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Bloomberg: Biden’s Climate Ambitions Are All But Dead

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President Joe Biden came into office with more aggressive plans to fight what he called the “existential threat” of climate change than any of his predecessors.

Three months into his presidency, he vowed to cut the carbon emissions of the world’s second-largest emitter in half by 2030, a pledge that helped re-establish American climate leadership on the global stage. [bold, links added]

One year on, that signature climate goal is all but dead. 

Political allies are now acknowledging what scientists who analyze U.S. policy options have confirmed: There’s virtually no viable path to slashing U.S. emissions in line with Biden’s 2030 target—at least not without major legislation that appears increasingly remote.

“I am certainly grateful for the improvements we’ve seen under this administration, but it hasn’t gotten nearly far enough to be considered on track to address the climate crisis,” says Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who is a leading progressive in the House of Representatives.

At the center of this setback is an evenly split U.S. Senate that puts West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, a Democrat from the coal- and gas-rich state with a personal fortune tied to fossil fuels, in a position to make or break the legislation.

A proposal championed by the White House to spend around $555 billion on climate and clean-energy measures have stalled, and the approaching midterm elections make passage unlikely.

Without those half-trillion dollars in new spending, the scientists who study pathways for cutting U.S. emissions can’t see a way to deliver on Biden’s promise.

“Congress has to act, and they have to act in a pretty substantial way,” says Mike O’Boyle, director of electricity policy at Energy Innovation, an energy and climate think tank in San Francisco. Otherwise, he says, “there is no way.”

The setbacks haven’t been limited to legislation. Last month, the Biden administration ordered the release of 180 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve after pleading with both OPEC and U.S. producers in the Permian Basin to bring more oil and gas to market.

A White House that initially paused the sale of oil and gas leases on federal land has resumed those auctions (albeit with much less acreage available for drilling).

Candidate Biden may have called climate change “the number one issue facing humanity,” but President Biden has focused more visibly on the immediate challenge of sky-high gasoline prices as Russia’s war in Ukraine drives worldwide energy inflation.

Climate hawks inside the administration still insist none of these reversals will derail Biden’s mission to cut a gigaton of greenhouse gas from the U.S. economy by 2030.

White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy acknowledged on April 21 that Europe’s current energy needs had taken precedence over climate goals in the short term.

Asked how the administration was balancing the two, she said, “We’re actually not balancing right now.

“Right now, we’re working on an emergency problem that the EU and we have on energy prices and security,” McCarthy said on the sidelines of a renewable energy summit in Washington. “But our goals remain the same—and that’s clean energy.”

Hard numbers tell a different story. Biden campaigned on creating a 100% clean electrical grid across the country by 2035.

But the U.S. burned roughly 25% more coal to keep the lights on in Biden’s first year in the White House than in the year prior under the openly pro-coal leadership of President Donald Trump.

The output of greenhouse gas in 2021 also surged by an estimated 6% from 2020 levels as the economy recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm.

The political damage to Biden and the Democratic Party could come from both the failure to achieve meaningful goals and backlash from persistently high energy prices. …snip…

A few months into 2021, it looked likely that Biden would disrupt U.S. climate policy beyond what any prior president had achieved.

He rejoined the Paris Agreement and revoked a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline on his very first day in office.

A week later he signed directives that suspended new oil and gas leasing on public lands, created a new climate envoy position and domestic climate policy office in the White House, and instructed federal agencies to identify and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies they provided.

His American Jobs Plan took aim at a raft of tax breaks for polluting industries.

Before long the White House and the Democratic majority in the U.S. House advanced a blueprint for trillions of dollars in spending on climate and social programs, known as Build Back Better (BBB).

One initiative, in a sprawling package that included subsidies for childcare and paid leave for new parents, would have penalized electric utilities for moving too slowly to clean up their power portfolios.

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