President Biden capped Wednesday his one-two punch on climate, thrusting global warming to the forefront of his administration and suspending new oil-and-gas leases on federal land, despite warnings that his jabs at carbon emissions would knock out jobs and flatten the economy.
A week after reentering the Paris climate accord and canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, the Democrat signed executive orders to put the nation on an “irreversible path” to a renewable-energy economy, citing the risks of wildfires, floods, droughts and storms that he said were made worse by climate change.
“We can’t wait any longer,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones. It is an existential threat. There is a climate crisis. We know what to do; we’ve just got to do it.”
The president’s executive actions also called on government agencies to protect scientists from “political interference”; eliminate fossil fuel subsidies; create a “Civilian Climate Corps Initiative,” and conserve 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030 in an effort to fight the “climate crisis.”
The Western Energy Alliance wasted no time swinging back with a federal lawsuit, arguing that Mr. Biden’s leasing moratorium exceeded his authority and violated a host of federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The law is clear. Presidents don’t have authority to ban leasing on public lands. All Americans own the oil and natural gas beneath public lands, and Congress has directed them to be responsibly developed on their behalf,” said Kathleen Sgamma, the Alliance president.
SEE ALSO: Biden signs executive order promoting climate change agenda, halts new drilling on federal land
While the fossil-fuel industry will be hard hit by his actions, Mr. Biden insisted that he won’t eliminate existing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“Let me be clear, I know this always comes up — we’re not going to ban fracking,” the president said, even though climate change “will be the center of our national security and foreign policy.”
Republicans declared the administration had begun its “war on energy” even with the coronavirus pandemic already ravaging the economy, predicting the president’s policies would drive up energy costs, send American jobs overseas, and force the nation to rely once again on foreign imports after achieving energy independence for the first time since 1957 during the Trump administration.
“I’m all for transitioning to cleaner forms of energy, but we have to deal with the reality of, for example, the fact that there are 280 million cars with internal combustion engines on our roads,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “How are families going to get to work, take their kids to school, or live their life if all of a sudden the very natural resource that they depend on for their cars is no longer available?”
The American Petroleum Institute cited an analysis showing that a federal leasing and development ban would cost nearly one million U.S. jobs and put $9 billion in government revenue at risk by 2022 to states like New Mexico, where one-third of education funding is supported by oil-and-gas royalties from federal lands.
“With a stroke of a pen, the administration is shifting America’s bright energy future into reverse and setting us on a path toward greater reliance on foreign energy produced with lower environmental standards,” API President and CEO Mike Sommers said.
The U.S. has led the world since 2000 in reducing emissions on a per-country basis, thanks in large part to replacing coal-fired power plants with those fueled by natural gas, even as China has seen its emissions increase.
The federal government owns nearly 50% of the land in the Western part of the lower 48 states. In 2019, federal lands and waters accounted for 22% of total U.S. oil production and 12% of natural gas production, according to API.
Special climate envoy John F. Kerry said Mr. Biden’s actions are urgently needed to make up for what he called the damaging policies of former President Donald Trump, who advanced U.S. oil and gas production to a position of global dominance.
Clearly referring to Mr. Trump, Mr. Kerry said the Biden administration’s moves on climate and clean energy will be so broad and coordinated with foreign capitals that “no one political person in the future would be able to undo what the planet is going to be organizing over these next months and years.”
“This is the start of something new,” Mr. Kerry said at the White House. “This is an issue where failure literally is not an option. 2021 is going to be the year that really makes up for the lost time of the last four years.”
Mr. Kerry and presidential climate adviser Gina McCarthy repeatedly asserted that a faster move to production of clean energy and away from fossil fuels will create “good-paying union jobs.”
“Quality of life will be better when Gina has put her team together that produces choices for us that are healthier, less cancer, cleaner air,” Mr. Kerry said.
Republicans slammed the administration’s agenda, warning that the administration’s ultimate goal was “an all-out ban on fossil fuels,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican and a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The Biden administration signals with these executive orders that America is heading backwards from energy independence toward reliance on foreign sources,” Ms. Capito said. “This is an economic, energy, and national security disaster rolled into one.
Environmental groups hailed the president’s moves, saying they would “begin to repair some of the harm done by our extractive economy.”
“We won’t slow the progress of the climate crisis until we address the racism of the systems that allow low income communities and communities of color to be targeted as dumping grounds for pollution,” said Sierra Club official Ramon Cruz. “These executive orders from President Biden will begin to repair some of the harm done by our extractive economy, and ensure that communities impacted by pollution have a voice in the process of repairing that harm.”
In the hot seat is Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, whose state is a leading coal-producer but who stressed that the executive order “will not impact energy activity like drilling or permitting on existing leases.”
Mr. Kerry conceded that U.S. actions alone to reduce harmful emissions won’t affect climate change unless the U.S. convinces nations such as China and India to follow suit, noting that China is responsible for about 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while the U.S. accounts for less than half that.
“We could go to zero tomorrow, and the problem isn’t solved,” Mr. Kerry said.
The president’s moves are adding more layers of federal bureaucracy, creating an interagency White House task force to review climate policy, as well as a new advisory council.
The White House said Mr. Biden’s order “clearly establishes climate considerations as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security.”
The order directs the Interior Secretary to halt any new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore, launch a “rigorous review” of existing fossil-fuel production leases and permits, and will set a goal of doubling renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030.
The administration also reportedly plans to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to redirect up to $10 billion in emergency COVID money for climate-change projects.
Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the plan is proof of “the radical left coming forward with their priorities.”
“Whether it’s our border policy or any of the other executive orders that he’s putting forth, it’s going to have a real chilling effect on jobs,” he said on “Fox & Friends.”
Mr. Meadows questioned in particular the redirecting of COVID-19 aid.
“It’s a real head-scratcher when you start to look at FEMA’s critical role in making sure that vaccines get to the American people,” Mr. Meadows said on Wednesday. “They’ve played a very pivotal role in making sure that those get distributed in an equitable way. And yet, we’re going to reallocate $10 billion to climate change?”
He said most Americans don’t consider climate change as “their No. 1 priority.”
“They probably looked at it as the virus. We need to keep the priority where it is,” he said.