Biden’s unfinished climate business

Source: By Robin Bravender, E&E News • Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2023

 President Joe Biden speaks.

President Joe Biden speaks about manufacturing jobs and the economy at SK Siltron CSS, a computer chip factory in Bay City, Mich., on Nov. 29, 2022. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

President Joe Biden is running for reelection. And he’ll use climate change to make the case that voters should give him another four years on the job.

Biden announced his 2024 campaign Tuesday morning in a three-minute video that’s aimed at contrasting him with former President Donald Trump and other would-be Republican contenders. Using images of the Jan. 6, 2020, attack on the U.S. Capitol and abortion rights protesters in front of the Supreme Court, Biden warns that “MAGA extremists” are lining up to take away freedoms.

“When I ran for president four years ago, I said we’re going to battle for the soul of America. And we still are,” Biden said. “Let’s finish this job.”

Biden’s official kickoff means the 2024 presidential campaign is now in full swing, setting up a potential Biden vs. Trump rematch. As Biden makes his pitch to voters, his record on climate and the environment — and promises about what he’d do with another four years in office — are certain to be central themes.

“I would anticipate that President Biden and Vice President [Kamala] Harris would campaign heavily on their climate record,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters.

“They’ve accomplished so much in this area — more than any administration in our nation’s history,” she added. “At the same time, there is so much more to do, and it’s critically important that they have the chance to finish the job.”

In Biden’s first two years in office, he clinched a massive climate victory with the passage of the law known as the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes nearly $370 billion in climate and clean energy spending. The historic law marks the biggest climate investment in U.S. history. Biden has also pushed policies to advance environmental justice and regularly describes climate change as one of the major crises facing the nation.

Biden hailed the climate law in his first speech following his campaign announcement Tuesday.

“The Inflation Reduction Act also makes the most significant investment in dealing with climate change. Not only here in America, but anywhere in world, in the history of the world,” Biden told a crowd of union workers. “It offers working families $1,000 a year in savings with rebates if they buy energy-efficient appliances, weatherize their homes. It offers tax credits for heat pumps, roof solar, new and used electric vehicles.”

Playing up his green credentials could help Biden woo young voters who are invested in climate policies and who helped Biden topple Trump in 2020.

“I would expect the Biden campaign would make his climate change accomplishments a key part of his appeal to young voters,” said Dan Weiss, a longtime environmental and clean energy advocate. “They deeply care about their future in a climate-warmed environment.”

Biden, who turned 80 in November, would be 86 on the last day of a second term in January 2029. He is already the oldest sitting president, and his age is certain to be a flashpoint in the 2024 campaign.

In addition to playing well with young voters and progressives, Biden’s approach on climate — which leans heavily on tax incentives — will help blunt the president from attacks on the campaign trail, said Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist who worked Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think it’s hard to bracket Biden on that stuff if you’re a Republican, because it’s popular stuff too,” Payne said. “The approach was good, so I think it kind of insulates it from some of the criticism and some of the caricaturing that you might normally see in D.C.”

‘Rack up more wins’

Some environmental advocates were quick to signal Tuesday that Biden shouldn’t take their support for granted. Some are still fuming over the administration’s recent decision to allow a massive oil drilling project in Alaska.

Critics of ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in Alaska have assailed the drilling plan as a “carbon bomb” that broke Biden’s campaign-trail promise to halt new drilling on federal lands.

But the administration said the company had a legal right to its decades-old leases and that Biden’s legal options were limited.

“For President Biden to win in 2024 he must energize the young voters who have determined the outcome of every election since 2018,” Varshini Prakash, executive director of the advocacy group Sunrise Movement, said Tuesday in a statement.

“That means President Biden must commit to rebuilding trust with our generation by following through on his climate promises, declaring a climate emergency, and doing everything he can between now and November to fight for our generation,” Prakash said.

Prakash urged Biden to use the remainder of his first term to “rack up more wins for our generation.”

She added, “The steps backward on policy that the administration has taken — especially on Willow and drilling projects — make our job of getting young people out to vote all the more difficult, and this is a fight we can’t afford to lose.”

2030 targets

Securing a second term in office would give the Biden administration the chance to shore up a series of high-profile environmental regulations, including many that it’s been rewriting after tossing out Trump-era rules.

A win by Trump or another GOP candidate in 2024, on the other hand, would likely mean changing course yet again to redo policies on issues such as power plant regulations, tailpipe standards and endangered species protections.

Another four years in office would give Biden more time to put his nominees on federal courts across the country and perhaps allow him to tip the ideological balance of the Supreme Court if a vacancy arose.

Shifting the makeup of those courts would have long-lasting implications not just for environmental policies, but for every issue in their jurisdiction.

A Biden reelection would also keep the administration in place almost until 2030, when Biden pledged to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels.

“If he gets that other four years, that takes us close to the 2030 date that lots of people often talk about,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, executive vice president with the National Wildlife Federation. “We’ll be able to measure, ‘Have we been able to get close to the goals that we’ve set or are there additional things that we need to do?’”

Biden could also use another four years in office to advance his international climate agenda, Ali said, and “really solidify where America stands on these issues.”

The president and his team could also use the extra time to oversee the continued rollout of the investments included in the Inflation Reduction Act, the bipartisan infrastructure law, and the research and manufacturing law known as the CHIPS and Science Act. The massive spending in each of those laws is set to continue beyond Biden’s first term.

“There’s going to be continued and accelerated importance of a second term in continuing to make progress towards these decarbonization goals, especially those that President Biden has importantly set the country over the coming decade, by 2030,” said Sam Ricketts, who advised Jay Inslee’s 2020 presidential campaign. Ricketts now works with Evergreen Action and the Center for American Progress.

Climate and energy will be among the major areas where Biden can differentiate himself from the GOP, Ricketts said.

“He’s going to cast himself in contrast to what the other party is offering, and he’s going to talk about what he is doing. That includes a healthy democracy, that includes a woman’s right to choose, abortion access, that includes clean energy investments, that includes delivering on environmental justice,” Rickets said.

“All of these things — to a one — are not just a contrast, they’re under enormous threat from what the Republican Party is offering America.”