Kate Fraser - Teen Aspect - June 2nd, 2022
President Biden entered the presidential campaign with a plan that shocked American environmentalists. Amongst worsening climate reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Americans got a breath of fresh air from candidate Joe Biden, especially after a counterrevolutionary term by Former President Donald Trump in environmental policy terms. With a well-decorated climate team, including Deb Haaland, Michael Regan, and Brenda Mallory, it was clear the President-elect made environmental action a top priority. Upon entry to office, Joe Biden committed to environmental efforts regarding the solar industry, electric vehicles, oil drilling, and even light bulbs. Along with an elaborate, progressive climate plan, Biden introduced an idea that had never been discussed in the White House: environmental justice. Per the Department of Energy, environmental justice is the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Environmentalists have learned the importance of considering the social implications of new environmental policies, which is crucial at a time when state and local governments are pushing new agendas in the U.S.
So when Biden was officially declared President following a nationally-draining election amidst a historic pandemic, climate activists were overjoyed. Some believed the United States could not environmentally handle another four years of the Trump Administration.
From the start, the Biden Administration stuck with its mission. On his first day in office, President Biden announced, through an Executive Order, that the United States had re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement, the largest running global effort to curb global warming (NPR, 2021). This was after President Trump began efforts to withdraw the United States from the agreement around four years earlier. The United States re-pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50% by 2030, a necessary move to limit America’s position as one of the largest emitters of carbon.
Three months into his presidency, it was clear the Biden Administration would continue to navigate environmental policy using a jobs-focused approach, a strategy that would seem to be a compromise to ease Republican concerns over the negative economic impacts of environmental policy, a common misconception that has consistently undermined American efforts to lead the global conservation movement. The Biden Administration released a shocking $2 trillion infrastructure bill in March 2021, known as the American Jobs Plan (Grist, 2021). It was relatively inclusive, addressing infrastructure, jobs, and climate change. It included a clean electricity standard, an early campaign promise that would require utilities to produce 80% clean electricity by 2030.
American climate activists were excited; the United States was reentering a necessary era of environmental consciousness. However, this enthusiasm fizzled out after the American Jobs Plan was met with the inevitable filibuster. Senatorial Conservatism and environmentalism simply do not mix, with the filibuster putting the grand plan to a halt due to the very small Democratic majority. The Biden Administration would be forced to reorganize the hefty plan.
The American Jobs Plan was divided into two: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the notorious Build Back Better Act. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was prepared with Republican concerns in mind, leading to its eventual implementation on November 15, 2021 (NPR, 2021). Yet, the law had to cut out major climate policies in order to satisfy Republican Senators, disappointing environmentalists once again.
The second division of the American Jobs Plan was the Build Back Better Act. This became one of the largest climate commitments in American history, working towards clean energy, decreased middle-class energy bills, environmental justice, a Civilian Climate Corps, and climate-resilient infrastructure, making this the all-inclusive dream for concerned climate activists (Majority Leader, 2021). Yet, the Biden Administration could only dream of getting this Act passed via budget reconciliation. This allows the majority party to receive “expedited consideration for certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation,” per the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yet, the legislation needed modifications once again, with the clean energy standard being turned into the Clean Electricity Performance Program, a grant program combined with financial penalties attached to electricity consumption.
Despite Congressional collaboration to draft this modification, the Act was brought to another screeching halt in the Senate, met by Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Joe Manchin has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, getting half a million dollars a year from a shared coal brokerage (Flavelle, 2022). This conflict of interest would be the factor that would not allow the Build Back Better Act to pass in Congress.
With the American Jobs Plan having to be aggressively modified into an underwhelming compromise and a failed bill, climate activists are joining Biden’s plummeting approval rating which just recently dropped to only 42% as of May 10, 2022 (Reuters, 2022). With no hope for a climate-conscious future, the Biden Administration has continued to abandon its original climate policies, especially following events in Ukraine. Per Coral Davenport, President Biden’s decision to fine American oil and gas companies if they are not drilling enough oil to meet his standards is a “180 from what he talked about in his campaign” and “it’s exactly the opposite of what scientists are saying the global economy needs to do to meet the challenge of climate change” (Barbaro et al., 2022).
For the rest of Biden’s presidential term, it will be shocking to see any more environmental policies of substance, as anything deemed too progressive would compromise the foreboding midterm elections. So American climate activists cannot help but ask whether we will ever see truly meaningful environmental action in the White House in a time that is so crucial?
Herr, Alexandria. “What Happened to Biden's Climate Policy Plans? A Visual Guide.” Grist, 23 Dec. 2021, https://grist.org/politics/2021-cartoon-recap-what-happened-to-bidens-climate-policy-plans/.
Barbaro, Michael, et al. “Biden's Climate Shift.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Apr. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/12/podcasts/the-daily/biden-climate-ukraine-war.html.
“What Is Environmental Justice?” Energy.gov, United States Department of Energy, https://www.energy.gov/lm/services/environmental-justice/what-environmental-justice#:~:text=Environmental%20justice%20is%20the%20fair,laws%2C%20regulations%2C%20and%20policies.
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Kogan, Richard, and David Reich. “Introduction to Budget ‘Reconciliation.’” Cbpp.org, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 6 May 2022, https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/introduction-to-budget-reconciliation.
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“What Does the Country Think of Biden?” Reuters Graphics, Thomson Reuters, 10 May 2022, https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-BIDEN/POLL/nmopagnqapa/.