- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Joseph R. Biden on Wednesday made an impassioned pitch for the administration’s climate-change agenda, tapping into an issue of great importance on the left as the vice president gears up for a possible 2016 White House bid.

In a speech at a California solar power conference, Mr. Biden doubled down on his commitment to clean energy and the fight against global warming. He also said the nation as a whole must take care of those who will lose their jobs as a result of the White House’s environmental policies, such as the “hard-working losers” in the coal industry.

The speech came at a critical time for Mr. Biden, who still is wrestling over whether he should mount the third presidential campaign of his lengthy political career. Mr. Biden has said he believes he can build an effective political operation but isn’t sure he has the will or emotional energy to run following the death of his son, Beau, earlier this year.

But if the vice president does jump into the race, his full-throated backing of a move away from fossil fuels and toward green energy may help curry favor among some on the left, many of whom consider climate change among the most important issues facing the country today.

“The more Americans who understand the possibilities of solar, this is going to increase exponentially. This is happening all across the country. Just imagine how much more we can do, how many jobs, how many fewer cases of premature death, heart attacks, asthma, imagine the net savings to taxpayers … we’re on the cusp of something huge here,” Mr. Biden told a receptive crowd at the Solar Power International Conference in Anaheim.

Solar power has indeed grown dramatically over the course of the Obama administration, but critics say that’s largely due to federal grants, loans and tax credits that have helped the fuel compete with traditionally cheaper sources such as oil, natural gas and coal.

The administration also is spurring changes in the energy sector through a host of new regulations, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which will limit carbon emissions from power plants. The EPA has admitted those rules will reduce coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation by at least 25 percent by 2030.

Energy Information Administration data have shown the regulations will drive up electricity bills for most Americans.

Mr. Biden conceded the White House’s climate agenda will result in “winners and losers” across the economy.

“We know change generates winners and losers … I came from a coal region, it’s a way of life and they’re worried,” he said. “We have to take care of the hard-working losers who end up in industries that aren’t going to be used as much. I think that’s a moral obligation we have to them.”

Moving forward, political specialists say Mr. Biden, should he enter the 2016 race, will need to tap into the progressive enthusiasm that has helped Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont gain significant ground on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A strong message on climate change could help Mr. Biden in that effort, but analysts say he’s still got his work cut out for him.

“Generally speaking, it’s a tough climb because his record, his positions, are so closely tied with the administration’s,” said Matthew Dallek, assistant professor of political management at George Washington University. “If there was a certain segment of the Democratic party, the progressive wing, that is unhappy with what they see as inaction and lack of progress on issues like income inequality, Biden is not all the sudden going to say, ‘I’m your guy.’ It’s going to be hard for him to capture some of that anti-establishment feeling.”

Recent national polls have shown Mr. Biden in third place among Democratic voters, trailing Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders.

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