As spending bills stagnate, Biden climate goals remain elusive

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden faces a steep road to achieving his ambitious goal of halving planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, amid a standstill. Legislative rule has stalled a $2 trillion package of social and environmental initiatives.

Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which includes $550 billion in spending and tax credits aimed at promoting clean energy, has been dismissed by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said just before Christmas that he could not support the law as written.

Democrats insist they are moving toward a comprehensive package that will also strengthen home services, health care and other programs. In recent days, Manchin has signaled that climate-related provisions are unlikely to be a deal-breaker, but the bill has given backing to the voting and voting rights legislation. other Democratic Party priorities.

Even without legislation, Biden could still pursue his climate agenda through rules and regulations. But those could be undone by subsequent presidents, as demonstrated by Biden’s reversal of Trump administration rules that rolled back protections put in place under Barack Obama.

Experts cite Biden’s executive power to regulate emissions from cars and trucks, as well as limit emissions from power plants and other industrial sources, and the great power of the federal government. in approving renewable energy projects on federal lands and waters.

Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new regulations for cars and trucks a day after the announcement of Manchin’s bomb blast on December 19. The next day, the Interior Ministry announced its approval. approved two large-scale solar projects in California and moved to expand public lands in other western states to develop solar as part of the administration’s efforts to combat climate change by switching from fossil fuels.

The administration also has access to tens of billions of dollars under a bipartisan infrastructure law passed in November, including $7.5 billion to create a national network of electric vehicle chargers; 5 billion USD to provide thousands of electric school buses nationwide; and $65 billion to upgrade the grid to reduce blackouts and facilitate the expansion of renewables such as wind and solar.

“I think the US has a lot of tools and options to create climate benefits,” said John Larsen, energy systems expert and partner at the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm. in the next decade.

“Better Build Back Is Helpful” to meet Biden’s goals, says Larsen, but if you don’t have a Better Build Back, that doesn’t mean nothing has happened.”‘

Larsen co-authored a study by the Rhodium Group last fall that showed that the passage of the Build Back Better package, along with bipartisan infrastructure legislation and regulations by federal and state agencies Importantly, it could cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 45% to 51%. below 2005 levels by 2030.

Bill Biden provides incentives for buying electric cars, developing carbon capture and storage technologies, building solar and wind farms, among other provisions.

Global leaders made progress at a climate summit in November in Scotland, “but more action is needed,” said Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. “And for America to do its part, we need better Build Back climate provisions to get passed Congress as soon as possible.”

Jesse Jenkins, an energy systems engineer at Princeton University who has led the effort to model the effect of the Build Back Better bill on US emissions, said there is “a gap silly way” between where America’s emissions are today” and where we need to be. President Biden’s climate goals.”

Such a gap “can hardly be bridged by executive action or state policy,” Jenkins said in an email. The Princeton model estimates that the US would reduce 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to Biden’s 2030 climate pledge without Rebuilding Better legislation.

The carbon dioxide equivalent is a standard measurement for the range of so-called greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, produced from the burning of coal and petroleum and from industrial uses. and other agriculture, and retain heat in the atmosphere.

However, Jenkins remains optimistic about US climate action.

“I do not accept the premise that the Build Back Better package is dead,” he wrote, adding that he thinks “there is still a very good chance that Congress will pass climate provisions and some combination of social policy.” association ” is promoted by the Democrats.

“The consequences of failure are unpredictable, and the climate clock only moves in one direction,” says Jenkins.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said she was confident Biden and his administration would make good use of their current regulatory agency, as well as billions of dollars in new spending in infrastructure legislation. bipartisan. But in essence, those tools are not enough to meet Biden’s climate goals, she said. Rules imposed by one administration can be undone the next, as Biden and former President Donald Trump have both proven time and time again.

Trump withdrew the US from the Paris global climate accord and withdrew dozens of regulations imposed by his Democratic predecessor, Obama. Biden, in turn, reversed Trump on a series of actions, from rejoining the Paris accord to canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and halting new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.

Biden has raised the issue of climate change in the US government, signing an executive order to make the government carbon-neutral by 2050 and transitioning to an all-electric fleet of cars and trucks by 2020. 2035.

Even so, Biden’s efforts can only go so far without support from Congress.

“Regulatory authority is no substitute for congressional action,” Smith said. “That’s why it’s so important that we pass the bill as strongly as we can, and that’s what we’re focused on doing. ”

Enabling clean energy investments in the Build Back Better Act will cut US greenhouse gas emissions to 5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030, Jenkins said. a number that would “put America within easy reach” of Biden’s pledge to cut emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2030.

Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee and whose state’s economy is heavily dependent on energy production, suggested he could roll back many of the climate provisions in the bill, including some tax credits. . He also wants to include money to promote nuclear power and capture emissions from industrial facilities that emit greenhouse gases.

“I think the climate issue is an issue where we can come to an agreement much more easily than anything else,” Manchin told reporters on Tuesday.

Democrats will need all of their votes in the Senate by a 50-50 margin to elevate the measure above the unanimous Republican opposition.


AP Science writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this story. As spending bills stagnate, Biden climate goals remain elusive

Emma Bowman

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