Biden Considers Greenlighting New Oil Projects As His Climate Target Slips From Reach

President Joe Biden was elected on an ambitious climate platform — a vow to rapidly wean the nation off of fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, thereby confronting a crisis that his predecessor refused to take seriously.

But 18 months into his presidency, those goals are looking increasingly out of reach, according to a new analysis. Many factors are out of Biden’s direct control, though the consensus among climate experts and advocates is that the administration’s actions on climate have not matched its rhetoric. On the contrary, the administration recently signaled it might soon approve major new oil and gas development in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, which could further endanger Biden’s climate promises.

An analysis Thursday from Rhodium Group, an independent economic research company, found that without additional policy actions, the U.S. is on pace to reduce planet-warming emissions 24 to 35% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade — far short of Biden’s 50 to 52% goal, which is enshrined in the U.S.’s commitment under the landmark Paris climate agreement.

The new outlook is actually an improvement over Rhodium’s assessment last year, when the U.S. was on pace for a 17 to 30% emissions reduction by 2030. But the organization noted that the change from 2021 “is largely attributable to slower macroeconomic growth projections and higher fossil fuel prices — not large policy changes.”

“Now, more than ever, it’s important for policymakers to focus on maximizing the impacts of policy: the clock is ticking on both achieving the U.S.’s 2030 climate goals and on reducing emissions to avert the worst impacts of climate change,” the report reads.

A White House official expressed confidence that the administration can still meet its goals.

“We exceeded the goals set in 2009 in Copenhagen thanks to good policy decisions during the Obama-Biden Administration and critical state and local partners, and likewise today we continue to have multiple viable pathways to achieve President Biden’s 2030 climate targets and beyond,” the official said via email. “President Biden has and will continue to take action — administrative and legislative — that will accelerate the momentum behind cheaper sources of clean energy.”

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on efforts to lower high gas prices during a June speech inWashington, D.C. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on efforts to lower high gas prices during a June speech inWashington, D.C. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)

JIM WATSON via Getty Images

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month, threw a wrench into the gears of the global energy market, and Republicans have worked overtime to pin the blame on Biden. In responding to the energy crisis, skyrocketing inflation and high prices at the pump, Biden and his team have middle-roaded themselves into the dog house of both progressive climate advocates and the fossil fuel industry alike.

Many green groups are growing increasingly frustrated with what they see as Biden abandoning his promise to aggressively fight climate change and transition the nation away from fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, profit-rich oil and gas companies and their Republican allies have accused Biden of standing in the way of increased domestic fossil fuel production while appealing to other nations to increase supply.

The Rhodium Group’s sobering report comes as Biden tries to walk a tightrope on energy and climate policy amid mounting pressure to increase domestic oil and gas production in an effort to help combat high energy prices.

This month, despite Biden’s early pledge to end oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, the administration rolled out a proposed offshore drilling plan that leaves the door open for as many as 11 lease sales in U.S. waters — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet — over the next five years. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland emphasized in a statement that the proposal is not yet finalized and that the agency could ultimately opt not to hold a single lease sale.

During a congressional hearing Wednesday, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) asked Haaland about the odds that the administration will ultimately forgo holding offshore lease sales under the plan. Haaland said she “can’t prejudge anything at this time” but that the agency “will work to have a balanced approach to this issue.”

Also this month, Biden’s team took a step toward greenlighting ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow Project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. Late last Friday evening, it issued an environmental review of the $6 billion project, which is slated to produce more than 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years. The Trump administration initially approved the project, but it was later blocked by a federal judge. The Biden administration’s environmental assessment outlines several different alternatives, including not allowing the project to be built at all, but does not detail the administration’s preference. The Washington Post, however, reported that the Bureau of Land Management initially published a different version of the analysis that indicated the administration is likely to approve construction.

The Post also reported that the Biden administration is showing an openness to these and other fossil fuel projects in hopes of securing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D) support for a scaled-back climate and social spending package.

The effort comes as Biden’s approval rating lingers around 38%, a near record low.

A New York Times-Siena College poll this month found that 77% of registered voters feel the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction. When asked about the biggest problem facing the country, 20% of voters answered the economy, while 15% said inflation and the cost of living. Only 1% said energy or climate change.

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