New York At the weekend, Joe Biden had hinted at his plan in secrecy. He will use all “executive” options to prevent his climate policy from failing. Now it becomes clear what exactly he meant by that: Apparently the US President is about to declare a climate emergency.
After China, the United States is the world’s second-biggest emitter of climate-damaging gases – Biden took office to change this. Because his ambitious climate and economic package is on the brink, he could use this unusual means in the coming days, as the Washington Post reports, citing three employees from Biden’s environment.
This would give his government more leeway to mobilize funds, promote clean energy and push through other measures to fight climate change. “The President has made it clear that if the Senate doesn’t act, that’s what he will do,” the Washington Post quoted a White House official as saying.
The reason for the consideration is the renewed failure of his plans in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, Biden is dependent on the votes of all Democrats because of a wafer-thin majority. But the more conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin blocked the investment package.
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The lofty goals and the reality are two different things – especially in this time of the global energy crisis. Barry Rabe, environmental scientist at the Brookings think tank
Manchin expressed concerns that the additional spending could fuel already high inflation. In the USA, the rate of inflation has recently risen to 9.1 percent and is thus at its highest level since December 1981.
The original draft for the economic and climate package provided, among other things, for tax relief for families and the expansion of health services. More than 500 billion dollars were also planned for the fight against the climate crisis. In recent months, the Democrats have significantly lowered their ambitions to gain Manchin’s support, the New York Times wrote.
Biden wanted to massively promote renewable energies and electromobility and had declared war on fossil fuels. Immediately after taking office, he signed the US rejoining the Paris climate agreement and blocked the construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. In the fall, he pushed through billions for e-car charging stations as part of the infrastructure package.
But since then, one failure has been chasing the next: First, Biden’s Build Back Better package – a smorgasbord of laws worth two trillion – did not go through at the turn of the year, also because of Manchin’s resistance. Then, at the end of June, the Supreme Court curtailed the EPA’s power over emissions from power plants, and once again Manchin does not want to support the course in the White House.
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Added to this is the energy crisis caused by the Ukraine war, which is reviving fossil fuels. During the election campaign, Biden literally declared that he wanted to “end fossil fuels”. Today, however, he is calling on the oil companies to increase production, allowing ethanol to be added to fuel and planning to temporarily suspend gasoline taxes.
These measures are intended to depress the high prices at gas stations. Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia last weekend also served this purpose. After all, it was about convincing the Saudis to produce more oil.
“All of this shows how difficult it is for a US president to achieve his goals in our political system,” says Barry Rabe, professor of environmental policy at the renowned think tank Brookings. “The lofty goals and the reality are two different things, especially at this time of the global energy crisis,” he says.
Biden has definitely achieved something. “He pushed the reduction of methane more than any other president,” emphasizes Rabe. His infrastructure package with the construction of charging stations also helps e-mobility. Among other things, it provides around 7.5 billion dollars for a total of 500,000 charging stations and ten billion dollars for low-emission buses.
But the big plan of action in the form of the new package rejected by Manchin, which alone earmarked $555 billion for climate protection, is likely to fall by the wayside for the time being. “It is unlikely that such a large package will go through before the midterm elections in November,” says Rabe.
Manchin hinted at a possible compromise in a radio show after his fellow party members accused him of being a blocker. However, what this might look like remains unclear.
Among other things, the new package provided tax incentives for electric cars in the amount of 7,500 dollars and aid for solar and wind energy over ten years. That should bring the share of electric cars in new cars to 100 percent by 2030 from 5.3 percent in the first quarter. The large car companies such as GM and Ford are currently investing heavily in e-mobility – also because they are hoping for support from the state.
Climate consultants McCarthy and Kerry are on the go
In the coming months, Biden is also expected to lose his best-known climate expert: Gina McCarthy has already indicated that she will step down this year. There is also speculation that former Secretary of State and current climate envoy John Kerry will resign after the UN climate summit in Egypt in November.
On the other hand, there is a little hope for climate protectors at the state level. There, climate protection is mostly progressing even without the EPA and new federal laws.
Because when it comes to climate policy, the individual states have a great deal of autonomy. Even under the administration of Donald Trump, who was not known to be a big fan of climate protection, many states simply continued to invest in renewable energy and other technologies themselves to reduce emissions.
Environmental policy professor Rabe compares the division of powers between Washington and the states with those of the EU and the member states. “The states have considerable authority over energy policy,” he says. “And they’ve done a lot over the past 20 years.”
15 countries would have their own versions of emissions trading, as there is in Europe. Nearly 30 have their own clean energy policies and standards. “Most of the reduction in emissions in the US is due to the states,” says Rabe.
It is also surprising how heavily some oil states have invested in renewable energies – even under Republican leadership: Texas, for example, is the largest producer of wind energy in the USA – ahead of California. Rabe also cites Oklahoma and North Dakota as examples. This could be because these countries are simply “fundamentally more open to investing in any type of energy”.
In addition, the land use laws in these territorial states are very generous, he explains. “But at the same time, these states are also opposed to any kind of containment of oil and gas,” Rabe points out. A clear line from Washington would bring more clarity, he says.
Heather Zichal, chair of the American Clean Power Association, agrees. It represents wind and solar energy and battery manufacturers. “It’s appalling that Congress missed this critical opportunity to expand affordable, clean energy over the next decade,” Zichal said. “We are urging our politicians to return to the negotiating table and put America’s energy needs first,” she says, warning that the US will also become less interesting for investors in renewable energies if Biden’s climate plan fails: “Other countries offer regulatory certainty . We are not.”
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