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President Joe Biden was elected on an ambitious climate platform — a vow to rapidly wean the nation off of fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, thereby confronting a crisis that his predecessor refused to take seriously.
But 18 months into his presidency, that agenda appears to be dead.
Late Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who made his personal fortune in the coal industry, informed Democratic colleagues that he would not support any new spending to combat climate change as part of a scaled-down economic package. The announcement upended months of negotiations on Capitol Hill, and put a dagger through what was widely seen as a last chance for Democrats to pass meaningful climate legislation and stave off the worse effects of planetary warming.
“Senator Manchin has condemned his own grandchildren to a broken planet,” Leah Stokes, a climate policy expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara who has advised Democrats during the negotiations, said in a statement posted to Twitter. “His actions will be recorded in the fossil record for centuries to come. What sounds like hyperbole is sadly a fact. We cannot meet our climate goals without action from Congress.”
The news came just hours after the Rhodium Group, an independent economic research company, released ananalysis that found without additional policy actions, the U.S. is on pace to reduce planet-warming emissions 24% to 35% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade — far short of Biden’s 50% to 52% goal, which is enshrined in the U.S.’s commitment under the landmark Paris climate agreement.
The new outlook is actually an improvement over Rhodium’s assessment last year, when the U.S. was on pace for a 17% to 30% emissions reduction by 2030. But the organization noted that the change from 2021 “is largely attributable to slower macroeconomic growth projections and higher fossil fuel prices — not large policy changes.”
“Now, more than ever, it’s important for policymakers to focus on maximizing the impacts of policy: the clock is ticking on both achieving the U.S.’s 2030 climate goals and on reducing emissions to avert the worst impacts of climate change,” the report reads.
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about Manchin’s decision. But shortly before Manchin pulled the plug on new climate spending, a White House official expressed confidence that the administration can still meet its goals.
“We exceeded the goals set in 2009 in Copenhagen thanks to good policy decisions during the Obama-Biden Administration and critical state and local partners, and likewise today we continue to have multiple viable pathways to achieve President Biden’s 2030 climate targets and beyond,” the official said via email. “President Biden has and will continue to take action — administrative and legislative — that will accelerate the momentum behind cheaper sources of clean energy.”
Many factors are out of Biden’s direct control. But the consensus among climate experts and advocates is that the administration’s actions on climate have not matched its rhetoric. On the contrary, the administration spent the better part of a year trying to bring Manchin to the table, only to have him repeatedly blow up the negotiations. As part of that effort, the Biden administration recently signaled it might soon approve major new oil and gas development in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico — a move that would further endanger Biden’s climate promises.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on efforts to lower high gas prices during a June speech inWashington, D.C. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo: JIM WATSON via Getty Images)
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month, threw a wrench into the gears of the global energy market, and Republicans have worked overtime to pin the blame on Biden. In responding to the energy crisis, skyrocketing inflation and high prices at the pump, Biden and his team have middle-roaded themselves into the dog house of both progressive climate advocates and the fossil fuel industry alike.
Many green groups have grown increasingly frustrated with what they see as Biden abandoning his promise to aggressively fight climate change and transition the nation away from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, profit-richoil and gas companies and their Republican allies have accused Biden of standing in the way of increased domestic fossil fuel production while appealing to other nations to increase supply.
Biden has tried to walk a tightrope on energy and climate policy amid mounting pressure to increase domestic oil and gas production in an effort to help combat high energy prices.
This month, despite Biden’s early pledge to end oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, the administration rolled out a proposed offshore drilling plan that leaves the door open for as many as 11 lease sales in U.S. waters — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet — over the next five years. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland emphasized in a statement that the proposal is not yet finalized and that the agency could ultimately opt not to hold a single lease sale.
During a congressional hearing Wednesday, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) asked Haaland about the odds that the administration will ultimately forgo holding offshore lease sales under the plan. Haaland said she “can’t prejudge anything at this time” but that the agency “will work to have a balanced approach to this issue.”
Also this month, Biden’s team took a step toward greenlighting ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow Project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. Late last Friday evening, it issued an environmental review of the $6 billion project, which is slated to produce more than 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years. The Trump administration initially approved the project, but it was later blocked by a federal judge. The Biden administration’s environmental assessment outlines several different alternatives, including not allowing the project to be built at all, but does not detail the administration’s preference. The Washington Post, however, reported that the Bureau of Land Management initially published a different version of the analysis that indicated the administration is likely to approve construction.
The Post also reported that the Biden administration had shown an openness to these and other fossil fuel projects in hopes of securing Manchin’s support for a scaled-back climate and social spending package. That obviously didn’t work.
The Rhodium analysis and Manchin’s latest gut punch come as Biden’s approval rating lingers around 38%, a near record low. A New York Times-Siena College poll this month found that 77% of registered voters feel the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction. When asked about the biggest problem facing the country, 20% of voters answered the economy, while 15% said inflation and the cost of living. Only 1% said energy or climate change.
Following Manchin’s announcement Thursday, many climate and environmental groups renewed their calls for Biden to use his executive powers to address the crisis, including halting federal fossil fuel leasing and stopping approvals of new pipeline and other oil and gas projects.
“We lost two years of the most pro-climate president in history to appease a fossil fuel puppet. The only good news here is that the @POTUS can lead as he sees fit,” Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environment at the Center for American Progress, wrote in a post to Twitter. “Yes, @Sen_JoeManchin your 15 mins is up. I just hope it isn’t too late for the rest of us.”
Biden stressed in a statement Friday that he would act if Congress doesn’t.
“Action on climate change and clean energy remains more urgent than ever,” the president said. “So let me be clear: if the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment.”
“I will not back down: the opportunity to create jobs and create a clean energy future is too important to relent,” he added.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.