US

This Earth Day, Biden faces ‘headwinds’ on climate agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) — A year ago, Joe Biden marked his first Earth Day as president by convening world leaders for a virtual summit on global warming that even Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Xi Jinping attended. Have attended. Biden used the opportunity to nearly double the United States’ goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, propelling the country to the forefront in the fight against climate change.

But the months that followed were marred by setbacks. Biden’s most radical proposals remain stuck on Capitol Hill despite renewed warnings from scientists that the world is hurtling towards a dangerous future marked by extreme heat, drought and weather conditions.

Additionally, the war in Ukraine has reshuffled climate change politics, leading Biden to release oil from the country’s strategic reserve and encourage more drilling. in hopes of driving down the exorbitant gasoline prices that are draining American wallets.

It’s a far cry from the sprint toward clean energy that Biden — and his supporters — envisioned when he took office. Although Biden raises fuel economy standards for vehicles and included green policies in bipartisan infrastructure legislation last year, the lack of greater progress casts a shadow over his second Earth Day as president.

Biden will mark the moment in Seattle on Friday, where he will be joined by Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat with a national reputation for climate action. Biden is also expected to travel to Portland on Thursday as part of a swing through the Pacific Northwesta region that has often been at the forefront of environmental efforts.

Administration officials defend Biden’s record on global warming while saying more work is needed.

“Two things can be true at the same time,” said Ali Zaidi, the president’s deputy national climate adviser. “We may have accomplished a lot and have a long way to go.”

Zaidi acknowledged that “we have headwinds, we have challenges,” but also said the president had “a mandate to get things done on this.”

Kyle Tisdel, director of the climate and energy program at the Western Environmental Law Center, said Biden failed to deliver on the promise of last year’s Earth Day summit.

“Climate action was a mainstay of President Biden’s campaign, and his promises on this existential issue were a major reason the public elected him,” Tisdel said. “Achieving climate results is not a matter of domestic politics, it is a matter of life and death.”

Biden had hoped to pass a $1.75 trillion plan to expand education programs, social services and environmental policies. But Republicans opposed the legislation, known as Build Back Better, and it failed to win the necessary unanimous support from Democrats. holding a slim majority in the Senate.

The final blow came from Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., who owes his personal fortune to coal and represents a state that is largely defined by the exploitation of this fossil fuel. Democrats hope to revive the bill in some form, but it’s unclear what Manchin would support, jeopardizing any possible deal.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that negotiations were ongoing even though Biden would not make them public. “Just because he’s not talking about it doesn’t mean those conversations aren’t happening behind the scenes,” she said.

Administration officials are set to speak at a rally outside the White House on Saturday as climate, labor and social justice groups urge Congress to pass climate legislation before Memorial Day. Similar events are planned in dozens of cities as activists stress the need for major investments to boost clean energy and create jobs.

The White House wants to secure approval for more than $300 billion in clean energy tax credits that advocates describe as crucial to meeting Biden’s goal of cutting emissions by up to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Without tax credits, “I don’t see a path,” said Nat Keohane, a former Obama energy adviser who is now president of the Independent Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Reaching midterm elections in November without them “would amount to a failure on the promise of the first year”, he said.

When asked if Biden’s goal to cut emissions was still achievable, Psaki said, “We continue to pursue it and we’re going to continue to do everything we can to achieve it.”

PSAKI noted that the $1 trillion infrastructure law includes a package of climate policies, including funding for the construction of 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles. However, an analysis by consultancy McKinsey estimates that nearly 30 million chargers are needed by 2030.

The war in Ukraine has compounded political challenges in the country by sending shockwaves through global energy markets and driving up gas prices.

It also caused Biden to change his mind about oil drilling. Last week, Biden moved forward with the first onshore sales of oil and gas drilling leases on public land, a move that environmental groups have lambasted even though the administration said it only does so under court order.

Although the legal battle is ongoing, Biden is encouraging new domestic production in the meantime.

“The bottom line is if we want lower gas prices, we need to have more oil supply right now,” Biden said in March.

The lease plan “is a horrific betrayal of Joe Biden’s campaign promises and his administration’s rhetoric on environmental justice and climate action,” said Collin Rees, US policy director at Oil Change International.

“Biden chooses to stand with polluters rather than people at the expense of frontline communities and the future of the planet,” he added.

The war in Ukraine has also hampered diplomatic efforts to tackle climate change.

John Kerry, Biden’s international climate envoy, has focused much of his efforts on pushing China, the world’s largest consumer of coal, to transition to clean energy faster. But that job “is harder now” amid China’s defense against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kerry said Wednesday.

“Some differences of opinion between our countries have deepened and hardened, which makes diplomacy more difficult,” he said during an online discussion on climate finance with the Center for Global Development.

Kerry’s aides have played down talk that he might leave the administration now that he’s served more than a year, and he remains a staunch supporter of Biden’s climate efforts. But his tone has become more pessimistic recently, especially as Biden’s climate proposals remain stalled in Congress.

The administration has also been rocked by recent reports that Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, is considering resigning. McCarthy called the reports “just inaccurate” and said she was “excited about the opportunities ahead”.

Another of Biden’s climate-related efforts could divide the environmental community. His administration plans to offer $6 billion in funding to prevent the closure of nuclear power plants in financial difficulty. Although the facilities produce carbon-free electricity, they are viewed with suspicion by some activists due to concerns about how to dispose of nuclear waste and the potential for devastating accidents.

“We are using every tool available to power this country with clean energy by 2035,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

Abigail Dillen, chair of environmental group Earthjustice, said “tempers have faded” after the failures of the past year. While she praised some of the policies Biden has achieved so far, she said “that’s not the scale of climate action we need — period.”

Now Republicans are poised to regain control of at least one chamber of Congress in November’s midterm elections, which means there’s a limited window to make progress. Dillen and a few other activists have suggested that Biden declare a climate emergency and use the Defense Production Act to boost renewable energy.

“It’s time to pull out all the stops,” she said.

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Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.

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