The current administration seems strongly in favor of doing something to stem the tide of climate change. Why is nothing happening?
Actually, something is happening, but many of the government’s actions so far have merely righted reversals from the brief Republican administration.
For example, the administration has resurrected a requirement of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act that had been axed by the former guy, requiring that climate impacts be analyzed and local communities have input before federal agencies approve mines, road expansions and other major projects.
Early in this presidential term, the United States rejoined the Paris Accord. The participation of the world’s superpower and beacon of capitalism is crucial to the cooperation of smaller nations.
But government sometimes works against its own interests. President Joseph Biden pledged to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric industry by 2035. Meanwhile, the largest federal utility, TVA, is betting on natural gas to replace retiring coal-fired power plants, locking in greenhouse gas emissions for generations to come.
Legislation is the long-term way to mitigate damaging climate change in the U.S. On this Earth Day, President Biden is on our region talking up solar energy and offshore wind farms authorized last year as part of a trillion-dollar-plus infrastructure package. But meaningful climate legislation is nearly impossible in Congress, where Republicans blockade any effort to protect Americans from the devastating and unequal effects of global warming.
Legislation won’t get any easier if Democrats don’t hold onto Congress in 2022, as President Barack Obama learned.
That leaves rulemaking as the expeditious path. Regulations have been restored on the release of mercury, a neurotoxin linked to developmental damage in children, from coal-burning power plants.
On the regulatory front, President Biden is rolling back recent damage to tailpipe emissions rulemaking by restoring California’s authority to set its own rules on vehicle emissions. This is important for the nation, not just California, which is a leader in fighting climate change. Seventeen other states and D.C. have adopted California’s cleaner standards.
And then there’s the economy. The president who promised to stop drilling on public lands is in favor of more drilling on public lands, now that a major war and related sanctions are disrupting supply and driving up the cost of oil, which in turn drive high inflation. Extracting more petroleum won’t make any difference in oil prices for years, as new wells are developed.
The only consolation is that the world’s most profitable industry will pay more for the right to return fossilized carbon to the atmosphere.