Even before his inauguration, President Biden made one thing clear: addressing climate change would be a priority for his administration. For environmental activists, this was an exciting and refreshing change of pace.
While the Trump administration saw some big wins on conservation, plastic pollution, and energy innovation, it didn’t prioritize climate change. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric was also often unhelpful on clean energy and climate science. Making the leap from a president who barely uttered the words “climate change” to one who has made climate change a top policy priority means that it’s easy to praise Biden for his climate leadership. But we must be careful to separate rhetoric from action and policy.
Climate prioritization and good intentions do not automatically translate into effective solutions. At the start of his administration, Biden’s rhetoric on unity seemed to signal the possibility of significant bipartisan cooperation on the issue. At the end of last year, Congress passed the Energy Act of 2020, which received support from both sides of the aisle and is one of the most ambitious energy bills in recent memory. This momentum should have continued into 2021. Sadly, it seems Democrats have now chosen activism over action.
In less than two months in office, the Biden administration has already caused unnecessary division on the climate front. Rescinding the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline via executive order, for instance, clearly signified to Middle America that there is a binary choice between climate action and jobs. While it’s true that the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors are growing employers, those who relied on their Keystone employment to put food on the table have been left behind. Moreover, this divisive decision does not actually move us toward a clean future. Pipelines, while controversial, are actually a cleaner form of energy transportation than more traditional methods such as trucks. The decision to cancel the project was simply a nod to the liberal wing of Biden’s party.
It gets worse.
House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have introduced the CLEAN Future Act, a sweeping 981-page piece of climate legislation. Instead of targeted, natural climate solutions or an emphasis on promising clean energy technology like nuclear power or carbon capture, the bill is heavy on mandates and regulations. That means it’s likely to not only be ineffective but also to ruin any chance for congressional Republican support. While the president himself hasn’t endorsed the contents of this specific bill, several provisions are taken straight from his campaign promises. Put simply, this is a misguided, short-sighted piece of legislation that will do nothing to build consensus around commonsense climate solutions.
Top line: Sounding good on climate policy and actually doing good work with climate policy are not necessarily the same thing.
Talk is easy, but climate activists should call out this unwillingness to do the hard work it takes to compromise and find bipartisan solutions. Only lasting and sustainable policy will make the difference we need in the race to reduce emissions. We can’t afford to waste time on partisan solutions when there are a number of areas in climate policy, such as encouraging energy innovation or empowering stakeholders such as farmers or private conservationists, on which both Democrats and Republicans can agree.
Biden and his Democratic allies cannot mandate or regulate their way out of climate change, no matter how good their promises may sound.