A Crucial Test Is Coming for Biden’s Climate Agenda

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Climate change is everywhere you look: in the staggering heatwave that hit the Pacific Northwest last week and killed more than 150 people; During the western wildfire season started early this year and likely to be severe; Weather conditions during the month of June was the hottest on record in North America; and even summer camps where kids light a “flashlight campfire” instead of the real thing.

President Biden took office by promising to address the climate crisis much more urgently than his predecessor. During the campaign it Released $2 trillion plan It calls for an emissions-free energy sector by 2035 and for the United States to achieve net zero planet-warming emissions by 2050. But whether the United States will achieve these goals may depend on whether Democrats in Congress can unite around a large enough release. an infrastructure bill

To better understand where Mr. Biden’s climate agenda stands, I asked The Times climate reporter Coral Davenport to answer a few questions.

Hello, Coral. President Biden took office with a $2 trillion climate plan, but The first major legislative moves focused elsewhere. What steps has he taken on climate so far?

Biden in his first two weeks in office signed a series of executive orders activating a set of federal policies on climate change. on the first day, US rejoins Paris climate agreementThat President Donald Trump pulled out and revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry heavy polluting oil from the tar sands in Canada. He then directed federal agencies to initiate the process of reinstating and strengthening the Obama-era climate policies that Trump had rolled back.

The White House also began what it called “”.all government” approach—basically pushing every institution, from the Treasury to the Pentagon, to rapidly enforce policies focused on tackling climate change wherever possible. For example, it has ordered government financial officials reporting the risk posed by climate change on federal assets and tax revenues.

Management has taken several steps to slow fossil fuel development and increase renewable energy development. Biden has suspended new leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands pending program review, but open east and west coast to the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farms.

Congress also began to take some measures. this spring, Reinstates Obama-era rule on methane, a powerful planet-warming pollutant leaching from oil and gas drilling wells. And framework for a bilateral infrastructure agreement It includes $15 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and electrification of buses – more than the federal government has ever spent on such programs, but it’s part of what Biden envisioned in his campaign.

Separately, the Democrats are preparing another bill, larger than the first, that they plan to move forward in the party-line vote. Biden wants this bill to include hundreds of billions of dollars to accelerate a national transition to electric vehicles, as well as mandating electric utilities to generate most of their power from zero carbon sources over the next decade. Both of these proposals will need the support of every Democratic senator, which is far from guaranteed.

Do you expect Biden to announce additional climate action in the near future?

The administration is expected to announce it in July or August. Will substantially reinstate Obama-era regulations about pollution from vehicle exhaust pipes. It’s an important step – vehicles are the nation’s largest source of climate warming emissions – but the rules, which will likely go into effect next year, will only last until 2026.

At the same time, the administration is expected to start working on new rules that will come out by 2030 or 2032. If – and that’s a big if – these rules are extremely harsh and ambitious, they could force automakers to make a quick switch. away from fossil fuel-powered cars and toward a near-term future where the vast majority of cars sold in America are electric. But getting political support will be difficult. Auto unions and automakers are wary of such rapid, government-mandated change.

Similarly, Congress is reinstating the rule on methane pollution from new oil and gas wells, while the Environmental Protection Agency is working on a new rule that would limit such pollution from existing oil and gas wells. gas leaks – and possibly shut down some oil and gas producers.

How much of a barrier do these actions create to meeting the 2035 and 2050 deadlines?

This may be possible if the final infrastructure package includes a robust clean electricity standard that will eventually mandate the use of fossil fuels to power power plants, and includes hundreds of billions of dollars for electric vehicle infrastructure and tax credits for electric vehicle purchasers. Rapidly reducing emissions from vehicles and power plants, the country’s two biggest sources of greenhouse pollution.

It could also make it easier for Biden to get support to go even further – making it politically easier for him to set tough standards that essentially require an increase in electric vehicle sales if the federal government has already invested heavily in building electric vehicle infrastructure. .

If this rule were enacted in addition to a climate-centric infrastructure package, most experts say he could likely achieve most of the emissions cuts Biden promised.

What do climate activists think of what the government has done so far?

Climate activists are happy with Biden’s rhetoric, but not because they see no more concrete action. Republicans fear that he could win a majority in Congress in the 2022 midterm elections, that robust climate measures could be removed from the second infrastructure bill, possibly leaving them in the cutting room for the foreseeable future.

Activists are urging progressive lawmakers to tell the president, “No climate, no deal” – essentially saying they won’t vote for it if the most ambitious climate initiatives are left out of the infrastructure package.

researchers said on Wednesday He said the latest heatwave in the Pacific Northwest would be “almost impossible” without climate change, and the West is facing an early and potentially devastating fire season. Did the immediacy and visibility of these effects increase the sense of urgency in management?

Biden is certainly using the connections between climate change and extreme weather to push his agenda. Speaking in Illinois yesterday, he said: “In Illinois, farmers in the state are dealing with more frequent droughts. And two weeks ago, just south of here, you had an almost unprecedented hurricane. We can’t wait any longer to tackle the climate crisis. We’re seeing it with our own eyes and It is time to act,” he said.

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Is there anything you think we’re missing? Is there anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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