President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to restore U.S. leadership in the global fight against climate change and followed up with a dizzying number of executive orders and lofty targets to slash emissions.
But nine months into his presidency, political, legal, and economic obstacles have forced his administration to make several moves in support of fossil fuels development at home and abroad and raised questions about whether the Democrat will be able to meet his commitments to clean energy.
Setbacks include a judge overturning the administration’s effort to block new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, forcing it to offer millions of new acres for drilling, and rising retail gas prices that have led the White House to publicly ask the global oil cartel, OPEC, to boost production.
Most importantly, heavy political opposition has forced the administration to put its centerpiece climate proposals that would help deliver an April pledge to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 into a budget reconciliation bill that has an uncertain future in the closely divided U.S. Congress.
Democrats, who hope to pass the bill by the end of September, are already talking about paring back investments and targets.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. If Washington fails to deliver ahead of a climate summit in November in Glasgow, Scotland, other global powers, including the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, China, will be reluctant to commit to slashing their own emissions.
“If that (climate-related legislation) went down before Glasgow, it would be a big mess for Biden and his administration,” said Bill Hare, chief executive of non-profit Climate Analytics.
A Biden administration official said legal and economic realities have compelled certain administration moves and touted Biden’s progress so far.
“We can do two things at once: Achieve our climate goals while ensuring the energy transition is one that takes into account the interests of the middle class, who experience changes in energy prices very directly, and meet global energy needs as the economy recovers from the pandemic,” the official said, asking not to be named in order to be able to speak freely.
Biden’s mission is uniquely challenging in the United States, where some voters and even some senior leaders in the opposition Republican party are skeptical that climate change is caused by human activity.
Congress “is where the main theater of activity is taking place. And that is where I would pin the fate of the Biden administration’s climate legacy,” said Sam Ricketts, a co-founder of Evergreen Action, a group aiming to advance climate policy at the federal level.
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