White House forced to defend Biden’s climate program after setbacks

Senior US officials will be forced this week to defend Joe Biden’s record on fighting climate change after a series of setbacks thwarted the president’s sweeping agenda.

On Monday, a US official told reporters, “The press and pundits might like to declare President Biden’s climate agenda dead, but this week we’ll show how alive and well he is.”

The official said the administration plans to use the week leading up to Friday’s Earth Day, which marks the birth of the modern environmental movement, to provide “updates” on progress in the fight against climate change. climatic.

Biden will travel to Seattle on Friday to tout his efforts to grow clean energy across the United States.

The renewed focus on climate policy comes as the administration is criticized by environmentalists for failing to deliver on campaign promises, with flagship climate promises stalled in Congress even as the window to pass legislation shrinks ahead of the election. November mid-term. Meanwhile, legal challenges threaten to unravel key regulatory proposals.

Reuters and The New York Times have reported that Gina McCarthy, Biden’s top climate adviser, plans to step down in the coming months after telling confidants she was frustrated with slow climate progress. The White House said there was “no such plan in the works.”

Soaring oil and gas prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine presented new hurdles to Biden’s agenda, forcing him to weigh cutting fuel taxes, freeing up 180 million barrels of oil from the American emergency stockpile and imploring American oil producers to increase production.

On Monday, senior administration officials insisted the United States was still on track to meet Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030.

But there have been other significant setbacks, including the administration’s failure to secure Senate confirmation for Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was blocked as Federal Reserve Vice Chairman after the conservative Democratic senator Joe Manchin took issue with his calls for regulators to more proactively tackle climate. – the related financial risks.

Two court cases have also challenged Biden’s climate efforts. The Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority, is hearing a case that could limit the ability of Biden’s environmental regulator to reduce pollution.

Separately, one of Biden’s first acts in office — a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands — was reversed after a federal court ruling last summer ordered the administration to restart the lease program. About 144,000 acres of public land will now be put up for sale, the Interior Department announced on Friday.

The US energy regulator, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, also recently withdrew its plans to assess the climate impacts of new gas pipelines after Manchin and leading Republicans including John Barrasso and Mitch McConnell lobbied.

Critics said the new rules would hamper the industry at the same time as the White House encouraged exports to Europe.

But while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has complicated Biden’s climate plans, it has also thrust energy security onto the political agenda, giving US officials and Democrats a chance to position climate finance as a national security imperative.

” It’s difficult. . . We actually have to meet the energy challenges with what we have now, which is more oil to the EU and other places,” McCarthy said earlier this month in an appearance. at Brown University. “But it must also mean that we have to turn even faster to clean energy, because we cannot let go of our long-term understanding of the vulnerability we face.”

“The fundamental flaw is our reliance on fossil fuels and how vulnerable that makes us,” McCarthy said.

State Department officials also hope that the renewed focus on energy security in Europe will boost the deployment of renewable energy abroad as countries try to break their dependence on Russian gas.

On Capitol Hill, the national security argument has found unlikely champions among climate advocates on the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. “It is clear now more than ever: the fight against climate change and energy independence is not just an environmental issue, it is a national security issue,” wrote Bernie Sanders, the Democratic senator from Vermont. , on Twitter.

Biden has shown a willingness to use the Defense Production Act to secure green energy supply chains. Last month, the White House invoked the DPA to make funds available for U.S. domestic mining operations tied to crucial minerals for electric vehicles and high-capacity batteries.

So far, the vast majority of Biden’s climate legislative proposals have made it into the $1.75 billion Build Back Better package, which Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and a key vote in the chamber tightly divided, actually torpedoed late last year.

Any new climate action will likely need Manchin’s backing. “The last focus is the national security supply chain and says that’s important not just in the short term but in the long term for energy security,” said Ben Koltun, research director at Beacon Policy Advisors.

“This is all for an audience of one,” Koltun said, referring to Manchin. “It’s unclear how effective this rhetoric is.”

Koltun said the Biden administration’s “original sin” on climate was to “overpromise and underdeliver.” “They were so optimistic. . . but the reality of a 50-50 Senate is that there is a limit.

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