Supporter discontent could point to trouble in 2024, undermining the enthusiasm Biden will need from his party’s base to win re-election, people who follow the political debate warn. He also faces the risk that his achievements — including signing the nation’s biggest climate law — will have to compete for attention with criticism of administrative measures that bolster fossil fuels.
“What I call pragmatism is always a great source of disappointment for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” said David Goldwyn, who headed Obama’s State Department Energy Office and is now chairman. of energy consultancy Goldwyn Global Strategies.
This “pragmatism” will not win over voters who see climate change as an emergency requiring a sharp shift away from fossil fuels, environmental activists say.
“President Biden is not going to win this election by getting conservative votes,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led environmental group Sunrise Movement, which has alternately applauded and criticized Biden’s actions on climate change. In a statement, she said the administration’s recent decisions are “steps backwards” that will discourage those who supported him in 2020.
“If you keep doing fossil fuels, isn’t that just another form of climate denialism?” asked Jean Su, director of energy justice and senior counsel for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity.
In response, the administration noted that Biden last month prohibits new oil and gas leases across the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean, and is preparing to close 13 million acres of land and water in Alaska to fossil fuel development. He argues that each of his fossil fuel moves have either been mandated by Congress — like a March sale of offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico — or a legal calculus on questions left behind by the Trump administration.
“President Biden has delivered the most ambitious climate agenda ever with support from labor groups, environmental justice and climate leaders, youth advocates and more,” the doorman said on Friday. -White House spokesman, Abdullah Hasan.
A majority of the climate movement has praised Biden – and many of his leaders joined the president at a Rose Garden event on April 21 where he announced new measures to block pollution in poor or minority communities, Hasan noted. Yet the administration still tried to assuage the concerns of the strongest climate supporters in the Democratic base.
In a recent New Yorker article, White House climate adviser John Podesta urged climate advocates to get some “perspective” on the Home Office’s decision last month to greenlight a ConocoPhillips oil drilling project in Willow, Alaska. The ministry said it reluctantly approved the project to avoid what would likely have been a fruitless court battle with Conoco.
“I’m not trying to minimize, but it’s less than one percent of the emission reductions that come from the ‘climate law,’ Podesta said. “I think the naysayers have exaggerated the climate effect.”
For Biden, as for Obama, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution have had to coexist with energy pricing policy and the new role of the United States as a major oil and gas producer. .
Both presidents have released huge amounts of oil from the country’s strategic reserves to respond to disruptions in oil markets – although Biden has done so on a much larger scale. Obama’s early moves to send more American gas abroad have also turned into a potent geopolitical weapon for Biden, who is using fossil fuel exports to blunt Vladimir Putin’s influence over Europe.
Of course, Biden did something Obama never did – sign a major climate bill last year. Inflation Reduction Act, with its $369 billion in incentives designed to shift the country’s power supply, vehicles and other carbon sources away from fossil fuels. That’s far more than the $90 billion in clean energy spending from Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, widely credited with driving down the costs of wind and solar power.
The Biden administration followed with regulations designed to eliminate gas-powered cars and trucks from the market and an upcoming proposal to address greenhouse gas pollution from power plants. (Obama’s attempt to do the latter was ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court.) The president is widely criticized for these efforts by Republicans, whose attacks on Biden’s energy policies are the focus of their 2024 message.
But the administration’s recent actions advancing fossil fuels contradict those efforts, some irate Democratic constituencies say. Approval of Biden’s environmental performance has slipped among Democrats, independents and young voters since October 2022, according to polling firm Data for Progress and Fossil Free Media Group, which opposes advertising and messaging. on fossil fuels.
Democrats’ approval of Biden’s environmental policies fell to 69% in March from 82% in October, while 30% of independents approved from 37% in March, the poll showed. Biden’s environmental favors plummeted with voters aged 18 to 29 over that period, dropping from 48% to 35%. This period covered the approval of the Willow Petroleum Project.
On the other hand, the Willow decision is popular with much of the American public, with separate polls showing around half supporting the project. A YouGov poll found 55% of American adults backed him, while approval reached 48% in a Morning Consult poll – with 25% having no opinion.
As a 2020 candidate, Biden has vowed to move the United States away from fossil fuels, pledging, “I guarantee you. We’re going to end fossil fuels”, although he later warned that this would happen “over time”.
But Putin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has upended the administration’s energy rhetoric and its view of natural gas, industry officials say. European allies wanted to ditch their reliance on Russian gas, and the Biden administration helped by promoting an export surge that saw American companies supply half of Europe’s liquefied natural gas last year.
Fossil fuels have also been boosted by some of the administration’s domestic actions. Earlier this month, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm endorsed the energy security benefits of a near-complete gas pipeline, championed by the Senate Energy Speaker. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) — a project that Biden’s Green allies fiercely oppose. During a Senate hearing in April, Biden’s choice for chief economist, Jared Bernstein, bragged that the administration authorized more oil and gas wells in its first two years than former President Donald Trump.
Though they disapprove of Biden’s recent fossil fuel moves, his staunchest green allies argue the president has focused on the right things to reduce America’s climate impact: new fuel pollution standards. cars and trucks, upcoming rules on power plants and his vow to defend the IRA from the cuts the Republicans are calling for.
“These are the big key issues here, and how they navigate politics around it is very important,” said Jamal Raad, co-founder and senior adviser of environmental group Evergreen Action.
“If you add up the effort overall, it goes a lot in the direction of reducing emissions,” the senator said. Sheldon White House (DR.I.) told reporters.
Obama’s efforts to pass his own climate bill failed during his first term, and his most aggressive climate actions did not emerge until the end of his second term. These included his 2015 decision to reject Keystone – a pipeline that Biden had to kill a second time after Trump tried to revive it – and a carbon rule for power plants that the Supreme Court rejected. last year.
Obama also played a major role in bringing about the Paris Climate Accord, in which the United States joined all other nations on Earth in committing to fight climate change.
But Obama had something Biden doesn’t: more time on Earth’s climate clock. The six additional years of greenhouse gas pollution since Obama left office means the world is on the verge of exceeding the amount of global warming that would cause catastrophic consequences.
So any nod to fossil fuel use at home or abroad is a step in the wrong direction, campaigners say.
“Joe Biden is veering right on a number of issues, including the climate,” said Lukas Ross, program manager at environmental group Friends of the Earth. “I can guarantee that the climate doesn’t care where America’s fossil fuels are burned. That’s the concern here.”
The administration has insisted that its actions are in line with its climate goals, noting that it wants to halve greenhouse gas pollution by 2030, and that technologies to limit the effects of Warming fossil fuels – such as capturing the carbon output of power plants – remain options.
Mindful of the climate implications, the Biden administration has called gas a diplomatic tool while warning that new infrastructure must not spoil the country’s climate goals. He also pushed regulations, initially initiated under Obama but strengthened by Biden, to limit pollution by trapping methane heat from oil and gas production.
Moreover, the administration is discuss a system to insure European and other buyers that US gas is clean enough to maintain national climate commitments. And the Department of Energy begins to assess whether its gas export project approvals jeopardize national carbon pollution reduction targets.
But Biden’s efforts are further complicated by the United States’ role as one of the world’s top producers of oil and gas, a status it achieved during the Obama years thanks to the fracking boom.
The president and his advisers “have not quite understood how you resolve the perceived tension between the United States being increasingly an exporter of [gas] – as the main exporter – and this is important for allies and the global economy with their long-term climate agenda,” said Joseph Majkut, director of the energy security and climate change program at the Center for strategic and international studies.