Just after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the newly elected President signed an executive order to mark the re-entry of the US into the Paris Climate Change Accord. Furthermore appointed John Kerry as his climate envoy. As secretary of state, Mr. Kerry was one of the key players at the 2015 Paris climate change summit.
Over the next few days, President Biden signed a slew of orders that reversed environment rollbacks ordered by the Trump administration; pulled the permit of the Keystone XL oil pipeline; ordered the Pentagon to make climate change a matter of national security; banned new gas and oil leases on federal land; ordered all agencies to accelerate the process of authorizing new renewable energy projects; and reserved a third of all federally-owned land for conservation purposes.
The President has also committed to electrifying the entire fleet of government vehicles in the years to come. Fracking will not be banned but will have tighter regulations.
The decisiveness of the president’s actions on climate change has taken everyone by surprise; from the fossil fuel industry and the media to the activists.
Even though the president’s orders are significant, they are no substitute for his agenda to implement lasting climate change legislation, such as cutting carbon emissions to zero by 2035 and realizing net-zero emissions by the middle of this century.
If there is no legislation by Congress for the flurry of climate change reforms ordered by the president, then it can be easily rolled back by another White House administration in the future. It may also take many years for these reversals to legally fruition.
The primary hurdle towards permanent legislation of the climate reforms by the Biden administration, especially to actions like replacing oil and coal with clean energy, may come from Republicans and moderate Democrats elected to the US Senate from fossil-fuel rich states. These senators may view such reforms as detrimental for the fossil industry in their home states.
The US senate is currently divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris having the tie-break vote. This slim majority is not sufficient to break a filibuster (60 votes are needed to break a filibuster) in the Senate and pass climate change legislation.
Senator Joe Manchin is a democratic senator from West Virginia. He is opposed to any legislation that ceases or bans coal production in his home state. He is currently the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and will thus yield incredible power when it comes to deciding which bills will pass the senate.
It may be noted that even though Congressional approval is not required for the implementation of many of the President’s reforms, it is needed for infrastructure development funding, regulatory authority to reduce the production of fossil fuels, and for strengthening the Clean Air Act.
The majority leader of the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer, has stated that declaring climate change as a national emergency could be used to circumvent Congress and get funding for the reforms. But doing so will definitely face legal challenges.
The President could also use the reconciliation aspect of the budget process to get funding without Congressional assent. Senator Bernie Sanders is the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and he is ready and willing to use the reconciliation route to fund the climate change reforms.
The President has also promoted his climate plans as an exercise towards job creation and stimulating the economy that has been battered by the pandemic. He has stated that new investments should go into clean energy, clean technologies, and clean jobs for a better and brighter future for all.
Displaced fossil fuel works can get jobs sealing off the nearly 1 million leaking gas and oil wells. There will be millions of new jobs in the construction of clean-energy homes; in the manufacture and installation of charging stations for electric vehicles; and in the wind and solar energy sectors.
Many companies have also come on board with Biden’s climate change agenda. General Motors has announced that they will exclusively manufacture electric vehicles by the year 2035. Even though Congressional action is months or even years away, President Biden has sent a strong message to the markets that clean energy is the future.