Biden got a chance of beating Trump and bringing his plan into action?

The answer appears to be “yes”, with polls out this week giving Biden, Barack Obama’s former vice president, a 15-point lead.

The two candidates are even neck and neck in the oil and gas heartlands and the traditionally Republican state of Texas.

What Biden's plan lacks

But does Biden’s plan make sense?

Certainly, the federal government should take a lead in tackling climate change to avoid a plethora of different state rules bringing confusion and extra costs.

There is a welcome reference in the Biden plan to spend $400 billion in the first four years on federal procurement of batteries and electric vehicles.

But the absence of a carbon tax to raise state revenues seems curious, especially as many oil companies support the idea.

Equally, there are hopes, but no specific funding commitments, for tree planting — another “carbon offset” solution supported by the likes of Shell.

And there is only the barest mention of how the ocean-shipping and aviation industries are meant to decarbonise and move away from their reliance on oil.

Trump changes' likely effects

Meanwhile, Trump continues his drive to help develop fossil fuels with changes to the landmark National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

This should speed up oil pipeline and liquefied natural gas terminal projects. It comes just as a district court closed the Dakota Access oil pipeline, citing planning violations of NEPA.

The American Petroleum Institute lobby group expressed delight at the Trump changes while giving the coolest of welcomes to the Biden climate plan.

We would be more enthusiastic about the Democratic proposals, but if this was schoolwork we would say: “6.5 out of 10, but more homework needed.”

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)