While Biden fulfilled a campaign promise by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on “day one” of his presidency, he hasn’t yet made public the new (and likely ambitious) U.S. commitments. He promised to release the pledge before the climate summit, which takes place later this week.
Americans are about to get a bit more clarity about how rejoining this agreement is likely to affect us—and really cost us—domestically. Analysts expect the Biden administration to pledge something in the ballpark of cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by half of 2005 levels by 2030. This is about twice as ambitious as the original goals set by the Obama administration—reducing emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, and would likely require an aggressive and costly transition away from fossil fuels to less reliable renewable sources.
But disputes about just how quickly the United States should reduce carbon emission are really secondary to the question of how best to encourage the country to use cleaner energy and improve the environment.
Democrats may make headlines with sweeping legislation under the banner of addressing climate change, but Republicans have shown growing interest in and support for such efforts in recent years and helped pass important bipartisan legislation, the Clean Energy Act of 2020 at the end of last year.
But while legislators from both sides of the aisle can work together in some approaches to climate change, there is still a clear fundamental difference between their two approaches. The Biden administration’s recent infrastructure proposal and embrace of the Green New Deal framework indicates that it wants to take a prohibition-based approach to the environment.
This approach consists of mandates and other policies that force reliable energy sources, such as natural gas and other fossil fuels, out of the market and require the adoption and reliance on specific renewable energy sources. The biggest problem with this approach is that renewable energy sources simply are not capable of supporting our economy. A premature push to transition to the use of renewables will cause major disruptions and costs that will hurt people, especially those with lower incomes.
For example, the Biden administration wants to spend $174 billion to increase electric vehicle sales. Frequently ignored by their supporters are the facts that electric vehicles have their own problems with “renewability.” Most centrally, their electricity is only as “renewable” as the sources providing the electricity, which currently are often natural gas and coal. The Biden administration envisions using the Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard to force out fossil fuels and extend solar tax credits which were designed to help support the wind and solar industries in their infancies. But this ignores that the overwhelming majority of solar panels are manufactured in China. Relying on China for a key energy source presents a tremendous national security risk and ignores that China has a horrific environmental record (which means asking China to produce more solar panels will come with mixed environmental benefits at best). Biden wants to increase offshore wind power, but wind turbines produce remarkable amounts of landfill waste through unrecyclable blade materials.
The alternative to this prohibition, command-and-control approach isn’t to do nothing, but instead to encourage innovation, and the development and deployment of better technologies.
For example, ExxonMobil just recently approached the Biden administration with an (albeit expensive) carbon-capture project that would capture 50 million tons of carbon dioxide each year by 2030—equivalent to taking nearly 11 million cars off the road.
Despite the tangible climate benefits of such a project, the Biden administration is reportedly not even considering it.
With the renewed global and domestic attention on addressing climate change, the Biden administration can’t afford to return to the old playbook. American innovation has already provided some key tools to address climate change and is continuing to improve upon and develop new technologies to make a variety of energy sources cleaner and more effective. Proposals to cut the oil and gas industry out of future plans threaten to short-circuit this innovation and are simply unrealistic.
If we’re really going to be the world leader in addressing climate change, we need to lean into our strengths and support the innovative approaches by companies and researchers to help us reduce carbon emissions in both the short and long term.
Charlotte Whelan is a policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum and member of the Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Council.