Biden Signs Order To Make Federal Government Carbon Neutral By 2050 ��� Live

Environmentalists laud his achievements but note significant unmet promises.

Lucien BruggemanJanuary 20, 2022, 9:05 AM14 min read
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ABC News looks back at pivotal moments in the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency amid his fluctuating approval rating.TASS via Getty Images

President Joe Biden arrived in office with lofty expectations from environmentalists who hoped that his ambitious campaign rhetoric would translate into an aggressive climate platform to match.

One year into his tenure, advocates credit Biden for setting an historically bold agenda, taking important steps to undo Trump-era rollbacks, and enacting a whole-of-government approach to combat climate change.

"President Biden is delivering," said Margo Oge, the former director of the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, and current chair of the International Council on Clean Transportation.

But for others, the honeymoon has ended. Inconsistencies and broken pledges have frustrated some, and the fate of Biden's ambitious Build Back Better proposal -- which would commit $550 billion toward addressing climate change -- remains in congressional purgatory.

His most fervent critics say he is failing.

"While Biden started off the year strong by undoing most of Trump's anti-climate executive orders, Biden has stopped leading and is instead feeding us empty promises without delivering on a bold climate agenda," said Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise Movement, an advocacy group that supports political action on climate change.

MORE: How Biden is reversing Trump's environmental actions

The mixed reviews reflect a larger dispute within the environmental community as to what constitutes success. Pragmatists see Biden's climate change efforts as crucial momentum in what Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce calls the "incredibly plodding, deliberative pace of administrative rulemaking." But more progressive groups like the Sunrise Movement see it differently. Biden, says Prakash, is "refusing to meet the moment we're in right now."

Indeed, as the Biden administration embarks on its second year in power, important climate change metrics continue their dire trend. European scientists recently concluded that the past seven years have been the hottest on record "by a clear margin." And in 2021, America's greenhouse gas emissions rose by more than 6%, according to the Rhodium Group global research institute.

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PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Nov. 2, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland.
TASS via Getty ImagesTASS via Getty Images
President Joe Biden speaks at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Nov. 2, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland.

Experts warn that the political outlook for the coming year may shrink Biden's window for a legislative victory. Congressional gridlock shows no sign of letting up, looming midterm elections may soon complicate efforts to take bold action, and Biden's approval rating remains on a downward trend, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

And if Democrats lose control of Congress in November's midterms, or the White House in 2024, advocates fear the next few months may end up being the last chance for environmentalists to see major legislative action for a decade.

On Wednesday, Biden said he remains "confident [the administration] can get pieces -- big chunks -- of the Build Back Better law signed into law" before the midterm elections.

"Now is the time for the Biden administration to build on and accelerate the progress made in their first year," said Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental group.

'Come out swinging'

For environmentalists, Biden's very presence in the White House marked an important turning point in the climate fight. His predecessor, former President Donald Trump, sought to dismantle the federal government's ability to address climate change and took a series of executive actions in line with that philosophy, including removing the U.S. from Paris Climate Accord -- a move that Biden reversed on his first day in office.

Under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency also took steps to loosen emissions standards put in place during the Obama administration -- another measure that Biden has since reversed.

"We were super excited for President Biden -- who ran on what was the most aggressive and ambitious climate agenda ever -- to come out swinging," said Pierce. "The level of ambition, scope, and breadth of what he was tackling was extraordinary."

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PHOTO: Pieces of the melting face of Fjallsjokull glacier jut into a lake of the glacier's own meltwater, Aug. 14, 2021, near Hof, Iceland. Iceland is undergoing a strong impact from global warming.
Sean Gallup/Getty ImagesSean Gallup/Getty Images
Pieces of the melting face of Fjallsjokull glacier jut into a lake of the glacier's own meltwater, Aug. 14, 2021, near Hof, Iceland. Iceland is undergoing a strong impact from global warming.

Before even setting foot in the Oval Office, Biden signaled his intent to prioritize climate issues. He committed to making the U.S. government carbon neutral by 2050, and placed fighting climate change in his pantheon of top priorities alongside strengthening the economy, ending the coronavirus pandemic, and battling racism.

The emphasis on climate reached the far corners of Biden's transition process. A former member of Biden's intelligence transition team told ABC News that their mandate was to focus resources toward combatting "the three C's" -- COVID-19, China, and climate change.

"Climate science demands this 'whole of government' approach that pursues every opportunity," said Chase Huntley, the vice president of strategy at the nonprofit Wilderness Society.

MORE: Manchin says he's a 'no' on Biden's Build Back Better social spending plan

Once in office, Biden took several organizational and bureaucratic steps to pivot away from Trump's policies. He launched a White House Climate Policy Office to coordinate an administration-wide response to climate change, and established the White House's first Environmental Justice Advisory Council to ensure that at least 40% of the benefits of climate investments go to communities that are disproportionately impacted by pollution.

Then came the executive actions, which environmentalists lauded for their sweeping reversal of Trump's rollbacks. A Washington Post analysis found that Biden targeted half of the Trump era's energy and environmental executive actions. A White House spokesperson highlighted Biden’s efforts to restore U.S. climate leadership abroad, jump-start electric vehicle development, and accelerate clean energy initiatives.

But since those early days of the Biden administration, his climate victories have been blunted by setbacks.

Two steps forward, one step back

While experts say the Biden administration has made meaningful progress on climate issues ranging from emissions standards to fossil fuel extraction, environmentalists also see inconsistencies -- actions from the administration that seem to undermine the president's own pledges and rhetoric.

On the use of federal lands and waters, for example, the administration garnered praise from environmentalists when the Department of Interior suspended its controversial oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the summer of 2021. And just last week, the White House announced plans to open up large swaths of New York and New Jersey coastal waters for renewable wind infrastructure, which experts say will eventually produce enough energy to power two million homes.

But those developments have been overshadowed by the Biden administration's auctioning off of large swaths of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling, a decision that will serve to "perpetuate climate pollution from public lands instead of reduce it," according to Huntley.

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PHOTO: In about 8,000 feet of water, Shell's Perdido offshore drilling and production platform is the world's deepest offshore rig. Shown in this 2012 photo, it is located in the Gulf of Mexico 200 miles southwest of Houston.
Corbis via Getty ImagesCorbis via Getty Images
In about 8,000 feet of water, Shell's Perdido offshore drilling and production platform is the world's deepest offshore rig. Shown in this 2012 photo, it is located in the Gulf of Mexico 200 miles southwest of Houston.

Source : https://abcnews.go.com/US/year-bidens-climate-record-mix-progress-inconsistency/story?id=82354202

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