WASHINGTON– President Joe Biden promises ‘strong executive action’ to tackle climate change, despite twin setbacks in recent weeks that have limited his ability to regulate carbon emissions and boost clean energy such as wind and solar.
Last month, the Supreme Court limited how the country’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Then late Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., said he wanted to delay sweeping environmental legislation that Democrats have said is essential to meeting Biden’s ambitious climate goals.
Biden, who has pledged to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels, said Friday that “action on climate change and clean energy remains more urgent than ever”.
If the Senate does not act to address climate change and boost clean energy, “I will take strong executive action to respond at this time,” Biden said in a statement from Saudi Arabia, where he met. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday.
Biden did not specify what climate actions he will take, but said they will create jobs, improve energy security, strengthen domestic manufacturing and protect consumers from rising oil and gas prices. “I will not back down,” he promised.
Some supporters have urged Biden to use the moment to declare a national climate emergency and reinstate a ban on crude oil exports, among other measures. Declaring a climate emergency would allow Biden to redirect spending to accelerate renewable energy such as wind and solar and accelerate the country’s transition away from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.
Climate advocates, including some of Manchin’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate, criticized his opposition – noting it was the second time he torpedoed climate change legislation.
“It is infuriating and nothing short of tragic that Senator Manchin is backtracking, yet again, from taking critical action on climate and clean energy,” said Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn. “The world is literally burning as he joins every Republican in stopping strong action to reduce emissions and accelerate the transition to clean energy.”
Other Democrats said Manchin’s announcement that he could not support the Senate bill’s climate provisions — at least for now — frees Biden from meeting the needs of a powerful coal state senator eager to protect his energy-producing home state. Manchin’s vote is decisive in an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans unanimously oppose climate action.
“Free at last. Let’s go. Do it all and start now,” tweeted Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I. which has long pushed for stronger climate action. Beast Mode,” Whitehouse wrote.
Whitehouse suggested a range of actions Biden could take, including “a robust social cost of carbon rule” that would require energy producers to account for greenhouse gas emissions as a cost of doing business. The senator also urged Biden to require major polluters to use technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions and to impose stricter pollution controls on cars, light trucks and heavy vehicles.
Lawyers also urged Biden to reject all onshore and offshore drilling on federal lands and in federal waters — a step he promised during the 2020 campaign but did not pass — and to restrict the approval of gas pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.
“For too long we have waited for one legislative package to save us and one legislator to determine our fate,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “Now that it is clear that the legislation to deal with our climate crisis is dead, President Biden needs to put us on an emergency basis to deal with this catastrophe.”
Citing Biden’s campaign pledge to end new drilling on federal lands and waters, Merkley said, “Now is the time to show the American people that they mean business by saying ‘no’ to the expansion of our dependence on fossil fuels”.
Even before Manchin’s apparent rejection of climate action, Democrats had cut their plan from about $555 billion in climate spending to just over $300 billion in an effort to gain his support. Proposed tax credits for wind, solar and nuclear power, as well as yet unproven carbon capture technology, could cut emissions by up to 40% by 2030, proponents said.
Manchin had already coerced Democrats into dropping two tax provisions he opposes: direct payments for clean energy credits and tax credits for drivers who buy electric vehicles. Manchin forced further concessions last year, including overturning a proposal that would have paid for utilities that increase clean energy while penalizing those that don’t.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he still hoped to salvage the clean energy tax provisions and said failure “really isn’t an option here. “.
Manchin’s request to postpone action on the climate measure follows a June 30 ruling by the Supreme Court, which said in a 6-3 vote that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency does not have broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The ruling by the court’s conservative majority likely complicates the Biden administration’s plan to deal with pollution from power plants, but does not eliminate its power to regulate greenhouse gases. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency is moving forward with proposed rules for power plants in the coming months.
Ann Clancy, associate director of climate policy for Indivisible, a progressive advocacy group, said it was time for Biden “to stop waiting for corporate-backed Democrats and their bad faith negotiations and offer real victories for the American people on the climate”.
“We have no more time to waste,” Clancy said.
Manchin, in a radio interview on Friday, said climate activists want an immediate end to US use of oil, coal and gas. “It’s crazy,” he told West Virginia talk show host Hoppy Kercheval. “I’m not skipping caution. I think we need an energy policy that works for our country.”
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