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Biden’s Climate Ambitions Are All but Dead

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By Paul Homewood

I covered this story last year:

President Joe Biden came into office with more aggressive plans to fight what he called the “existential threat” of climate change than any of his predecessors. Three months into his presidency, he vowed to cut the carbon emissions of the world’s second-largest emitter in half by 2030, a pledge that helped re-establish American climate leadership on the global stage.

One year on, that signature climate goal is all but dead. 

Political allies are now acknowledging what scientists who analyze U.S. policy options have confirmed: There’s virtually no viable path to slashing U.S. emissions in line with Biden’s 2030 target—at least not without major legislation that appears increasingly remote. “I am certainly grateful for the improvements we’ve seen under this administration, but it hasn’t gotten nearly far enough to be considered on track to address the climate crisis,” says Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who is a leading progressive in the House of Representatives.

At the center of this setback is an evenly split U.S. Senate that puts West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, a Democrat from a coal- and gas-rich state with a personal fortune tied to fossil fuel, in a position to make or break legislation. A proposal championed by the White House to spend around $555 billion on climate and clean-energy measures have stalled, and the approaching midterm elections make passage unlikely.

Without that half-trillion dollars in new spending, the scientists who study pathways for cutting U.S. emissions can’t see a way to deliver on Biden’s promise. “Congress has to act, and they have to act in a pretty substantial way,” says Mike O’Boyle, director of electricity policy at Energy Innovation, an energy and climate think tank in San Francisco. Otherwise, he says, “there is no way.”

Biden campaigned on creating a 100% clean electrical grid across the country by 2035. But the U.S. burned roughly 25% more coal to keep the lights on in Biden’s first year in White House than in the year prior under the openly pro-coal leadership of President Donald Trump. Output of greenhouse gas in 2021 also surged by an estimated 6% from 2020 levels as the economy recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm. 

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-04-27/president-biden-s-climate-ambitions-are-all-but-dead?mc_cid=5f11fc2f25&mc_eid=4961da7cb1

The simple reality is that making these bold promises is one thing. But carrying them out is another thing entirely. Even the $555bn bill mentioned would have been chicken feed, after having been stripped down to the bone.

Despite the billions already thrown at renewables during Obama’s days, wind and solar have barely made a dent in overall electricity generation, accounting for just 13% last year.

Although coal power has declined, it has mainly been replaced by gas. Coal and gas together still supply 60% of US electricity, down from 69% in 2010.

A “100% clean grid” by 2035 is a pipedream, no matter how much money Biden throws at renewables. The grid would simply implode without the dispatchable power provided by fossil fuels and nuclear (itself being phased out).

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/#/topic/0?agg=2,0,1&fuel=vtvv&geo=g&sec=g&linechart=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.COW-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.NG-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.NUC-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.HYC-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.WND-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.TSN-US-99.A&columnchart=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.COW-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.NG-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.NUC-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.HYC-US-99.A~ELEC.GEN.WND-US-99.A&map=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.A&freq=A&ctype=linechart&ltype=pin&rtype=s&pin=&rse=0&maptype=0

And electricity only accounts for a third of US carbon dioxide emissions.

The trends in total energy consumption are even more stark, with wind and solar contributing only 5%. In contrast, fossil fuels account for 79%:

https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/browser/index.php?tbl=T01.03#/?f=A&start=2000&end=2021&charted=1-2-3-5-12

As we have learnt here, hardly anybody wants to buy useless EVs, even when heavily subsidised. Similarly, homeowners and industry are not going to give up oil and gas voluntarily.

Whereas sales of conventional cars and gas boilers (probably) will be banned shortly, there is no chance such policies would be passed by Congress. Or that they would survive legal challenge, as I suspect they would be regarded as being a State concern, not a Federal one.

Without such compulsion, the Americans are not going to give up their cars.

For those who don’t follow US political affairs, Joe Biden is at record levels of unpopularity, as bad as Jimmy Carter’s. The mid-term elections in November are expected to be a landslide for the GOP, which would put an end to any meaningful climate legislation for at least two years, and probably much longer.

Whereas we have centralised government in this country, and all three parties are signed up to the same ruinous Net Zero policies, in the US the President has little power on his own. He has to carry both the House and the Senate with him, and it is rare that one party controls all three.

Even then laws can fall foul of the courts. For instance, Obama’s Clean Air Act, designed specifically to cut GHGs at power plants, still has not got off the ground, because of legal challenges, Currently it is before the Supreme Court.

Americans are suffering from record high petrol prices and 40 year high inflation, both largely the direct result of Biden’s policies. They certainly are not going to vote for Net Zero policies that make both much worse.

Where this leaves US climate policy is anybody’s guess. But I suspect US emissions in 2030 will be much the same as they are now.

FOOTNOTE

It is interesting that the US public widely recognize the link between high Federal spending, money printing and inflation, in a way that we don’t here in the UK. They blame Biden’s massive spending bills and increased borrowing in 2021 for much of the current inflation.

via NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT

APRIL 28, 2022

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