U.S. President Joe Biden has rejuvenated hopes that the U.S. will once again lead the world in an ambitious bid to tackle climate change. The Biden administration has put climate change at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security. Biden’s climate plan seeks to eliminate emissions from the electricity sector by 2030 and economy-wide by 2050.
Biden won the presidential election of 2020 with the most ambitious climate platform in American history. On inauguration day he immediately went to work enacting his bold climate action plan by rejoining the Paris Agreement, halting efforts to pursue drilling on public lands (including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), terminating permits for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and restoring protections for national monuments. Within days of his inauguration, Biden issued executive orders (EOs) that will increase climate assessments in project planning, he also directed federal agencies to develop plans to increase climate resilience.
Biden quickly established himself as a change-maker. He is rolling back the environmental insults of his predecessor instructing Congress to eliminate Trump’s rule on methane pollution and reinstating states’ ability to have stricter air pollution rules. Nowhere is the change more evident than at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where Biden strengthened the agency’s scientific standards and put in place safeguards to ensure that their work will be free from political interference.
New EPA administrator Michael Regan immediately went to work on what he described as the “urgent priority of climate action” citing his agency’s role in what he called an all-hands-on-deck, whole-of-government approach. His actions include improving vehicular emission standards which are expected to be released in July. Regan is but one member of Biden’s climate team which Politico referred to as “all-stars”. This team is headed by John Kerry and Gina McCarthy. It also includes Jennifer Granholm as the Energy Secretary and Pete Buttigieg as the Transportation Secretary.
On Earth Day Biden hosted a virtual Climate Summit where he called on world leaders to reduce their use of fossil fuels and halve their emissions by 2030 (compared to 2005). That is almost double the emissions reduction pledges in the Paris Agreement. At the summit, Biden led by example by announcing his plan to slash U.S. emissions by more than half (52%) by 2030. Biden also sought to advance low-carbon technologies, efficiency, waste reduction, renewable energy, and decarbonization of the transportation sector (cars, trucks, boats and planes).
Defense of democracy and racial justice
As Biden approached his 100th day in office he made his first address to a joint session of Congress in which he emphasized hope and renewal in the face of the pandemic, economic recession, and attacks against democracy from the GOP. He vowed to use these tripartite tragedies to improve the country by “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”
Biden also pointed to the insurrection and called out the GOP’s assault on democracy saying, “More people voted in the last presidential election than ever before in our history – in the middle of one of the worst pandemics ever. That should be celebrated. Instead, it’s being attacked.” In response to Republican voter suppression efforts, he said Congress should defend democracy by passing H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. “It’s time we remembered that We the People are the government. You and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force we have no control over. It’s us. It’s We the people,” Biden said.
His speech stood out in sharp contrast to those of his predecessor. Biden made it clear that his administration is going to do all it can to benefit the American people. He did not shy away from calling out domestic terrorism from white supremacists and he vowed to address systemic racism. He emphasized racial justice in his Build Back Better and American Jobs infrastructure investment plan.
Biden is committed to environmental justice. He has pledged 40 percent of the benefits from government investments will flow to disadvantaged communities. He has also established a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
EVs and Energy
Within days of coming to power, Biden signed EOs that advance both EVs and clean energy. Biden announced that he was replacing the 645,000 vehicles in the US federal fleet with electric vehicles. The electrification of 245k civilian vehicles, 173k military vehicles, and 225k post office vehicles in the U.S. fleet is expected to save around $70 billion. The Biden tax plan also offers inducements to encourage people to switch to electric vehicles.
He is also accelerating the commercialization of clean energy technologies, expediting clean energy generation including transmission projects. The Biden tax plan extends the production tax credit and investment tax credit for clean energy, battery storage, and incentives for long-distance transmission.
This was the first part of a major push to expand clean energy research and infrastructure including offshore wind power. His administration is providing $3 billion in potential loans for the offshore wind industry through the Energy Department and $8 million in research grants to 15 offshore wind research and development projects. The goal is to produce 30 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030. That is enough energy to power 10 million homes and remove 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. The Interior Department recently approved the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S. As reviewed in the Washington Post, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called the Biden plan an example of “clean-energy patriots” adding that it reflects the administration’s “whole-of-government embrace”.
Biden is also employing a “whole of government” approach to move the country away from fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy. Biden’s tax plan would replace U.S. fossil fuel subsidies with clean energy incentives, a move that the Treasury Department said would increase government tax receipts by more than $35 billion in the next ten years. Getting rid of what is called “intangible drilling costs” that allows producers to deduct the cost of drilling new wells could generate $13 billion in the next decade according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan congressional panel. Biden’s plan would also make polluters like the fossil fuel industry pay for EPA costs associated with Superfund toxic waste sites.
Economy, jobs and climate
The fossil fuel industry continues to make the false claim that depriving the oil and gas sectors of subsidies will hurt the economy and cost jobs. This view is refuted by economists and other experts who say the American Jobs Plan, Biden described as a “once-in-a-generation investment in America itself,” will create millions of jobs and generate trillions of dollars in growth.
Biden has repeatedly stated that government investments in climate action will create jobs. This includes jobs in clean energy and manufacturing as well as energy efficiency, carbon dioxide removal, and agricultural applications of natural climate solutions. He also supports technological innovation with the largest increase in non-defense research and development funding in American history.
In an exclusive interview with Axios, Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz added his voice to those economists endorsing Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Stiglitz is a Nobel Prize-winning economist who says Biden’s infrastructure spending plan, could address wealth inequality and break the U.S. out of the low-growth, low-inflation environment that has existed for the last two decades.
“The inequality means people don’t have demand, a lack of demand means we don’t invest, so we’ve been in a very bad, vicious circle and I’m optimistic that this may break us out into a new period of strong growth, which is more egalitarian,” Stiglitz said. According to Axios other economists also support the plan including those at S&P Global, Goldman Sachs and Global Financial Markets Center at Duke.
Biden made it clear that he will not impose any tax increases on people making less than $400,000 a year. However, he is committed to making corporate America and the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes. Biden directly addressed a major source of wealth inequality when he said ” trickle-down economics has never worked” a point made by many economists. The 2017 tax cuts given to corporate America by the Trump administration proved this point. While these cuts did not generate the massive economic growth promised, they did increase the wealth gap and grow the deficit by $2 trillion. By ignoring key investments, these cuts also made America less competitive.
The actions of the Biden administration make it clear that the U.S. is back with a vengeance and they are also showing that despite the harm done to America’s reputation in the last four years, the world’s largest economy is still capable of leading monumental change. Biden has decisively broken with his predecessor and embraced the kind of multilateralism that is required to deal with the climate threat as well as the threats posed by pandemics, economic inequality, mass migration, cybersecurity and nuclear proliferation.
As Biden said in his address to Congress: “I wanted the world to see that there is consensus that we are at an inflection point in history. And the consensus is if we act, we can save the planet – and we can create millions of jobs and economic growth and opportunity to raise the standard of living for everyone in the world…America is rising anew. Choosing hope over fear. Truth over lies. Light over darkness.”