Whatcom County grapples with opposing federal climate plans


OCT. 26, 2020 — Washington state politicians and advocates are torn over environmental policy after the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Oct. 23, when the two candidates proposed starkly different visions on climate change.

Trump said the oil industry is important to the economy and that shifting away from the oil industry would kill jobs. Biden advocated for moving towards renewable energy such as solar and wind and creating new jobs that do not rely on natural gas. Biden said that he would complete this transition by granting federal subsidies to the solar and wind industries, with reduced federal subsidies for the oil industry.

Mark Neff, an environmental studies professor at Western who is teaching an Environmental Politics and Policy class, said that good environmental policy will balance job creation and clean energy.

“You can’t have a successful policy in a democracy that costs a bunch of people their jobs without creating new opportunities for those same people.” Neff said. “So, what would the policies look like? … For political viability, it has to match job creation where job loss occurs. What’s right by the environment? We have to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Neff said that if Trump is re-elected, the U.S. will continue to rely on fossil fuels – but if Biden is elected, it depends on what happens with the senate.

“[If] it’s a full Democratic federal government, as in both chambers of congress and the executive, we could potentially see a pretty big jobs program that’s tied to also transitioning our energy systems,” Neff said.

Washington state politicians and advocates are torn over Trump and Biden’s opposing plans.

Jim McKinney, the committee chairman for the local Re-Elect Trump campaign and a volunteer for the Whatcom Republicans, said that Biden’s plan would have a negative impact on the Cherry Point Refinery in Blaine. He said that Biden would create more environmental regulations, and in the long-term, oil refineries like Cherry Point would move to places with less regulations like China.

“There is a lot of fear that would happen for Cherry Point producers of course, [and then there are] the people with the opposite view – ‘we have to do whatever sacrifice it takes because the end of the world is coming,’” McKinney said. “[I think] we can balance the two interests in order to not destroy our lives, protect our jobs as well as protect our environment — we can do this in a smart way.”

However, McKinney cautioned against transitioning to renewable energy too quickly.

“I think [transitioning] too quickly would be pretty damaging and that is what I would be afraid of with a Biden Administration,” McKinney said.

Andrew Reding, the chair for the Whatcom Democrats, advocated for a speedier transition to renewable energy.

“I personally think that Biden’s not nearly going far enough on climate change; we’re literally talking about something that could end human civilization,” Reding said. “[But at least he] recognizes that it’s caused by fossil fuels, and he’s willing to say that fossil fuels must be transitioned away from entirely.”

Reding also mentioned Biden’s plan to rejoin the Paris Accords – a global agreement that focuses on reducing carbon emissions worldwide. Trump announced on June 1, 2017, the U.S. would be leaving the Paris Accord. He said during the debate that he withdrew from the Paris Accord because it was bad for the economy.

“I will not sacrifice tens of millions of jobs, thousands and thousands of companies, because of the Paris Accord,” Trump said. “It would’ve destroyed our business.”

Reding, however, supported the idea of Biden rejoining the Paris Accord, emphasizing the importance of an international attempt to combat climate change.

“It opens up the possibility of beginning to have an international effort to address this,” Reding said. “It can’t be addressed by one country alone.”