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The Single-issue Voter: A birder’s look at Joe Biden (D)

October 17, 2012
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It’s that time again. As civic-minded individuals do, I’m oft interested in how the platforms of those running for president affect my life, that’s as a birder naturally. With so many candidates and elections still more than a year off I decided to do the work so you, dear reader(s), don’t have to. So here’s what I hope will be a regular look as those who would be birder-in-chief. Starting with the long-shots and working my way up so that you all will be prepared when the time comes to cast your ballot. This is the first of a four part series looking at the challenger and the incumbent.

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In a big way, this is probably the hardest one of these I have to write.  Since becoming Vice-President in 2008, Joe Biden hasn’t really done a whole lot to affect environmental and conservation policy in any way. He has a long history as a legislator, but he hasn’t been bold enough (or stupid enough) to tie himself to a massive paradigm shifting budget as has his vice-presidential opponent.  Neither is he fully responsible for the conservation and environmental failures and successes of his boss.  So, in lieu of nothing, here’s a few hints of his environmental bona fides from his days as a Senator.

 Joe Biden achieved an impressive environmental record as a legislator, rated at 95% from the League of Conservation Voters. He has fought to permanently ban drilling in ANWR, reduce road construction in national forests, and increase regulation of industrial pollutants. He’s done much for the environment in his home state of Delaware, transferring beachfront that formerly belonged to the military to Cape Henlopen State Park, where it now provides safe nesting grounds for the endangered Piping Plover, as well as oystercatchers and Black Skimmers among others.

His Senate environmental platform also cited protecting some areas from coastal erosion as an example of Biden’s dedication to conservation though without specifics it’s hard to say whether that’s the net win it may sound like.  Erosion is a constant force on the coast, both natural and artificial, and birds are able to deal with that.  In many cases, at least on the coast of North Carolina, “erosion prevention” is used as cover to justify hard structures on barriear islands, a wholly harmful act that does nothing but protect oceanfront property for those stupid enough to buil in such a fluid environment.  It’s far less an environmental issue than a human comfort one.

Nonetheless, Biden has shown some awareness of habitat conservation issues, something lacking among many of his Senate peers. He co-authored a forward thinking plan in the Senate that promised debt relief to countries who make efforts to preserve tropical rainforest, though the fact that the legislation in question seems to limit the saved habitat to “tropical rainforest” indicates alack of ecological understanding.  The plan doesn’t elaborate on plans to encourage such indebted countries to conserve other endangered ecosystems. But, it’s something.

In an interview last year, when asked what the environmental achievement he was proudest of, he cited the protection of a large swath of Delaware beach, placing in trust the entire expanse from Cape Henlopen to Rehoboth Beach, banning development on beachfront nearly 20 miles from end to end. For a state as small as Delaware, that’s not insignificant.

Biden’s support for environmental policy is encouraging, but he’s been given very little to do on that front in the executive branch.  His interests and expertise are primarily in the field of foreign policy, and do that’s where he’s been employed.  Fair enough, I guess.  But his time as a representative of Delaware at least suggests that his heart is in the right place.  Which is something, even if the administration he’s been working with has more or less failed to take advantage of it.

But that’s a post for another day.

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